A couple years ago I gave my brother a CD containing all the work I had done to that point on my family family history project. His bewildered response was, "Who ARE all these people?"
Good question. I've taken every grandmother and grandfather back as far as I can, included all their brothers and sisters, spouses, children, and then brought them as close forward to now as I can. The result for me has been a gradual revealing of a multi-generation saga mirroring the history of our country.
Most of the people I find were farmers, teachers, or ministers, though there are most of the occupation a person might think of. There are shop keepers, railroad people, doctors, photographers, career military folks and bankers. Some traveled west on the Oregon Trail. Sometimes they have connections to fame, as in the man who was chaplain of the senate when Lincoln was President, and who spoke at his funeral. But most are unremarkable, so far as I can tell.
Which isn't to say that their lives are not interesting. This week I stumbled across a sad and common story, of a woman who was born in Ontario in 1839, who then moved with her husband and family to Illinois to clear land and farm. While they were in Illinois, her fourteen year old daughter, Sarah, took ill and died.
I found the girl's photo, and the letter her mother wrote to her sister, expressing her anguish over the girl's death. Suddenly the list of names and dates transformed themselves into real people, and their lives resonating across time.
Here is the letter. I added end punctuation to help make the story easier to follow. This letter helps me to begin to understand who some of these people are. This is from Annie Gaulte Dumond to her sister Esther.
December 1, 1877
I now improve the present opertunity of wrighting to you. we are all well at present—thank God for his goodness to us. Thomas health is very good so far. I wish I could see you all and have a long talk with you. I don’t know what aild me all the time I was at Mothers. I felt so sad all the time I felt as though I had great burden resting on me all the time times. I think it was a presentiment of Sarahs Death. Oh if you could of seen her when I come home. She held out her hand and says Oh Ma. I kissed her and ask her not to get excited she says to me I am beter now and of course I will not. she says, Maw what ailes you you look aful. oh you lost your tooth. then she sayes, how did you leave them all I told her but I notest no tears come to her eyes. she was past that. but I did not think she would die so soon. on that Monday before they Dispatched for me she wanted to go to school but her pa would not let her for she had not ben well for three or four dayes and on the wedensday they dispatched for me they thought she was a dying. all day she had a congestive chill that lasted all day and on Monday after I got home she had another but—it did not last over ten minuts—the Doctors sayed it was all caused from her bowels.
She was sensiable of every thing. the fever never raised to her head it was all in her bowels. the Doctors Don all they could. the Monday tusday before I come Minnie was washing most all Day and Mrs. Rosbough and an other woman was wating on her and her father never left her bed side and she locked a round at them and her father says, what Do you want? Sarah she sayes, I want Minnie. She come to her but she could not keep from crying. she Put her armes about Minnie’s neck and says, Dont fret, Dont fret. Minnie Dont leave me I am so lonesome.
Oh Esther, I have wept untill I can hardly weep any more. I go some times and sit by the lone grave of My Darling child and I think I must see her or I cannot live, but I have to bare it. I could of given Sarah up when she was a baby and so small and delicate but, have have her to grow up and bloom into womanhood all most and then be taken away it seems to hard, almost-more than I am able to bare. but we are told that god will give us grace sufischent for every trial and for this I am Praying. Oh Esther how near we ought to live for what is this world but a world of sorow and tears and partings here with Loved wones. Oh Esther, I hope you will be spared that painefull trial of taking your Dear child by the hand when it is all ready cold with the chill of Death and bid then a long farewell on this earth, but I am living in hoope of meeting her soon where parting will be no more.
No more at present from Your Loving sister Annie M. G. Dumond
P.S. wright soon and let me know all the news. give our love to Joney and Sarah let me know how babe is. kiss the belly for me and send me its Picture. tell hanah to send Minnie her Picture her and her sister Minnie and we will send ours. Joney sends his Love to the boyes. right soon. they wanted to know how long Sarah was sick. Just 10 Days. She was very poor. her litle cheeks was sunk in so much