Dear Family…

Week 50: #52 Ancestors – Lines

By Eilene Lyon

My favorite lines in genealogy are the ones inscribed by hand on paper—family letters. I didn’t always save the letters I received, but I do have a nice representative sampling from many ancestors and relatives.

I’ll begin with my immediate family and my ancestors, then I’ll share some samples from other relatives, particularly the oldest writing.

My Family

Clip from a letter I wrote home from college when I was attending The Ohio State University in Columbus, 1983. My handwriting is much the same today, but usually sloppier.
My older brother, Steve, wrote to our Smith grandparents in 1989. Like me, my brothers also chose printing over cursive handwriting.
My dad’s handwriting from 2014. It has remained pretty consistent over the years.
Mom’s handwriting from 1991.


Reatha (Gusso) Halse from 1997.
Laurence M. Smith from 1994.
Clare (Davis) Smith from 1994.


Mabel (Cutting) Halse to the Everett Halse family in Corvallis, Oregon in 1945.
Walter E. Gusso to his daughter, Reatha, written in his later years (date unknown).
Letter from Stella (Crandall) Gusso to her daughter, Reatha, in 1961, shortly before her death.
Clara (Ransom) Davis composed this essay while attending the University of Idaho in 1897.
Clara suffered from myasthenia gravis in her later years and it affected her handwriting considerably as seen in this letter to her daughter, Clare, in 1945.

2nd great-grandparents

Postcard sent by Alice (Fawcett) Cutting to her sister-in-law, Jessie Butler, in 1910. She lived in Oregon at the time, so must have been visiting family in Mabel, Minnesota.
The left-hand side of this postcard was written by Olive (Springer) Gusso (date unknown).
Sarah (Livengood) Davis wrote to her son, Sterling P. Davis in 1922.
Robert Ransom wrote in his memo book in Trenton, Indiana, in 1861 to keep track of what customers owed him.

3rd great-grandparents

Andrew Livengood wrote to his daughter in Missouri, Sarah Davis, in 1878 before the Davis family moved to Idaho.
Henry Z. Jenkins wrote to his wife, Abby, in 1851 while he worked in the California mines.
Abigail (Bedford) Jenkins wrote to Henry during his time out west (1853).

4th great-grandparent

Ann W. (Zane) Jenkins wrote to her son, Henry, while he was in California. She was in her 80s and nearly blind and deaf (1852).

Other Relatives

My uncle, Nathan Halse, wrote this letter while serving in the marines in the early 1960s.
June (Davis) Wickward, my great-aunt, wrote to her sister, “Bobby” (Clare Davis Smith), in 1957.
Henrietta (Bedford) Perrin related some family history to Clara (Ransom) Davis in 1925, writing from Cincinnati.
James Henry Ransom wrote to his sister, Clare (Ransom) Davis, about family history in 1921.
Thomas Bridges Davis, who was a minister, wrote this letter in 1920 to Clara and Sterling Davis.
Dr. William C. Ransom, brother of Robert Ransom, wrote to his daughter, Marietta Haines, in Oregon in 1893, shortly before he shocked the country in 1894.
Clara Bedford wrote to her aunt, Abigail (Bedford) Jenkins about her trip to Philadelphia shortly after the end of the war in 1865.
Cordelia Ransom, daughter of William C. Ransom, wrote to her cousin, Lizzy Jenkins, in 1864, about the death of her brother Lewis from diphtheria and scarlet fever.

Feature image: Letter from Edith Hockett of Kansas to her cousin, Clara Ransom Hockett, in Moscow, Idaho, about 1905.

60 thoughts on “Dear Family…

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  1. This is an amazing collection! Your family must be much, much better about keeping things than mine. My mother would throw out anything. I used to hide things from her (cards, letters, etc.) so she wouldn’t throw them away. I envy you!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Amazing that you have those that go back several generations. I didn’t try to decipher them all, but I hope you blog about some of them and transcribe them for those of us with old eyes!

        Liked by 3 people

    1. I started off wondering if I’d see any patterns in the handwriting, but I really didn’t. When we’re all given basic instruction on how to form letters, we each come up with our own twist. My Grandma Smith had such beautiful penmanship, especially.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can’t really convey how connected I feel to the long past ancestors who have shared their stories with me in this blog and in my book. I swear they point me in the direction they want me to go to find them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The lost art of letter writing has sadly been replaced by texts and e-mails. I don’t have any handwritten letters from my ancestors but my grandmother and mother corresponded by mail weekly after we moved to the States. In later years, it was a five-minute phone call every Wednesday night. I write longhand so little now with electronic checking for bills, that when I was doing Christmas cards, I was not doing a very good addressing the cards and made a few mistakes. I used to write a short note to my late mom’s friends at Christmastime, as none were on social media, but they are all gone now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was a big-time letter writer for much of my life. We’ve become too impatient for such a slow form of communication, and I do believe we’re worse off for it. It required much more forethought and consideration. Possibly smoothed relationships and provided tangible reminders of love and memories. Some people don’t even know what they’ve missed out on. My dad used to write to his mother weekly, but all that correspondence is lost now. What I wouldn’t give …

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure that boxes of stationery are not readily available anymore, though I could be wrong. You used to see them at the Hallmark stores. That would be a treasure trove of memories for you to have those letters Eilene. I like reading or hearing about couples who corresponded daily during various wars and each party kept the letters.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Me neither Eileen. I think the advent of e-card greetings contributed to that plus my grocery store sells cards and pretty much anything I need. For years, part of Saturday was spent doing errands at the nursery, card store, hardware store, etc. but no longer necessary to visit specialty stores, as it’s all under one roof.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The city next to me (Wyandotte) has a downtown with a variety of eateries and unique little shops. I do like to go there and walk through downtown when walking between two riverside parks, but just window shopping mostly.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It’s eclectic, yet a down-home feel to it as most shop keepers on the main street have been there for years and they have a lot of events, a street art fair and it’s a block away from the Detroit River, so a lot of activity. I wish I didn’t worry about crime and being out after dark as those events appeal to me (post-pandemic anyway).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It is interesting how by a certain age we have generally adopted a writing style and for the most part it remains the same thereafter. Certainly style and language do change a lot. The Jenkins letters have very archaic language, even for the period when they wrote (1850s). Much more like the Revolutionary era, and colored by their Quaker heritage.


  3. Wow, what a priceless collection you have! I kept some of my letters to and from my parents during university and to friends and classmates, and treasure the – all pre-internet, but have nothing going back any further. One of my relatives in California said he had a letter from my great-grandmother (died in 1917) to her son in Seatle, but he couldn’t find it, and I was so disappointed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be disappointing to learn of such a letter. The last one in this collection, from Cordelia, was like that. I had a not my grandmother wrote mentioning this letter, so I’d known about it for years. Then earlier this year, I got a bundle from my aunt and there it was! It also included the Clara Bedford letter and Robert Ransom’s memo book which I did not know about – really floored me!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. These letters written through the generations are charming and increase in value for those who honor the ancestors. And you make clear, we, too, will become ancestors and our own letters may be precious to those who come after us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Things seem very commonplace when we write about them, but a century later can take on much more significance. But with today’s electronic communications much of that will be lost to family and history. Thanks for visiting and commenting!


  5. Wow–what a treasure trove these are! Beautiful in sentiment and to look at. I’d say your grandparents, especially, really know how to open a letter! I fear I’m losing the art of letter writing. (Well, I write solicitation letters for work all the time, but not letters to family and friends). I am, however, writing a letter to my brother today. He’s living with his family in Spain for a couple years, so I thought getting fun mail would probably be nice.

    Liked by 1 person

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