Monday, October 25, 2010

Amanuensis Monday - To be young in wartime...

I don't usually do Amanuensis Monday (did I spell that right? hat tip to genealogical bloggers Randy Seaver and John Newmark), wherein people post a transcript of a historical document. But as I mentioned in my last blog post about an estate auction, I came across this lovely letter from 1942. I don't have any known relatives in it, but it's too juicy — I mean genealogical — to keep to myself.

The letter was posted from Lucille Redding in Trinity, N.C. to Miss Myrtle Grace Edwards in High Point, N.C. I asked around a little to see if anyone knew Lucille Redding, so I could ask if she would mind my posting the contents for all to see. So far, nobody of my acquaintance knows her, at least not by her maiden name, so I'm going to go ahead and share this fascinating slice of local life. If anybody recognizes the names included and takes exception to the letter being made public, or if a family member would like to have the letter, e-mail me at ebeth2000 at earthlink dot net.

Monogrammed stationery: "N.L.R."

November 12, 1942
Hello Myrtle Grace,
    I know you will be surprised to hear from me so soon after I got your letters, but I'm really writing this time, believe it or not!
    I really don't have very much to say, but hope you will forgive me for waiting so long to write.
    I am staying with Clifford and Ruth and Branson now. The baby is the cutest thing, but now he is trying to cry. He is 2½ months old. I stay here all the time except on Saturday Nights, when I stay at home.
    Yes, I'm still working. But I work at the Holly Shop. I like to work there a lot. We have good times in the store, and some of the funniest experiences.
    Did you know Short Cumbie was home on leave last week? We talked with him a couple of times and he likes the Navy fine. I saw Clifton Charles when he was in too.
    I haven't heard anything from Phillip since October 12, and I think he may be right over there where the second front was opened.
    I had been going with Raymond Tatum some since school was out. He left for the Air Corps October 22 and I've gotten a letter from him almost every day since he has been gone. I got two this morning.
    I also hear from Carl Myers real often. I got a real sweet letter from him yesterday. He is in the Army in San Francisco. He expects to stay for the duration, because he works in the office there. He said about all he has to do is drive for the Colonel and Major. I believe he is trying to get serious — finally — if you know what I mean.
    Bill Lackey and John Younts have to go back to the Army in a few days. Frank Grant has joined the Air Corps. He gave Elizabeth the prettiest diamond for her birthday, but they are planning to wait until after the War.
    Virginia Sink and Bernice Clapp are married. Bernice has been married for sometime. Virginia was married October 30.
    I have been seeing Magalene real often until about the last two weeks. Right after Nellie came home (just for week-ends) we would go see M. on Sunday afternoons, but since Nellie's Mother and daddy have moved, I haven't seen either of them on Sundays.
    I went to school this afternoon. It really doesn't seem like the same place.
    Everett and Jack Caughron were here not so long ago. Everett had to go to Asheboro to be examined.
    "Red" McKenzie is home now. I think he is going to stay.
    Lottie and Harvie were home 2 weeks ago. Lottie stayed until last Sunday. Harvie called Sunday Night after she had gone and asked if she had left yet, and if she hadn't he was coming here.
    Daddy went to the hospital in Winston Tuesday. He came back this afternoon. He went for treatment and to find what is wrong with his back. It has been bothering him right much recently.
    Well, I have about four other letters to write, so maybe I better sign off.
    I guess you already know that Harry Land is married. I haven't seen him but once since the day. He was with his wife (I guess) and he said, "Why, hello, Lucille." Just like he was surprised to death, and his face turned so red it was pitiful. I bet I know what he thought about, and I know I did.
    Bunky and Bobby are living near Salt Lake City, Utah now.
    I must close now, so write soon, and tell me all the news from down that way.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The lure of antiques

I like to venture out to estate auctions, when I can, although I know they can be dangerous to the wallet. When an ad appeared in our local paper for a sale just down the road, with an old spinning wheel as one of the attractions, I called my uncle as an accomplice and we decided to make a morning out of it.

