In a recent blog post, Denise Levenick commented on Finding Clues and Connections in Old Family Letters.
Letters are hard to come by anymore what with email, Facebook, Skype, WeChat and all the other instant communication programs that I hardly ever or never use. They are great for finding out what is going on right now or seeing pictures of grandkids and others. But no one really puts a lot of thought into sending news and rarely are they saved like letters and cards used to be.
I commented on some letters a friend of mine has that were written by his mother just before and after World War II broke out. They were very illuminating impressions about how the family felt at a time when war was imminent.
I also wrote about cards people sent years ago for special occasions. Again, it’s rare to receive these in this age of right-now messaging.
Denise makes a point about information that may be contained in old letters – personal information about family members or events that you will never find in a database. Not only are these important in constructing a family history, they give us very good insight to the people themselves – how they lived, how they thought, what kinds of personalities they had, etc.
I have copies of cards and letters written to and by my mother – she did most of the correspondence in our family. I have some written by me to parents and grandparents, and which were later returned to me by relatives, which are kind of funny now. They are all unique memorabilia.
My aunt used to write many letters to family members when she was researching the family history. I have found many interesting stories in them. She also collected copies of letters that had been saved by others. She sent me copies of those. Not all of them are easy to read, being copies of copies, but it is still very interesting to see the actual handwriting of my ancestors and hear the stories of their day-to-day lives.
Here are transcriptions of two of them:
The first was written by my maternal grandmother’s sister, Rebecca (McDaniel) Slemp to her brother, James, and his wife, not long after ‘Becca had moved to Missouri from Virginia. Becca was, of course, a daughter of Asa McDaniel one of whose letters appears below. James and his family came west to Oklahoma in 1896 as I described in my June 7th post about the McDaniel Family Goes West. I do not have a copy of the original letter. The transcription was done by my aunt, so I cannot confirm the exact spelling. But it is interesting to hear Aunt Becca talk about her family as well as learn about other members of our family.
Nov. the 17, 1889
Mr. and Misses James McDaniel
Dear Bro, sister and family.
I will try to answer your kind and most welcome letter I rec'd some time ago but have delayed some time ans. it. Well, Jim you had aught to see my big boy, he weighed 9 lbs. the day he was a week old. He was born the Oct 30th. He is a good baby, he lays in bed all day, I took him up this morning and washed and put his clothes on him and put him back to bed and he lay till noon with his fist in his mouth and it is 6 o'clock and he hasn't waked up yet. I have been up ever since last Sunday doing my work. George and R. L. carried the wood and water in the house so I don't get out much. I went to the stable today to see the hogs, one is so fat it can't walk at all, it is a last spring shot e. I guess we will kill him for Thanksgiving Day. Jennie says she is going to make R. L. set a dinner for her and Annie, so I told her we would kill that hog. It will weigh over 150 lbs. now. It just lays and eats all the time.
Jennie was here today, they are well as common. Lillie is cutting teeth. Annie's is tolerably well. Lonnie burn his face on the jaw and Annie had her teeth all pulled out yesterday a week ago, 28 I believe and one now one has come since. Matthew's of Tarkio pulled them, charged 10 dollars and will put the now ones in, in the spring, he will only charge 15 more dollars. He wont charge anything for pulling if he replaces the teeth but that makes them 25 dollars a set. Oh! I forgot to tell you our boy's name is Edgar Earnest. Ask John if that ain't a good stout name. We had Dr. A. L. Gray from Tarkio. It was half past 11 Wednesday night when he got here and half past 4 Thursday morning when he got ready to leave and when he started, he had no team. He had hired a livery team and buggy and they had got loose and went back to Tarkio. So he waited till daylight and George took him home. George had the fun of going over after Annie, and R. L. after Mrs. Rhoads. R. L. went after the Dr. So we laughed at George about having a party. The young folks have parties out here. Has the boys got lots of chestnuts? There is plenty of hazel nuts out here. Tell Willy to come out and see Edgar and eat apples and be sure to bring his pockets full of chestnuts for I've not seen one since I've been here.
