illuminate history

Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)

more voices from the distant past

I wrote last time about meeting my father as a young man by studying his diaries. I am now sorting and reading bundles of letters that he saved for decades. Maybe this sort of thing skips a generation, since it was his grandfather’s collections of letters and papers that led me to a much deeper understanding of late 19th century US history. I think that I am now about to learn much more about mid-20th century US history.

But there’s more: among the letters from his father, mother, brother, and sister and letters from my mother and her mother and a couple that he wrote to my mother, there were three from “the other book.”

This one is from John H. Bailey’s cousin William Walls. As I recount in Reflections of a Civil War Locomotive Engineer, John’s 15-year-old brother Francis was sent away from Toronto by their father. He went to Albany, NY, to stay with their mother’s brother William and his wife Anne. In one of his letters, Francis mentions that Uncle William and Aunt Anne live on Orange St., but I didn’t know that their last name was “Walls.”

Jan. 1876 letter from John H. Bailey's cousin, William Walls

Jan. 1876 letter from John H. Bailey’s cousin, William Walls

Armed with this bit of data and my six-month subscription to, I was able to learn that Uncle William was a policeman in 1860 and his son, Cousin William, was a printer’s apprentice.

You can see from this image that by 1876, Cousin William was more than a type-setter. I am confident that he did copper-engraving.  Look at the script.

William covered five sides of three sheets of quadrule paper  7.25″ long, 4.5″ wide. There is not a single correction.

Toward the end, it seems he wanted to save paper:  his script shrinks to half this size, yet all the letters are still perfectly formed.

The other two letters, in contrast, appear to be drafts scribbled in pencil by John H. Bailey’s wife Fanny in November 1899, following the wedding of their daughter Edith. One is to their daughter and new son-in-law Harry, wishing them well and reporting on who stayed at the reception after the newly-weds had departed.

The second is to Francis, in which Fanny wrote “we have lost a very bright daughter and gained a very bright son-in-law.” I think that perhaps Francis over-reacted to this remark in his response to John. Francis and his wife had truly lost a daughter who died; John and Fanny simply had one who moved away.

How odd, though, to find yet more fragments from John H. Bailey’s story salted among my father’s papers…


One comment on “more voices from the distant past

  1. Writing Jobs
    January 22, 2013

    That was an excellent post today. You have a great writing style.

    Thanks so much for sharing it. I really enjoyed reading it very much. You have a wonderful day!

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This entry was posted on January 22, 2013 by in US History, Writing.
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