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gaffeygazette

In 1953, my dad had already been in Japan for several months. Now, it was time for my mom, brother and sister to make the journey. They boarded the USNS General Hugh Gaffey for the trip over the sea from Seattle to Japan. Following are bits of my mother’s letter diary she wrote.

June 10, 1953
Well, will start our daily diary on board ship.
June 9 – We were up at 5:00 A.M. at the Hostess House. Had our bed check at 6:00. Bags were picked up at 6:30. Then we went to breakfast at 7:00 A.M. Had 2 hrs to wait. At 9:10 we boarded buses to take us to the pier. Everything went according to schedule. At 10:15 we unloaded, rec’d our passports and went aboard.
Mom Ann Mike on ship
After looking over our cabin & stowing away some of our packages we carried aboard, we went up on deck. Our cabin is on B deck which is 2 decks below. Have nice quarters. It was very interesting to watch people coming aboard as we were among the first to board. The band was playing. We took several pictures of the dock and band & people coming aboard.
We pulled away from the pier promptly at 11:00. Stayed on deck for awhile, then went below. We are on 2nd call for mess so our hrs are 8:00 A.M., 11:45 and 5:15.
In the afternoon we had to go to a meeting and also had a fire & boat drill. We don’t stay below too long at a time as I guess the depth and rocking of the ship makes you squeamish.
We went up on the sun deck and watched the sights. We are traveling the great circle route which is by way of Alaska. Our ship travels 29 knots & goes faster than you realize. At 7 o’clock I asked one of the Lt’s if we were out of the sound yet as we still saw land. He laughed & said what you see now is the Aleutian chain, stretching out from Alaska. The sun never set till 10 P.M. last nite & was beautiful. Also at 10 P.M. we saw the last touch of land. The children have curfew at 8:00 P.M. They have to be in bed by that hr.  We will only be on the water 9 sailing days but due to the time change will actually be 10 according to the calendar. I heard someone talking & they said we would skip Sat, but will wait & see, you hear so many rumors you’d be dizzy if you believe them all.
June 10 – It is now 11:15 and will soon go to lunch.  We were up at 6:30 and made ourselves presentable, at our breakfast or rather I did. Was raining this A.M. & real rough.  Was like riding the elevator.  The ship just pitches about.  The Captain announced some of the decks closed due to rough weather.  He expects to be out of this roughness in the next day or two. In the evening played canasta.  We have coffee hr at 9:00 so drank coffee & ate angel food cake & then retired.  The ships paper said we traveled 471 miles in the last 25 hrs.
June 11th – We sat our watches back one hr in the nite, and made it difficult to try to sleep. The sea is really rough today the ship just rocks from side to side & back & forth. We have run into considerable fog. Was talking to the Capt of the ship & he said this fog has put us back a day & they have changed course. He’s a very nice person & comes around & talks with everyone. We have slowed down to 15 knots & traveled 560 miles in the last 25 hrs. We have 2400 troops aboard too & I feel for those boys. They don’t have any privileges & have to stay either on the forward deck or aft. and have no protection. They are quartered on the same deck as we are but are in the center of the ship & very poor ventilation.
June 12th – We sat our watches back another hr in the nite, and are to set our watches back again tonite. We rec’d our declarations forms for customs at 8:30 this morning. It is quite a job to fill it out. Had another boat & fire drill this morning at 10:30. Tomorrow we pay our subsistence. It is much cheaper than we all thot. Is only 16.43 per person so will only come to little over $49.00. Here I was planning on $90.00. The trip across is cheaper than the trip from Ohio to Seattle.
June 13th – We ran into a storm in the late afternoon & tossed the ship.  Our port holes were latched down & our room was like a dungeon.  It is the Aleutian squall we are in.
June 14th – It’s Sunday & sure is rough.  The bow of the ship comes up out of the water & slaps down.  Still have our port holes latched down.  It is stifling in the cabin.  All decks are out of bounds as the waves are quite high & we toss about.
June 16th – It is Tuesday.  We cross the international date line yesterday afternoon.  So we missed Monday entirely.  The sea has calmed so our port hole is open.  Has warmed up & by grapevine we are 2½ days out of Yokohoma.  Boy this is a long boat ride, even tho I haven’t got sick I’ve seen all the water I want to for awhile.  It’s the monotony that gets me.
June 17 – Wed & just a few more days to go.  The day passed very fast for me.
Debarkation title
June 18 – Thurs & today & tomorrow before we get off this ship.  We will drop anchor late tomorrow afternoon about 20 miles off shore & then Sat morning will dock. It is getting very hot. We ran into a squall last nite & they latched down the port holes & brother we roasted. I’m sitting here in my slip trying to cool off. Will write more tomorrow.
Fri June 19th.  This is our final day sailing.  Will drop anchor sometime this evening.  Also we are to see land about eight tonite, sure will be good to see the good solid land (even tho its Japan it’s better than all this water).  The steward was telling me it’s a sight to watch the husbands come storming up the gang plank.  They are to come on by alphabetical order there’s no stopping them.  I’m going on deck to watch them & take some pictures then will rush down to the cabin.
Sat – June 20.  This is the great day.  It seems nobody slept much in the nite.  Saw land for the first in 9 days.  We had stopped around midnight & was sitting outside the harbor.

