After 32 years of researching my family history, surely I’ve uncovered all the writing that has been done by my family, haven’t I?
As a child, I started out reading Uncle Roddy’s “hunting letters” to my grandmother while he was in Alaska, each written in the knowledge that the letters would be circulated to the rest of the family for their consumption.
As a genealogist, I finally read the little book I had long seen on my grandmother’s bookshelf, “Behind the Bars,” by Mary A. Jenks, M.D., my great-great-great-grandmother.
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Mary (Payne) Bray Jenks was one of the first women’s police matrons in Rhode Island jails, a project of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was a kind of social worker for women who were in jail, or whose lives were in turmoil because their husbands were in jail.
She wrote about some of the people she met, the great cost of alcohol to families and to the nation as a whole, and the work of the WCTU. But almost none of the book was about her personal life, except that she’d raised three sons and three daughters.
The book did show her passion about what was good for families in general, and I think her spirit came through in a comment that the problem with the laws was that they were all made by men! Of course, at that time, women did not have the vote, and she did not live to see that come to pass.
Fortunately, Mary Jenks did leave an account of her family and her husband’s family for her “daughter Etta Shepardson Allen.” I’m thinking Etta may have been a foster daughter, as she doesn’t show up among the three sons and three daughters I found in the census. Also, a daughter who came to the family sometime after birth might have had more questions about the family history.
Today I officially add to my family writings a small yellow spiral notebook from the summer of 1965 when my great-aunt and -uncle Marion and C. Ford Dyer of Hampden took a three-week trip to Europe. I would have expected Aunt Marion, the librarian, to keep the journal, but it was Uncle Ford who did so.
How about this on the first page of the journal? “DuPont, G.E., General Motors, Ford and Vatican.” That collection of names, which just struck me funny, turned out to be the exhibits they took in during a seven-hour visit to the World’s Fair in New York before flying to Europe.
Their first morning in London, they overslept but managed to catch up to their tour bus by taking a taxi to Buckingham Palace. Later that day, “Roamed the streets with the Aldens from Nebraska during the evening. The Beatles are showing in a theater down the street. We started out for dinner, got caught in the crowd and turned back for dinner here in Picadilly Hotel.”
There were bits of humor throughout the journal, “saw statue of boy pee-ing” in Belgium. Sort of an “Uncle Ford, off duty” comment, I thought. On the other hand, he was interested to talk with students from other countries to ask them about their schoolwork. I’d label that “Uncle Ford, the Bowdoin grad and principal of Hampden Academy.”
He tended to mention the oldest university in each city in addition to cathedrals, museums and places with literary connections — in London, the Old Curiosity Shop of Dickens fame; in Heidelburg, the Red Ox Inn of Student Prince fame. Also in Heidelburg, Aunt Marion bought a Hummel figurine, which I now have — minus the tip of the hat, which my boys knocked off shortly after I received it!
In Rome, they did get to the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Cathedral and Vatican museums, which probably made their stop at the Vatican exhibit in New York beforehand helpful.
I could transcribe the travel journal, but I think I want to photocopy the pages in Uncle Ford’s writing for relatives on his side of the family.
What other family writings do I need to gather together? Well, I suppose my son’s master’s thesis in electrical engineering, something about analog-to-digital conversion, if I remember correctly.
Then there’s the essay that my aunt Mary Moore (Campbell), wrote for the 1947 Rostrum, the yearbook of Guilford High School.
Think about it. Maybe there are pieces of writing from your family that you haven’t discovered or copied yet.
The Washington County Genealogical Society will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, at the home of Valdine Atwood, 17 Colonial Way, the house with the red shutters across from Burnham Tavern in Machias. Topics will include programs for the coming meeting year and election of officers.
Send queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, PO Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04401; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.