To make a long story shorter, we had a great time browsing and people watching, but I didn't get the spinning wheel — a small flax wheel in good shape which went for nearly $200. (I should mention here that I already have a great wheel, that I got for a steal at another estate auction!) I also bid on a lovely secretary, the kind with a glass-door bookshelf above the hideaway desk. I wish I could post a picture for you (lesson learned: bloggers should take pictures even if they don't buy anything). The secretary was skinny, still had the key to its desk, and had that dark, almost black finish that I see in very old furniture in this area. And here I'll mention that dealers were present — I could have bid a little higher, but I didn't stand a chance.

I did find one thing, though, and came home satisfied without losing all my money! A stack of old postcards; I had seen only the top one because they were in a glass case until time to sell. I was very happy as I flipped through my new treasure to find that many of them were local. They had been written on and posted (with 1 cent stamps), dating around 1900 to 1909. The addresses consisted of just a person's name and the city — that's all they needed back then.

Postcards - several are 100 years old.

A few were actual photographs, with that negative sheen on the dark portions.

A few birthday cards and letters were thrown in the lot. One letter, however, was written not in the early 1900s, but during World War II. The contents are so fascinating — not only great genealogical information, but also juicy gossip from a young local woman — that I'm considering posting the contents. But I need to check with a few people, first, because the author is local and may still be living.

Another thing I noticed was the use of the word "thy" on a couple of postcards, by the same writer to a friend. It could have been an endearment, but with the Quaker presence in this area and the timeframe, I wouldn't be surprised if the author spoke and wrote the second person familiar all the time.
Postcard of the Randolph County Courthouse, which was just renovated.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Our oldest photographs and 'The Last Muster'

I thought that photographs from the Civil War era were old. That is, until I saw Maureen Taylor’s latest book, “The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation.”

The Revolutionary War? We didn’t have photography back then, did we?

Well, no. Aside from a few experiments in earlier years, photography as we know it started about 1839 and quickly spread around the western world. Itinerant photographers appeared in the major transportation centers of North Carolina, such as Fayetteville and Raleigh, in the 1840s. A father-and-daughter team opened up a gallery in Greensboro in 1851. And in those years, people who were born in the mid- to late 1700s were still alive.

People who lived through and remembered the American Revolution.
People who had their pictures taken.

Who better than Taylor, nationally known as “The Photo Detective,” (@PhotoDetective) to seek out those early pictures of older Americans? For her book, she verified the subjects and painstakingly documented their lives.

The photographs include several Quakers, which give us a connection to the religious group who settled Bush Hill (now Archdale). Unfortunately the book does not include an index of place names, but connections to North Carolina include Waxhaw, an unnamed Moravian community and Dolley Madison, who was born in Greensboro.

Most of Taylor’s subjects, however, lived in New England. So I set off on a quest to find one of these early photographs of someone from our region. I figured that the Friends Historical Collection at Guilford College, one of my favorite repositories of local history, would be a great starting place.
I found several photographs of early settlers around the Randolph-Guilford county line, such as William B. Hockett (1799-1880, Centre Friends area) and Allen U. Tomlinson (1802-1879, Archdale), but they were too “young.” Finally, I came across a file about Nathan Hunt. I’d seen a large portrait of Hunt many times in the library, but I didn’t know much about him.

Hunt, who was a young man during the Revolutionary War, was a Quaker minister who lived next to Springfield Meeting. Even though some of his journals were accidentally burned, there’s a wealth of documentation and stories about his life. Not only was he an interesting man who traveled extensively and witnessed a lot of history in his 95 years, he was also my kinsman: my first cousin, seven times removed.

Guilford had another painting of Hunt in storage and several sketches. I also found what looked like a very old, deteriorated photograph in the file folder.

