Uncle Jim’s Letters

Week 48: #52 Ancestors – Gratitude

By Eilene Lyon

Even in this very trying year, there are many things to be grateful for. First, I appreciate those of you who read this blog – I know my subjects don’t have broad appeal. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

I’m extremely grateful for all the extended family I’ve come to know through my genealogy research, and for all they have shared with me about our common heritage. And I’m so glad my ancestors took time to preserve our family tree and passed that information down to me.

Oh, what a wonder it is to live in this age of internet access! I love all the research I’m able to do online. Archives online, digitized books, county and state records, church registers. Online courses that enrich my knowledge. Zoom to communicate. And much more.

I want to give a shout-out today to one relative who did his genealogy long before the age of computers. Research involved personal visits to libraries and information requests by snail mail. It required extraordinary patience by today’s standards.

“Uncle Jim” was the first born child of my great-great-grandparents, Robert Ransom and Emma Jenkins. Their thirteenth child, born 22 years after Jim, was my great-grandmother, Clara Pearl (Ransom) Davis. Jim and Clara both developed a passion for genealogy, so they shared their research by letter.

Excerpt of letter from Jim Ransom to Clara Davis. (Collection of the author)

James Henry Ransom was named for his grandfathers, James Ransom and Henry Z. Jenkins. Though he covered a lot of ground and contacted many people in his extended family, he never seemed able to build his tree much beyond his grandparents. It certainly wasn’t from lack of effort. The resources and time just weren’t available.

Though Jim’s letters are somewhat disorganized and contain errors, they are wonderful examples of the depth of his search for answers about his ancestry. Because he was born in 1855, he knew many people that Clara had never met. Consequently, he was able to share some personal insights about people I would not know otherwise. His remarks about his grandfather, James Ransom, enlightened me about Ransom’s drinking habits, for example.

Jim tried to help Clara find a Patriot ancestor so she could join the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). Unfortunately, they focused their efforts on the Ransom family line and did not find what they were looking for. (Clara did have a Patriot ancestor on her Anderson family line.)

A few excerpts from Jim’s letters:

Grave marker for Robert Ransom, Jim Ransom’s great-uncle. (Blackford County Historical Society)

“I have known Grandfathers brother Robert who lived near Hartford City Ind. – by the way his son John W. lives at Salem Or is practicing medicine and I think is about 80 yrs old. I was at Salem last Sept but did not know he lived there. I remember of going hunting with him and father when I was 10 or 12 yrs old. Uncle Will Ransom who died at Klamath Falls Or in 1917 told me that his grandfather was in the War of 1812 and was killed during the war with the British.”1 [“Uncle Will” told a lot of tall tales, probably including this one.]

“I saw Grandmother Jenkins’ brother at Danville Indiana about 1877 – He appeared to be a good Christian gentleman. I talked to a man in Kansas that knew him personally and he spoke very highly of him as a good man. What I know of grandmother Jenkins was that she was a very good Christian woman. A descendant of the Quakers of Pennsylvania.”2 [Which brother?!]

“Humphry [Anderson] born 1813 – Died 1851 at New Orleans La. on his way to the California gold fields  Married Harriet Havens. His will probated in 1856. Blackford Co. Indiana. I boarded with his widow during my school term as teacher 1873 and 1874”3

“Thomas Anderson, son of Asa Anderson, of Blackford Co. Ind. married Mary McKinley (a relative of President McKinley) – (No date of his birth or death) His sons named Asa and Riley Anderson.”4

Asa Anderson, son of Thomas Anderson and Mary McKinley. (Shared by tcarpenter71 on Ancestry.com)

“[William Ransom’s] 3d Daughter Mrs Nannie Giles lives part time in Oregon and part time in San Francisco – She has 2 sons in San Francisco – Both are Dentists – another son resides at Marshfield Oregon. He is a practicing lawyer – The sons are all married but don’t know who they married – The one at Marshfield Or – I know who he married but have forgotten her name – Her father was a druggist at Myrtle Point Oregon when I was there on a visit in 1920.”5

This last bit was written by Jim, but is taken from a transcription written by Iris Hancock, a descendant of William C. Ransom and Ann Jenkins:

“1st Uncle was William Zane Jenkins…as He married Jane Ransom your fathers sister. They had one daughter Elizabeth who married a Mr Hyde in Ind. They seperated once and went to live together again. She lived only a few years after and had no children.

“The second uncle was Bedford Jenkins and he was a civil war veteran. He married Miss Place I think that was her maiden name. They had two children a boy who was killed in a run away accident on his Uncle J. Kessler farm in Ind. His daughter is in Pomona Calif…”6

Louella Parker and Jim Ransom. (Courtesy of K. Smith)

You can see that these little tidbits can be difficult to glean from other sources. This is the only record I’ve found of how Bedford’s son, Frank Jenkins, died. I do have to be careful, though. The Places were close friends of the Jenkins clan, but Bedford’s wife was Patience Randall, not a Place. Bedford and Patience had several additional children, but all died as infants and Jim either didn’t know that or didn’t consider it relevant.

Overall, though, I am grateful that Jim’s letters were preserved and his knowledge of his extended family passed along. I do wish I could have met him and asked many questions. Undoubtedly, he knew much more than what he wrote down!

Feature image: James Henry Ransom (1855-1944). (Collection of the author. Location of original unknown)


  1. Letter from Jim Ransom to Clara Davis dated February 10, 1921. Collection of the author. 
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Letter from Jim Ransom to Clare D. Smith dated November 19, 1936. Collection of the author. 
  4. Ibid. 
  5. Excerpt from undated letter. Photocopy in collection of author. Location of original unknown. 
  6. Transcript of letter from Jim Ransom to Marietta Ransom Haines quoted in a letter from Iris Hancock (Marietta’s daughter) to Alice Rackleff. (Collection of M. Gill) 

42 thoughts on “Uncle Jim’s Letters

Add yours

    1. I’ve even done a bit of snail mail stuff, too. Plus my aunt gave me most of the research notes from her mother and I have some things written by my other grandmother and others. It all adds up! I’ve been busy scanning everything, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As I read those snippets, I can hear the voices of my parents, my aunts and uncles etc. talking about our ancestors. Conversations just like that not written down!! Now we look at photos and try to figure out and remember who is who! I can see how those snippets could be a help in your search.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What I’ve found with some of my ancestors’ genealogy is that it can confict with documentation from official records. I have inherited a number of letter. Reading and transcribing them will have to be a retirement project, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose most of us don’t think our stories are worth putting on paper. I’m glad he did do at least some. Supposedly one of my cousins has a diary Jim wrote, but I haven’t been given a chance to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Personally, I’d say it’s your writing that keeps us coming back. Even with interesting characters and storylines (such as this one), they would be nothing without the right storyteller. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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