Yokohama harbor
At 8:30 had our money changed.  Then back on deck.  We couldn’t take pictures till we were 300 yds from the pier.  We had a good spot along the rail.  Finally we could see the sponsors & band in the distance.  Seemed the ship would never get to the pier.  I started taking pictures of the band just as we nosed into the pier.  I spotted Gene right away.  They were all standing on a high balcony.  I started waving & finally he spotted us.  He used the binoculars so he could see us close.  He also was taking pictures as the ship was pulled alongside.  Gene was smart & started downstairs.  He got up to the gate so he could be one of the first on board.  All the passengers on board had to go to their cabins so the sponsors could find you.  He had a staff car & driver to take us to where we were going.  Went thru customs.  I’ll bring this diary to a close for this time.

(Photos: Mom, her roommate Ann and my sister on the deck of the USNS General Hugh Gaffey. Photographer: Jim Amore. Digital image scanned from original slide by Wendy Littrell; Scans of ship’s newspaper, originals in possession of Wendy Littrell; photo of Yokohama Harbor. Photographer: Jim Amore. Digital image scanned from original photo in possession of Wendy Littrell – address for private use.)

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stamps

Before delving in to “the” letter, let me back up a bit. When I created my very first genealogy website (still online – just not as updated as I’d like) over ten years ago, I had posted some information about my grandfather’s foster sister, Eva. Imagine my surprise when someone left a comment for me that informed me that Eva was her mother! Say what?! The writer had been put up for adoption similar to how Eva’s life began. Then I saw a picture of the person who had contacted me, and there was no doubt at all that she was Eva’s daughter. She told me her story and how she eventually did get to meet Eva before her death. And just like Eva, she was searching for the elusive Clara as well as the man who would have been Eva’s father. I vaguely remembered that somewhere in my possession I had a letter that Eva had written to my grandparents that mentioned her biological parents. So one day several months ago – on the off chance that I could find the letter – I went into the black hole that is my genealogical filing cabinet. (Okay, disclaimer here – I really didn’t go looking for that letter. I was going through papers to see if there was something I needed to scan or enter in to my family tree database.)

But then – there “it” was. My grandmother – oh, if she were alive – I could have kissed her – she had written on the envelope “Eva’s letter about her father.” OHMYGOODNESS! So I took it out, sat down and read the letter. As with the news article (and everything else I’ve been told about family stories), I took the information with a grain of salt. I needed documentation. But – I needed to tell Eva’s daughter what I had found.

Instead of typing the letter word for word on Facebook private messaging, I gave her a few highlights and then emailed her a scan of the letter so she could read everything in her biological mother’s handwriting. She shared with her half-brother’s daughters. Granddaughters of Eva who had known her – yet it was still a mystery to them. Anything their father, Eva’s son, knew – he didn’t disclose for their relationship was pretty non-existent for several decades.

And now, I present to you, the reader, THE letter.

 

So now you understand my excitement! I had two new names to research! And just what would I find?

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Postwatchletters

A couple of months ago, I pulled out some letters from my genealogy archives to read. Apparently, I missed putting one of them back and found it on the table about a week later. It was written by Dorothy Welch (my second cousin once removed) to her aunt (my great-grandmother) Martha Stern Wilt Clawson.