It was heavy, like glass, but it didn’t look like glass. Like an ambrotype, the faded image could be seen better when placed on black paper, but the image was positive and ambrotypes are negative. And it wasn’t thin enough or the image sharp enough to be a daguerrotype.

I felt pretty silly when, weeks later, I found out the picture was actually an early 20th-century printing plate, probably used for a newspaper article. Here I was, trying to figure out which type of old photograph it was — no wonder it didn’t meet up with the historical descriptions!

Images obtained courtesy of the Friends Historical Collection, Guilford College, Greensboro, N.C.
No use or distribution without permission.
I suspect that the large, intriguing portrait of Hunt from the 1930s was painted from a daguerrotype, but I couldn’t find any evidence. Perhaps if I searched for a long, long time, as I do in my own family genealogy quests, I could find out. But I’m on deadline and the paper must go out.

That doesn’t mean I came home empty-handed. As modest as Quakers were — they didn’t even write names on their tombstones until the 19th-century — I am amazed that we have so many likenesses of Nathan Hunt, who saw the American Revolution first hand. His life is wonderfully documented, including letters and part of a journal that still exist. A summary of Hunt’s life is found here.

But the hunt for that one daguerrotype, without success, shows me just how hard Maureen Taylor must have worked to pursue 70 of these photos and the stories behind them for her book. She found additional images of people who lived through our “unillustrated war,” but finding documentation about each person was an even greater challenge than finding the photos.

“The vast majority of these individuals were not wealthy, could not write, and left no written record of their life,” Taylor wrote in her introduction.

I like the variety of the people she did find — different nationalities, races and economic groups. A few of her subjects lived to be more than 100 years old. The colorful stories of their involvement in the Revolutionary War even include a few women.

And it’s the stories that give life to the faces.

“The Last Muster” is available through and Taylor’s previous book, “Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs,” is on display at the Heritage Research Center at High Point Library.

Update: I received a copy of the Last Muster to review for the Archdale-Trinity News. I was under no obligation about the content of the review, nor to include it on my blog.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Writers Police Academy - Part 2

Saturday started early. We all knew there was some kind of surprise planned for the writer attendees. As the back door guard, I got to hear the inside scoop as the SERT commander briefed the players, including a fake "writer" who slipped into the group of attendees and got shot by a disgruntled "student," who then took a whole room full of people hostage.

The SERT team came into the building with their practice guns and... I didn't hear all the negotiations, but the good guys won! I think they negotiated with the shooter during the first scenario, and shot him during the second.

EMS came in and treated the shooting victim and whisked him out on a stretcher. All that excitement, and that was in the morning before any of the classes!

I got to attend a session with N.Y. undercover cop Marco Conelli. I'm in awe of what he has to go through, not just being in disguise, but walking into dangerous situations and having to know the right information to convince the bad guys that he's just another druggie. He must have nerves of steel!

Elizabeth Owens gets her book signed.
Some of the attendees got to do FATS - firearms training in a simulator. My fellow volunteer Elizabeth and I didn't go in, but we got to guard the door and chat with Jeffery Deaver and other folks in the hall.
Thriller author Jeffery Deaver (@JefferyDeaver) was our keynote speaker at the banquet Saturday night. He was chosen to write the next James Bond novel, and he told us he's already got the first draft completed, among his many projects. He was very nice to chat with, and we had our pictures taken with him later at the book signing.
Elizabeth Saunders and Jeffery Deaver

It was an exciting, informative and very full weekend. Thriller, mystery, cozy, true crime or anything related writers were loving it. I overheard a few networking about romance and urban fantasy and I even met another historical fiction writer. My writer buddies and I got to hang out, meet writers and have a great time. CJ Lyons (@cjlyonswriter), a medical thriller author who happened to sit at our banquet table, gave us tips about pitching.

Aspiring authors Aislynn, Elizabeth and Elizabeth

Here's more about Writers' Police Academy 2010 on Lee Lofland's blog.