Hamner Family Papers
An Inventory of the Collection
The Hamner family was a prominent Austin family with a rich and complex history, which began with the marriage of Robert T. Smith (1789-1840) and Harriet Wright (1793-1851) on November 27, 1814. Both the Smiths and Wrights were from Mount Sterling, Kentucky, and the Wright Family included portrait artist, Thomas Jefferson Wright (1798-1846). Robert and Harriet had nine children, Lydia Ann Smith (1815-1854), William Halley smith (1817-1889), Elizabeth Smith (1819-1881), Mary Smith (1822-1848), Susanna Smith (1823-1858), Eleanor Smith (1825-1870), John Lyle Smith (1828-1898), Sarah Smith (1830-1832), and Robert T. Smith (1834-1918). The family came to Texas when Benjamin Franklin Wright (1800-1867) moved to Walker County in 1835, followed shortly by his nephew, John Lyle Smith. Benjamin Franklin Wright died in Walker County in 1867. John Lyle Smith served in the Confederate Army, and after moving to Texas, and began corresponding with Sarah Katherine Murray (1838-1923) of Huntsville, Texas.
John Lyle Smith and Sarah Murray were married on May 7, 1857 and continued to reside in Huntsville, Texas. The couple had eight children, Robert F. Smith (1858-1931), Mary Elizabeth Smith (1861-1954), George Lyle Smith (1863-1966), Lee Wright Smith (1866-1877), Emma Smith (1868-1952), Harriet Smith (1870-1958), A.U. (Urbin) Smith (1875-1947), and Rosa Susan Smith (Sue Smith) (1878-1958). The Smith family was highly educated. John Lyle and Sarah Smith were both able to read and write well and corresponded, both with each other early in their relationship and with their children throughout their lives. Sarah Smith ran a boarding house in Huntsville for young women attending the Sam Houston Institute, which later became the Sam Houston State Teachers College (SHSTC).
Many of the Smith children held esteemed positions in their communities as well. Robert F. Smith was a Professor of Mathematics at Texas A & M University, A.U. Smith was also a professor, and George Lyle Smith served as a reverend in Waurika, Oklahoma. Sue Smith attended the Sam Houston Institute and later taught at a small country school. Harriet Smith taught Geography and Social Studies at the Sam Houston State Teachers College (1911-1941). In 1943, she also participated in a Sherwood Eddy American Seminar, which was part of a movement of international evangelism and took her to Eastern Europe at the end of World War II.
The Hamner family came to Austin after Edwin D. Hamner (1878-1965) married the youngest Smith child, Sue Smith, on June 20, 1900. Edwin D. Hamner's family was originally from Galveston, where his father, Edward D. Hamner worked as a dentist. Edwin D. Hamner served in Galveston as a reverend and also worked as a free-lance writer for the Galveston News, Dallas News, and Houston Chronicle. Edwin and Sue Hamner came to Austin on July 4, 1919, where Edwin worked for the International Revenue Department and preached for various churches in neighboring communities. Edwin and Sue had six children, Lucile Hamner, Edward Hamner (1904-1957), J. Lyle Hamner, David Hamner, Paul Hamner, and Robert S. Hamner (1910-1993).
Edwin and Sue's youngest son, Robert S. Hamner, attended Austin High School from 1926-1929, where he possibly met his future wife, Emma Ruth Randerson (1911-1977). Robert graduated from the University of Texas Business School in 1934, and he and Emma Ruth were married on June 13, 1936. Robert and Emma Ruth then moved from Austin, and from 1942 to 1943, Robert Hamner worked with the Federal Works Agency Public Roads Administration (PRA) during the construction of the Alaska Highway. He and Emma Ruth then moved from Seattle, Washington to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada while Robert lived for briefly at a Public Roads Camp at in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. After the completion of the Alaska Highway project (1943), Robert and Emma Ruth made their way back to Seattle, travelled across the United States and settled in Chicago, Illinois (1943). In 1944, Robert joined the United States Naval Reserve.
Robert and Emma Ruth were active members of the church wherever they lived. Robert Hamner was a member of many Christian organizations, including the World's Christian Endeavor Union (1943) and the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) (1944), and both he and Emma Ruth were members of the Texas Christian Endeavor Union (1943). In addition, they were heads of the Christian Youth Fellowship (CYF) at the University Christian Church in Seattle before moving to Edmonton. After finally returning to Austin, Robert and Emma Ruth adopted Jean Hamner (1947- ), and later, Jack Hamner (1951-1972). Jean and Jack Hamner grew up in Austin, and Jack attended Austin High School. Jack Hamner died in 1972 at the age of 21, from unknown causes. Emma Ruth Hamner died in 1977, and on October 18, 1978, Robert was remarried to Mildred. He died in 1993.
Correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, newspaper clippings, financial and property records, (1827-2007; 481 items) created and maintained by members of the Hamner family describe the life, activities, and complex genealogical networks of this family. Although Lucille Hill, a niece of Robert and Emma Ruth Hamner, donated these papers to the Austin History Center, there is no evidence to suggest that she is the creator of any of the material. In addition to histories about the family, this collection contains many items related to World War II (WWII), which can be found in both Hamner scrapbooks (1942-1944; 2 items) and in the Harriet Frances Smith subseries, "Colorado-European Letters, written summer July 1934, Sherwood Eddy Party" [ca. 1934] (37 items), which document Harriet France's travels as a Christian Missionary through Europe in the summer of 1934.
The collection has been divided into four subgroups, Genealogical Information, Hamner Family, Smith Family, and Wright Family, although the Smith's and Wrights are members of the Hamner's extended family. The subgroup Genealogical Information consists of genealogical research gathered by family members across subgroups and so is located at the beginning of the collection. These materials describe the complex genealogical relationships among the Hamner, Smith, and Wright families over 4 generations (1827-1994) through correspondence between various family members, printed genealogical material collected by Jean Hamner, and handwritten notes and family trees.
The bulk of the material spans from 1928-1977 for all three subgroups; however, most well documented are the Hamners (1850-2006; 232 items), specifically Robert and Emma Ruth Hamner (1929-1977; 112 items). Items of note from this series are two scrapbooks, which describe Robert Hamner's time working on the construction of the Alaska Highway, and the travels he and Emma Ruth took during that time from Texas to Seattle, Washington, to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and back again through the United States where they settled in Chicago, Illinois (1942-1944). The majority of the documentation in these scrapbooks consists of clippings, photographs, and ephemera. Least well represented is correspondence. Of note, however, is a letter removed from a dead Japanese soldier during World War II by a friend of the Hamners on Attu Island, Alaska.
The J. Lyle and Sarah Smith Family series (1834-2007; 24 items) contains some of the earliest correspondence in the Hamner family papers; yet, the bulk of the items in the Smith subgroup, cover the life of Harriet Frances Smith (1894-1959; 72 items). The printed materials in this series (1958-1959; 2 items) reveal that in her retirement, Harriet Frances Smith set out to record her family’s history. This group contains two scrapbooks, "Our Mother's Album" (1850-1897, 1933, 1993, undated), and one belonging to Harriet Frances Smith [ca. 1921-1944]. Most well represented in "Our Mother's Album" are correspondence between J. Lyle and Sarah Katherine Murray Smith—both before and after their marriage—photos of the old Smith home in Mount Sterling, KY, and biographical sketches of J. Lyle and Sarah Smith, as well as J. Lyle's parents, Robert T. and Harriet Wright Smith. Harriet Frances' scrapbook contains correspondence, photographs, clippings, creative works, and printed material. Best documented is the period 1936-1944, and her retirement from Sam Houston State Teacher's College (SHSTC) in 1941, where she taught geography and social studies (1911-1941).
The earliest records in the Hamner family papers are those of the Wright subgroup (1836-1902, undated; 93 items), and contain B.F. Wright’s receipts for land, taxes and other purchases in Walker County Texas. The history of Texas is documented in these records from the earliest receipts inscribed with ‘The Republic of Texas’ to the Confederate tax receipts issued during the Civil War. A single item of correspondence from 1853, contains a lively land dispute between Wright and A.M. Millan. The scrapbook "Family Portraits from Mount Sterling, KY" (1882, 1891; 1 item) contains photographs of portraits painted by Thomas Jefferson Wright of various family members along with biographical sketches of some of the family members. The Wright legal documents of heirship (1902, undated; 2 items) illuminate the relationship between B.F. Wright and his sister, Harriet Wright Smith’s, children.
Restrictions on Access
Open to all users.
Restrictions on Use
Many of the scrapbooks need preservation work and are very fragile. Use may be restricted.
Donated by Lucille Hill.
Hamner Family Papers (AR.2008.07). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donation Date: 2008
Final Processing and Finding Aid By: Stephanie Bordy, Margaret Pevoto, Blair Smith/2008 November
Detailed Description of the Collection