July 19, 1922
113 E. Ave 58
Los Angeles, Calif.
Dear Aunt Martha,
I received your letter and was certainly glad to hear from you.
Some Muncie people by the name of Cites came out here the other day to visit her brother
who is a friend of ours. They brought word to us from my grand daddy Welch.
I am awfully sorry to hear that Nellie is sick again. I wish she could come out to Los Angeles
if she has to come “west.”
I haven’t heard from Uncle Ralph since March either. I’ve wrote several letters to see what
was the matter but I never got a answer.
I bet Vesta’s children are cute I certainly would like to see them.
Leonore is studying her spelling now so she will pass in her grades next term.
What grade is Clifford in at school?
Well I must close this time with love,
Dorothy

The first thing that stood out for me was the date of the letter – 1922. My mother always said that she didn’t meet her grandmother until she was an adult so I assumed that Grandma Clawson had moved west before my mom was born – the fall of 1921. I really think she meant that she didn’t remember her because my mom and her family moved to the Dayton, Ohio area in 1922.  I looked up Grandma Clawson’s address on Google and the street scene shows a parking lot now at 31 W 12th Street in Anderson, Indiana. There’s a church nearby so I wonder if the house was torn down since 1922. It would have been interesting if it had still been standing.

The “grand daddy Welch” that Dorothy mentions would be Americas C. Welch. A.C. Welch married Sarah C Buzzard in 1875 in Huntington, Indiana (according to the database: “Indiana Marriages, 1811-1959” index on FamilySearch.org). A.C. and Sarah were the parents of Dorothy’s father, George Welch.

Nellie was my grandmother’s younger sister. She was 20 years old at the time of this letter and had been diagnosed with asthma. I had been told by my mother that due to her illness, it was necessary for her to move to the western United States.  She ended up moving to the Oregon/Washington area and lived most of her adult life in Washington.

The “Uncle Ralph” that Dorothy is referring to is her mother’s brother, Ralph Clawson, and my grandmother’s cousin. He was enumerated in the 1920 Census as living in Watertown, Massachusetts in the George C Shattuck household. I know Ralph had gone in the Navy  and he would have been about 24 years old in 1922 when Dorothy was trying to reach him. In June 1923 Ralph married Olive Sundberg in Chicago, Illinois.

Vesta would be my maternal grandmother (Vesta C Johnson nee Wilt). She and my grandfather had already bore three children, my Uncle Glen R Johnson, Jr., my aunt Genevieve V Johnson, and my mom Mary H Johnson.

Leonore was Dorothy’s younger sister. At the time of this letter, Dorothy was age 16. Leonore was probably close to nine.

Clifford, my grandmother’s youngest brother, was born April 20, 1906 making him a little over 16 when Dorothy wrote this letter. The 1940 US Census shows that Clifford only completed the first year of high school (generally 9th grade) – so he was not attending school any longer. If he had remained in school, he would probably have been going into his sophomore year when school began that fall.

I am under the impression that Dorothy wrote this letter as a reply to her Aunt Martha’s correspondence to her. I haven’t run across any other letters written by Dorothy so I don’t think it was a regular occurrence.

I greatly enjoy reading old letters that were sent back and forth from family members. It enables me to glimpse a window into their lives at the time of the letter. I noticed that Dorothy didn’t volunteer very much about herself such as her social activities, friends, work, or suitors.  She also didn’t ask how her grandfather was – as after her grandmother Margaret Ellen passed away, her aunt Martha (Ellen’s sister), married her widower, W. Frank Clawson.

If you have letters or post cards like I do, a good way to understand their deeper message or the lives of the people then, is to do an analysis on them as I did with this letter.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

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(I started this blogging prompt late in the month so will try to catch up!)
Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist has listed blogging prompts for each day of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. The blog prompt for March 11: “Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe how did this affect the family.”

My 2nd great-grandmother, Charlotte (Reed) Amore, born August 4, 1828 to Zachariah Reed and Margaret Pope died at the age of 34 years 2 months and five days on May 15, 1862 in Coshocton, Ohio. She had been married to William Amore for a little over 11 years and had borne him five sons – all but two died as young children or infants. She died a year after their youngest son died. Charlotte was not able to watch her two oldest sons grow into men or see them marry or hold her grandchildren. I don’t have any information about her death. I wonder if she was pregnant with another child but died in childbirth. If so, perhaps William didn’t even consider listing the child on a gravestone. Perhaps she caught an illness that killed her. Unless I find a news article about her death, I probably won’t ever what the circumstances were for her death. After Charlotte died, William married Elizabeth Spencer three months later. Elizabeth raised my great-grandfather, William Henry, and his brother, George Washington, along with the seven children she and William had together (one son died as a child, one at 5 months, and another at 15 days).