R. E. Slemp
George = George McDaniel, Rebecca's brother
Edgar Earnest = Rebecca’s first child
R. L. = Richard Landon Slemp, Rebecca's husband
Jennie = Virginia (McDaniel) Slemp, Rebecca's sister
Annie = Elizabeth Ann (McDaniel) Slemp, Rebecca's sister who lived Oklahoma City
Lillie = 3rd child of Jennie
Lonnie = son of Annie
The second was written on November 1, 1896 by my great-grandfather, Asa McDaniel, and sent to his daughter, Molly Davis who was still living in Virginia. The letter is very informative about Asa’s family who had moved to Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma in the 1880s and 1890s as well as things in general around the farming community.
Norman, O. T.
November the 4 1896
C. C. and Molly Davis
I receved your letter the 2 was glad to hear from you and hear you was wel it found me Tollerable wel I have a mity bad Cold and sourer Throat but feel better To day I have bean Down hear nearly 3 weeks at John's tha are Tollerable wel at this time thar was a mity hard Rain and storm hear the 25th and then turned verry Cold about as Cold as it ever gets in this Country and has give Nearly evry boddy awful bad Colds. Olie and Michels baby has bean bad of but is a heap better to Day Jim has Rented him a farm and moved to it Michel has got him a Place but haint moved yet thar Plunder that tha had to frait haint got hear yet or hadent yesterday Jim lives in 4 ½ mils of Norman Carna is hear wel and harty ways 140 lbs I think me and Carna wil go to Kate Bundyes some time this winter if I Ceam wel and it Dont get two cold and bad I got a letter from Kate Last week tha was all wel but Leroy he had let his team Runof and Broke one of his Ribs but had got nearly wel when she Roat George Mc and Jinna Slemp and famlyes was all wel a short time ago I heard from Matty the other day tha was wel I haint heard from Anne and Beckie sence I left thar but I suppose tha are all wel or I would hear from them I was sorry to hear Davis was Porly hope he is Better by this time give him my Best respects and all other enquiring friend with a few exeseptions thar is the finest wheat in this Country that I ever saw at this time of the year and thar is a quantile sowed a heap of the farmers has sowed 100 acres Ed Miller has sowed 120 acres Dick Slemp has over 200 Anne about 100 wheat is worth 40 cts per bushel Corn l7cts hogs is worth $260 cts per hundred flour 240 cts per hundred Coffy 18 to 20 cts per Pound shuger 21 lbs to the Dollr all other goods is very Cheap I think I will go back to Yukon in a few days I saw John Morgan at the sitty yesterday Rite sune
CC = Claiborne Columbus Davis, Molly’s husband
Molly = Mary Saphronia (Molly) (McDaniel) Davis
John = Asa’s second son
Olie and Michel = unknown relationship
Jim = Asa’s oldest son
Carna = Sarah Carnelia, Asa’s youngest daughter
Kate Bundy = Eliza Katherine (McDaniel) Bundy, Asa’s fourth child
Leroy = Henry Leroy Bundy, Kate’s husband
George Mc. = George McDaniel, Asa’s youngest son and 10th child
Jinna Slemp = Virginia (McDaniel) Slemp, Asa’s oldest child
Matty = Martha Alwilda Jane (McDaniel) Miller, Asa’s second youngest daughter and my grandmother
Anne = Elizabeth Ann (McDaniel) Slemp, Asa’s fifth child
Beckie = Rebecca Eliane (McDaniel) Slemp, Asa’s third youngest daughter
Davis = unknown relationship
Ed Miller = Matty’s husband and my grandfather
Dick Slemp = Richard Landon Slemp, Rebecca’s husband
John Morgan = unknown relationship
This is the second of three of Asa’s letters I have copies of, written in 1895, 1896 and 1897, all to his daughter, Molly. There is also one from Molly to her father written in 1894 and confirms that Asa moved to Missouri that year. My Aunt Doris acquired them from Molly’s daughter, who was also involved in family history research. All the letters describe the health and activities of McDaniel family members.
These are wonderful pieces of the family’s history to have, even if they are not originals. I go back and look at some of the correspondence every once in a while, like today, and always learn something new or get another idea of where to search.
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated