Saturday, March 23, 2019

Slipping messages



Something inside me
Constantly bleeds toward god.
That's why I keep writing,
Slipping messages under the door.
-Dorothy Walters

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Pandora's Safe #18: Nirvana




There is a story about nirvana that rolls around and around in my head. 

A student asked the teacher whether there would be guards and gates by nirvana. The second student added his concern that the gatekeeper would quiz them and they could possibly fail.  The third student was taking a picture of a squirrel with a squirrel filter on Snapchat and missed all of this.

The teacher answered with silence and continued walking.

When they crossed a stream and sat down the first student asked about gates again; the second student asked if there was a study guide or quizlet;  the third student was texting their mom about needing gas money and missed all of this.

The teacher final spoke. “There are two questions at the end. Did you find what you were looking for?  Did you learn how to let it go?”

The students answered with silence and they continued walking.

I am at the point of finding enough data in my research of Jean/John Soldani that I’m just about ready to let it go.

Last week I turned my research towards Jean’s brother Peter. I read and reread the 5 pages of family history attached to Peter and it verifies things that I already knew but leaves other things unanswered. I was going to write a nice article verifying how my data lines up with what I read in this document – maybe one day I will. 

Recent documents indicate that Jean/John’s greatgrandaughter daughter left all his papers and correspondence with the Jackson County Missouri Historical Society.  Apparently they’ve been hiding there in plain sight this whole time.   I hope to confirm their existence and pay them a visit, but until then, I need to stop chasing Jean and get back to helping my students with their research.

But first, let me show you the single biggest piece of  treasure I found:  a one page typed letter from John/Jean to Peter’s children after his death.

 Ground zero.

His story in his words

I’m typing it exactly as it was written except for fixing capitalization.

Kansas City, November 7, 1893

Dear Nephew –

Your letter received today in regard to your father’s history.  P. Soldani born 1831 Sept 18 in upper Engadan Canton Grison Switzerland and lived at the age of fifteen with his parents and then he was sent to Hungary to learn the Confectionary trade and after four years he went to Germany and travelled for that business till 1855 and then he embarked for America and landed at Independence Jackson Co. Mo. and clerked for myself and Joseph until 1861 and in 1862 he enlisted in Capt Axlines Co on the 11th of August he was taken prisoner and paroled by colonel Jeff Thompson of St Joseph Mo and after that he went to Jefferson barracks and got his discharge and soon after that he got married and went to Leavenworth and tended bar at the Planters Hotel.  He stayed there a short time and then he got a position in the Sutlers store at Fort Larned and he remained there until he bought the farm that you live on at the present time.  That is about as near as I can give you.

This leaves us all well hoping this will find you all in the same blessings. We all extend our sincere sympathy to you all in the loss of your father. That is something we have no power with only to submit to it we felt very bad that we that we could not come to the funeral but my circumstances would not permit me nor my health neither but you all share a warm place in our hearts and hope that kind Providence will watch and guide you all in the right way and you will live for one another as Brothers and Sisters should do. Will close this time by sending much love and good wishes to you all.
Ever your uncle and aunt until death.
John Soldan


(Below the letter is a picture of a fieldstone schoolhouse with “Soldan School south of Brookville Kansas with no explanation at all of how it connects with Jean/John or Peter. Dammit.)



 There we have it.

 The Soldani’s were from Switzerland just like the census said.

 “Jean Soldani” from Switzerland who lived with Peter Soldani in Kansas City Missouri in the 1860 census just wrote a letter to that same Peter’s kids and signed it with his Americanized name -- John Soldan.   

That’s everything. 

I found his secret.

In his own words.  

Now I can let it go.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Pandora's Safe #17: Chasing Jean


History perhaps should be a dispassionate pursuit of truth, creating stories filled with documented data points that can be traced and retraced by other dispassionate researchers.

I myself am unapologetically ten miles past dispassionate on the story of Jean-John Soldani. 

The last fact I know for certain is that my father’s great-grandfather was Achilles Jean Soldani. Born in the middle of Union-occupied New Orleans in 1863, Achilles’ his birth records show his parents to be Jean Soldani and Christina Moti.

 Jean appears by all records to have been born in Switzerland and came to the US with a few brothers and an uncle.

 Christina seems to come from Transylvania. I fall into a hole for hours checking and rechecking and tracing keep coming back to that region. It is hard to be dispassionate about this data point; I want this to be right, I want it to be true that somehow a piece of me comes from Transylvania, I want to find an address and go visit whatever is left of where she and her family fled from, but I also want to be dispassionate enough to stick to collecting data that exists and can be easily found and verified.

But still.

 I wonder if they named him Achilles in hopes he would be a great warrior?

 Maybe it was after a family friend?

Perhaps after a statue or a story they both loved?

 I wonder if during their short time as a family they called him Akeel or Akeyyes or Akilleeees or something in between; the US census decades later shows orphaned Achilles living in Avoyelles Parrish going alternately by “Archie” and “AJ.”

Achilles was brought to St. Mary’s Orphanage in New Orleans as child after both of his parents are purported to have died by 1870.

 I do believe Christina Moti died, but I don’t believe Jean did; I believe Jean Soldani abandoned his New Orleans children to mercy of the nuns and also perhaps Christina’s family to return to his brothers and uncle near Kansas City, Missouri.  There is no gravestone, no obituary.  If there is, I missed it. 