My maternal aunt, Genevieve Vesta (Johnson) Steffen, died from an inoperable brain tumor on May 2, 1958 a month before her 38th birthday. She was a wife of 16 years to John Steffen, mother to three ages 14, 13, and 12, and was working as a nurse. She was the middle child of my grandparents. My grandmother documented her daughter’s medical problems in letters sent to my mother in Japan. When things took a turn for the worse, a telegram was sent dated April 25, 1958.

telegram_genhealth

Genevieve operated on today
Tumor cannot be revoved
Doctor gives no hope of recovery
but may linger on for
sometime
Mailing tape with complete information
M
other Dad

My mother left for the states in order to be with her family. A few days later, she sent this telegram to my dad.

telegram_gendeath

Genevieve passed away
Funeral Monday morning
Love Dad and Mary Helen

Aunt Genevieve’s death left a void in the family. My grandparents had to lose another daughter (their baby died when only a few weeks old), worry about their three grandchildren who were left without a mother, and do what they could to make sure their son-in-law knew that he would always be a part of the family. I never met my aunt since she died several years before I was born but through all the written words of my grandparents, audio of the tape they sent my parents while she was recovering in the hospital after one of her surgeries, pictures, and the stories told by my grandparents, mom, and my cousins, I feel as if I would have really loved her. I have missed her even without knowing her. I also wish I could have witnessed the family dynamic between my mom and my aunt!

My paternal grandmother’s sister, Julia Ann (House) Tuttle, also died at a very young age. I wrote about her in Meeting Juila.

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(I started this blogging prompt late in the month so will try to catch up!)
Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist has listed blogging prompts for each day of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. The blog prompt for March 8: “Did one of your female ancestors leave a diary, journal, or collection of letters? Share an entry or excerpt.”

As I’ve reported many previous times, I have a large – (read that LARGE) collection of letters that include:

  • My grandparents (Glen and Vesta Johnson) wrote to each other during their courtship.
  • My grandparents wrote to each other during the time my grandfather was in training with the Signal Squadron and overseas in France during WWI.
  • My grandparents wrote to each other whenever they were apart (for military or visiting other relatives).
  • My great-grandmother (Martha Stern Clawson) wrote to my grandmother (Vesta).
  • My grandmother’s (Vesta) brothers and sister wrote to her as they lived in Oregon/Washington and my grandmother was somewhere else (usually Ohio).
  • My parents and my grandparents (Glen and Vesta) wrote to each other when my parents were stationed in Japan in the 1950s.
  • My grandparents (Glen and Vesta) wrote to my parents when my grandparents were stationed in Germany.
  • Postcards several members of the family sent to each other.

washington d.c. postcard

Postcard my grandfather sent to my parents on January 28, 1951 from Washington D.C.

paris postcard

Postcard from my grandfather to my parents on December 6, 1950 from Paris, France

I feel immensely fortunate that I have this collection of letters from the past because it gives me a glimpse into their lives during a time before my birth.

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Anillos

(I started this blogging prompt late in the month so will try to catch up!)
Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist has listed blogging prompts for each day of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. The blog prompt for March 5: “How did they meet? You’ve documented marriages, now, go back a bit. Do you know the story of how your parents met? Your grandparents?”

I do know how my parents met – mom was working at Wright Field (now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) outside of Fairborn, Ohio (back then it was Fairfield) in Greene County, Bath Township. She met my dad in early 1941 when he was stationed there. They spent the next couple of years dating until they married in December 1943.

On Easter Sunday 1916 (April 23), my maternal grandparents, Glen R Johnson and Vesta C Wilt, met at church. Life would never be the same for either of them again! Such began months of daily correspondence for even though they lived in the same town, they sent letters to each other every day – and since the mail service ran twice a day – it wasn’t just one letter they sent, but two! Luckily for me, I have each and every one of those letters. To me they are priceless! A window into their lives that helped me witness them falling in love with each other (although I suspect, it was love at first sight for both of them!).

glen_vesta_eastercherry_hill

The following is parts of a letter from my grandfather to my grandmother that he wrote to her on May 31, 1916 – a little over a month after their initial meeting.

