Sep 17, 2014

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52 Weeks of Genealogical Records in 2014 – Week 22 Family Letters and Correspondence

This blog challenge is to stimulate my own genealogy blogging efforts in 2014 by focusing on a different kind of genealogical record each week. I wanted a challenge that reflected my own archival background as well as my own genealogy interests and there are probably lots of other records that I could have included. The challenge has an Australian focus but most of these records will be found just about anywhere in the genealogy world.

The 52 different types of genealogical records I finally decided on are listed in no particular order (each week will be a random surprise). Originally I planned to do this over 52 weeks but I now realise that I have to factor in travel and illness so it will continue a little bit over a year. Anyone is welcome to do all or part of this blogging challenge.  Let me know if you are participating and I will put a link to your post under each week’s challenge.

So far I know of seven bloggers who are taking up the challenge from time to time and I have put links to their individual entries at the end of each week’s blog if they have submitted something for that week. Thanks Judy WebsterSharn WhiteCassmobAnneCampaspe Library and Sharon for participating and encouraging me to keep up the blog challenge myself!

Also participating in this blog challenge:

Links to Week 1 Military Medals Week 2 Internal Migration Week 3 Probates (wills and administrations) Week 4 Memorial Cards Week 5 Family Stories Week 6 Land Records Week 7 Local Histories Week 8 Diaries Week 9 Inquest Records Week 10Occupation Records Week 11 Newspapers Week 12 Gazetteers Week 13 Personal Names and Surnames Week 14 Cemetery Records Week 15 Civil Registration and Certificates Week 16 Naturalization and Citizenship Records Week 17 Court Records Week 18 Almanacs   Week 19 Family Bibles Week 20 Mining Records Week 21 Obituaries

Week 22 Family Letters & Correspondence

With the widespread adoption of email , Facebook and other social media as a means of communicating with family members, letters and correspondence between people is becoming a rarity. As family historians however, we cherish finding long lost letters written by our ancestors or correspondence highlighting family events and containing information that we are not likely to find in official documents.

I am lucky in that I have managed to find isolated copies of letters that have survived purely by chance rather than any real thought to keeping them for future generations. In this blog post I will share two letters – one from my father’s side of the family and one from my mother’s side.

Jackie Gunderson letter croppedThe first was written by my paternal grandfather John (Jack) Martin Gunderson just after his 8th birthday in 1917, nearly 100 years ago. It is written in pencil on a single sheet of paper and is addressed to his lifelong friend and cousin Doris Maher. He appears to be letting her know their new address and what it is like living closer to the river. He can see the boats and he goes fishing with Bob Lindley.

School gets a mention and he is in the same class at Bulimba that he was in at Dunellan. There is mention of his father trying to sell this house and that my grandfather’s favourite place to live is Stones Corner and that he hopes to get there someday. He finishes the letter by saying that he would like to see 10 year old Doris and invites her to visit.

The letter is signed Jackie Gunderson and I think it is this signature that really brings home to me that my grandfather was once a small boy who moved homes occasionally and missed his school friends and cousins. It has numerous spelling errors but then he was only 8 years old.

My Auntie Dorrie (really my father’s aunt) was very knowledgeable about the family but she only ever told me what she thought I should know. She stayed friends with my grandmother until my grandmother’s death in 1994, so we saw Dorrie quite regularly over the years.

Dorrie died in 2005, 28 years after her friend and cousin Jackie Gunderson.

First page White letter 1915 croppedMy second family letter was written to my great grandfather Herbert William White advising him of the death of his mother in 1915. It is written by his brother Robert on funeral writing paper (black edged). It starts with the hope that Herbert is well and that Robert has been to visit their father and sister Ellen who is staying with him while her husband Bill is away (presumably at the war and I really should follow this up).

Robert writes that Ellen has some pigs, fowls and ducks to look after and keep her busy. He goes on to say that ‘the war is making things very bad in this country and the cost of living is so high that it is a job to meet it and work is very slack in the building trade in Salisbury’.  He mentions that after he finishes a nine week job at Clarendon House he will have no work and he expects the winter to be hard.

Then the whole purpose of the letter, the death of their mother, Emma White. Robert goes into incredible detail of where she was buried – ‘we laid poor mother to rest in the front of the church on the right hand side going in to church straight across by the Bathurst Tomb in the old churchyard under the apple trees’.

Robert thanks Herbert for the money he sent but said that their mother had insured herself, and although it was not much it would ‘get a few little things for poor dear dad’. At the same time as sending the money, Herbert must have also enclosed a letter telling them about his family and Robert wishes them all good health. The letter is signed Brother Bob and Sister Elizabeth (Robert’s wife) – Good Bye and God Bless You.

It must have been hard for our ancestors who came out here and also hard for the family members left behind. Herbert never saw any of his family again and the only news was via letters which probably only happened occasionally.

Tombstone Robert and Emma White Alderbury croppedIn 1983 I asked one of the members of the Wiltshire Family History Society if they could try and find this grave for me and take some photos. Due to the detail in the letter they easily found the grave in the Alderbury churchyard and took a number of photos of the grave, church and surrounding areas for me. I happily reimbursed them for the costs of the photos and postage.

Next year I am going on the Unlock the Past Baltic genealogy cruise which leaves from Southhampton, not that far from Wiltshire. The plan is to arrive a few days earlier and take a day trip to Salisbury and visit Alderbury and Pitton and Farley where Herbert was born and the White family lived for hundreds of years.

These two letters, although brief, still tell me a lot of information about my ancestors and provide an insight into what their thoughts were at significant points in their lives. My family history is richer for these letters having survived – are there any letters or ongoing correspondence in your families whose stories need to be told?


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  1. Guest Blog – Shauna Hicks (Diary of an Australian Genealogist and SHHE Genie Rambles) – GSQ Blog - […] blogging prompts and it is why I set myself a personal genealogy blogging challenge in 2014 – 52 Weeks…

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