Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Box of Letters - I'm so excited!

                       (Scroll down for update posted on July 24, 2013)

It's been a lonnnng time since I've had the opportunity to do the genealogy happy-dance, but tonight I'm dancing with sheer excitement, and with the anticipation of what's to come!  What's got me so genea-happy? (Why, I'm glad you asked!)

If you are a regular reader, you know that my ancestors didn't leave a lot of documents behind for me to learn about their lives. But, tonight, my second cousin called me to tell me that he'd just come across this box filled with letters written to his grandmother by his grandfather, both of whom died before either of us was born.  His grandfather, William L. Greene, was my grandmother's brother.  And, because W.L.'s mother had died when he was very young, my grandmother (and her sister) helped to raise their little brother.  The three of them were very close, and supported each other throughout their adult lives.  My father (whose own father had died when he was four) actually went to live with W.L. and his family for his high school years.  Then, when W.L.'s wife died, my grandmother and aunt spent some time at their home, helping to care for their three sons, the youngest of which is my cousin's father, at whose home he just found this box!  (Whew!)  In addition to the letters (which were written in the 1920's), my cousin also found some photo albums, which he says "look like they're from that same time period"!
I doubt if I have to explain to anyone reading this how exciting this is!!!  Even though W.L. was writing to his (presumed) girlfriend, and future wife, it was during a period of time that I've been so curious about in my family's history.  I am hoping that that W.L. will tell about some of the events that were happening in the family during the years between about 1918 -1929. 
Oh, Uncle Bill, please say something about my grandmother's marriage to my grandfather, who was a widower with three children that she had to finish raising.  Please tell of that grandfather's battle with tuberculosis, and maybe tell me something about his funeral.  Can you tell me what my grandmother was like as a young woman? Oh, and my aunt has told me that your father did not want my grandma to marry my grandfather. Will you mention anything about that in your letters?  After all, my great-grandfather was still alive until 1927.  Will you talk about your decision to attend to Cornell University to get your graduate degree, and tell about your time there?  (I wonder if this is where you were writing from?)  After all, that had to be quite an experience for a Black man from N.C. at that time.  Will you say anything about what happened to your sister, Blonnie, or your brother, Joseph?  Both were present in your family in the 1900 and 1910 Census, but then, they just disappeared, and no one seems to know what happened to them! I wonder if you'll explain anything about your how, why, and when you started spelling the Green surname with an "e" on the end. Only your descendants spell it that way.  Did you want to separate yourself from your cousins, aunts, and uncles?  Maybe you told your future wife about this in one of your letters.
I could go on and on with the questions I'm hoping to get answers to from these letters! Of course, I realize that this was a young man writing to his beloved, so I know that there will be "other" matters of discussion. :)  However, this is such a fabulous find!  ANYTHING is going to be like treasure! Oh, and as for the pictures - If I end up getting to see what my grandmother looked like as a young woman, or if I get to see my great-grandparents (W.L.'s parent), whom I've NEVER seen.... Wow!  The possibilities are endless!
I hope I can keep calm while I wait for the opportunity to see this "loot" for myself.  Hopefully, my cousin will pacify me a bit by sending me a few scans, and/or reading to me over the phone.  If I could jump in the car and take the 5-hour drive to his house tonight, I would, but my students are in the midst of state testing, so I'd probably lose my job.  I guess I'll just have to wait...
So excited!
                                             UPDATE: July 24, 2013
My cousin sent me EVERYTHING!  Two weeks ago, I received all of the photo albums. (For some reason, he didn't think I wanted the letters. Ha!)  The albums were FILLED with valuable photos, which are already helping to enlighten this researcher, and are providing answers to some questions, and leading me to ask (and search for answers to) new ones.
Just a couple of days ago, I received the LETTERS!  Woo-hoo!  Such insight to an ancestors thoughts, feelings, and experiences has only been something I've been able to dream of!  Of course, the writers of these letters were not my direct ancestors.  WL Green(e) was my grandmother's brother, making him my great (or grand) uncle.  However, my grandmother helped to raise him after their mother died, and he was an important figure (like a father) to my dad.  So, I've always had a healthy curiosity about him, feeling that the more I could learn about him, the better chance I have of learning more about my own direct ancestors.  The letters and photos are helping with this!
Currently, I'm working on creating a timeline, showing where WL and Georgia were living during the span of years covered by the letters - 1926 to 1936 (with some gaps).  I've already digitized the photos from two of the albums, and have shared them with WL and Georgia's direct descendants.  My cousins are excited to be seeing baby pictures of their fathers (Georgia's sons), and are, for the first time looking into the eyes of their great-grandparents.  As for me, there was one picture of my Aunt Sue (my father's sister) at age 10.  She is now 93 years old, and I'd never seen her as a child, so that was exciting!
My Aunt Sue (age 10) with her cousins, baby George and little John Greene.

A very young Georgia (Royster) Greene

Georgia Royster Greene, with William L Greene, Jr., who took sick and only lived for16 days after this picture was taken.

Although the letters deal mostly with WL and Georgia's romance, schooling, work life, and monetary issues, there are a few mentions of my direct ancestors and family members, each of which is endearing and informative to me in its own way.  The most poignant are the two letters WL writes in which he discusses my great-grandfather's (John Green) health just prior to his death.  WL tells Georgia about his father's "wandering" mind, and how "someone must do everything for him".  He adds that his father "cant go out of the house unassisted without danger of falling and, really he is in a pitiful condition". These comments alerted me to what I now can assume is a genetic connection to Alzheimer's Disease, which each of WL's sons seem to have suffered, or be suffering with to some degree.  (Since WL died at the age of 60, he never reached this stage, himself.) 
In that same letter, WL mentions the death and funeral of a cousin of his (unnamed), but he mentions that "Betty and her brother and two sisters" were there and that they were "taking their brother's death bravely and in heroic spirit".  This tidbit allowed me to determine the name of the cousin to whom WL was referring, and to find his death certificate, document his death date, and learn the name of his wife!
First row-1926; Second row-1927; Third row: 1928-29, 1934, 1936
Top - The cigar box that held it all!
I will be posting more about my findings, soon.  I must publicly thank my cousin, Kelly Greene for sharing and trusting me with all of this!
Thanks, for reading!
The pictures and text of this post are not to be recopied or used without the express permission of the writer, Renate Y Sanders.