You told me that you were not cold last night but I think you were. I am afraid you (my little girl) will be sick. But I hope not. Do not work to hard to-day. I hope you had a good time yesterday. I did I know. So good-bye Dear
I still remain yours forever
                                       Glen
To the one I love best Miss Vesta Wilt signed Glen

Later that summer – apparently after my great-grandmother, Martha, had words about Glen with my grandmother, he was very scared and wrote the following to my grandmother:

Vesta Dear I am afraid your mother will make me quit going with you. Oh! I can’t stand to think of it. I have cried all evening. But listen Dear you have a good time, don’t think of me. Whatever happens I will take it as best I can, I can go west or some other place and die. But I never will forget the Little girl of Mine. Vesta. The dearest girl there ever was. Hoping you will forgive me for all I have said and done. I will never do them again. After I leave you can forget me and find some one just as good and better than I am. Hoping you will not think hard of me for all this talk, but I think it will happen. I had a dream I never told you of. I don’t know whether I will tell you now. I think you can guess it. And just think I caused it all I am simply crazy. Well dear I have told you all I know and more to. I will be there Sunday morning if I am alive. Hoping you will not worry. Let me do all the worrying. I will close. Forgive the writing. I will close again with lots of love and kisses.
I still remain your lover and sweetheart, bit I am afraid never yours to be.
                    Glen
                 The broken hearted boy.  9:30 P.M.
5:30 A.M. Aug. 4, 1916
P.S. Well Dear I past through the awful night. I got about one hour sleep. I was thinking or crying the rest. Crying the most. Well Dear I guess I will try and work to-day. I don’t know whether I can or not.
                    Glen

My grandfather needn’t have worried because just a few short months later, they were engaged and married on Christmas Eve 1916 – eight months after they met. They were married 67 years before my grandmother passed away. My grandfather wait a year and then joined her. I am so very fortunate to have boxes and boxes of their letters to each other that allows me to feel their deep abiding and eternal love for one another.

I don’t have any idea how my paternal grandparents met – that is something I will have to ask my dad about! (Took a 15 minute break and called my dad!) Loyd W Amore and Ella M House were introduced to each other by his brother Isaiah H (Zade) Amore and wife, Lula (St. Clair). Lula was a sewing teacher and was teaching my grandmother how to sew. She asked my grandma if she wanted to meet someone and she said that would be ok (or as my dad said “Whatever they said back then.”) So they were introduced about 1901-02 and were married on April 11, 1903 in the Presbyterian Manse in Coshocton, Ohio.

Photos: Wedding rings from Wikimedia Commons. Glen and Vesta Johnson – photographer: Wendy Littrell, original and digital photo in possession of Wendy Littrell, Address for private use).

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Addressing Christmas Cards

As Christmas approaches, I realize that soon I will need to write my annual Christmas letter and get the Christmas cards addressed for the mail.  I have a list of addresses I use for my holiday cards, adding and removing from year to year.  That led me to wonder how technology has changed the way we send Christmas greetings and how we store addresses.

My approach each year is to pull up the previous year’s Christmas letter that I save in my word processing program.  I use that as the template for the current letter as it keeps me on track.  The letters are printed out on special 8.5×11 holiday stationery. Some of my Christmas cards don’t require letters – generally those go to church friends or others who I see on a regular basis and know what my yearly activities have been. Distant family members and friends get a letter and a card.  Then I pull out my address book to address all the cards.  There are those who have moved and lacking a current address, I attach my Christmas letter to an email.

So I have mixed both current technology – computerized Christmas letters -and old-school address book to complete the Christmas card task.  There are some people who have all of the addresses and information in their smart phones or tablets. If their phone gets lost or suffers major damage, all of that information could be lost. Future generations would never have an old-fashioned address book to look through, perhaps with clues as to their parents’ or grandparents’ friends or relatives.

I’m fairly lucky in that respect. My mom had kept my grandparents’ address books after they passed away. When my mother passed away, I got her address books and those of my grandparents.  In those pages are names that I know, reminding me of times in the past.  There are also names of people I had never heard of, which gave me pause as to what the relationship was.  There are also notations by names – death dates, the word “cousin”, etc. Those clues have proven very useful in my family research.

I worry that the digital age will change all of that. As our ancestors kept journals or diaries – we write blogs and websites. In high school we passed notes in class and between classes. Today, students text each other. My grandparents and mom wrote letters daily and weekly when they were apart due to military transfers. We write emails or update our Facebook status.  Even if everything in cyberspace will remain for eons, there is no tactile experience.  The feel of the leather address book covers, the brittle onion skin typewriter paper, or the embossed stationary can bring the past into the present.  The handwritten words of a beloved ancestor or family member long since passed can shed light on what was important to them at that time in their life.

In contrast, words in an email – sentence fragments, texting language, upper caps “shouting”, and short messages don’t say much about the writer, other than they used technology.  Even in this hurry up world we live in, perhaps it is important to revisit our ancestors’ (even parents’) use of the handwritten word – especially when it comes to addressing our cards, keeping our address books, and a long distance letter or two.

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