The 1870 census shows pastry maker John Soldani in Kansas City living alone in a boarding house. 

His uncle Gaudenzio Soldani Rafaletti has died.

Documents (probate, census, death certificates) show Jean’s wife Matilda Soldani has sold all his property, married a guy named Simon and died. 

 By the time you are reading this I have traced data points in Sylvester/Anthony’s family tree over and over and and over asking if THIS person or THAT one could have been Osage, and the answer is no. 

Again, I could have missed something, but the data points connecting their ancestry right back to France and Switzerland says otherwise.

The data shows that Jean’s sons Sylvester Soldani and Anthony Godance Soldani grow up believing themselves to be Osage, and are educated in Kaw and Osage schools. 

I figure out which school they must’ve attended and bookmark their archive that indicates they have microfilm records that go back to 1860s which can be checked out by library loan. I’d like to see who checked them in and if they made some donation to the Jesuits or the Sisters or left some money on account for the boys. Remind me to go to the library this week and get this rolling. 

Sylvester and Anthony became Osages at the most auspicious time.  Over the next thirty years they will receive thousands of acres as government headright allotments given to all the Osage Indians, and then when oil is found they will receive oil lease payments from the government for thousands of dollars a year.  The census shows their race to be I - “Indian” - and that they are non-taxed.

They will both become leaders among the Oklahoma Osage, perhaps drowning out the concerns and voices of full-blooded Osage (exhausted from fifty years of accommodation and relocation) - at least from what I read in the newspapers.

Although newspaper articles called Sylvester Soldani “Chief,” I haven’t found Chief “Soldani” on a single Osage History sites, but I’m sure there are sources I haven’t found and perhaps I could have missed it.

 I’m not sure where John/Jean’s brother Joseph is in 1870, and I make a note to check later.

I don’t know where his brother Peter is – I think I remember reading once that he was captured in a battle and taken to Leavenworth but I let that bit of history float off into the sky for awhile and away from this story.  When I check around and see if I can find any data or articles about Peter Soldani from Switzerland. 

52 hints pop up.

One of them is an actual word.document that turns out to be a history of the family left by Peter’s descendants. 5 full pages of information about the three Soldani brothers who trained in “Hungary” as confectioners and left Switzerland with $10,000 each to seek their fortunes in America.

 I print it out and check the data in that document against mine.

 I am entranced.

(continued)



Saturday, March 9, 2019

Pandora's Safe #16: A History of the State of Oklahoma, Vol 2, Page 297

I keep looking and find more and more  evidence that Sylvester and Anthony Godance Soldani really believed they were Osage on their mother's side.

 Perhaps he was told that by his stepfather (see "brought hither by his guardian" below in the article)  when he left they boys at a mission school. 

  Perhaps it was a convenient truth to believe, one that bore more fruit. 

This lie will bring the brothers front and central as the Indian Territory becomes Oklahoma.  

This lie will put the boys in a position to receive thousands of acres of headright land and quarterly allotment checks from the government as part of a settlement with the Osage nation.

  This lie turns to brown gold when oil is found on their land.

I can't stop reading.



From "A History of the State of Oklahoma," by Luther B. Hill  Vol 2, Page 297


1894: The Osage Proposition

"None of the old full bloods were in any favor of allotment or a change of any kind. However, the intelligence of the tribe composed of they younger full bloods and mixed bloods, held a different view...."




Pandora’s Safe #15: Sylvester's Secret


I keep researching with no goal in mind, just utter curiosity. 

 I read death certificates and divorce decrees and coroner's inquests. 

I read asylum admissions and Sears Catalogs and newspapers from the 1940s.

I spend weeks reading Louisiana State Penitentiary Records, tracing my finger on the column “PUNISHMENT” which lists number of lashes, what they were for, and who administered them.  It is horrifying and overwhelming and I can’t look away.





But then I find casefiles for California State Hospitals (1856-1923) and fall into that for weeks, noting which persons are indicated to receive surgery for sterilization.



  I look up the physician performing the surgeries and find out why he sterilized more “low-grade females” than males. 





Then I spent weeks swimming in files from the Tennessee Valley Relocation Authority Family Removal and Readjustment Case files reading dispatches from Caseworkers/SocialWorkers/social commenters about the living conditions and mental capacities of the persons affected by the Tennessee Valley project. 
Pic 4
Pic 5

Then I helped bunches of students with their research and when a day arrived when there was nothing to grade I went back to my own tree and clicked around a bit.

 I still wonder about Jean Soldani, I wonder if he is also John Soldaniels, I wonder if I looked hard enough and found every single the data point. 

Maybe, maybe not. 

I click on 1860 census. John, Peter Soldani– both saloonkeepers born in Switzerland – living in same building as G.S.Raffaletie – Gaudenzio Soldani Rafaletti, a Swiss-born merchant.  


 Records show that John and his wife Matilda Dufoure were married in 1859 in Jackson, Missouri and had two children – Sylvester and Anthony Gaudenz.  

 Matilda was born in Illinois to a mother born in Switzerland and a French father who was born in Detroit.



Matilda believes that Jean dies and puts his will into probate. She remarries, and here she is in the 1870 Census with her new husband Simon Clavier.  

She dies later that year, and apparently he gets custody of the kids.

 I decided to research those two and see if they brought me any clues.



 Sylvester Soldani’s obituary brought me something I did not expect, something which historical data did not support, something I am now completely obsessed with. 



(continued)