I've finally gotten around to transcribing two letters from my great grandaunt, Mildred Carlton "Minnie" Williams Shinn, to her brother, (my great grandfather), Jo Desha Williams.
Some comments before we start...
These letters were written with a dip pen. I am posting photos of each page for two reasons - first, I think it's remarkable that I can read as much as I can of letters written a century ago with a dip pen. I have a dip pen holder and several nibs. I can tell you it is no small feat to be able to finish a string of words without running out of ink, and then not dripping ink on the page when you've dipped the pen anew.
Second, I need some help with some of the words. I have transcribed the letters as she wrote them, including all the commas that were used when a period was needed. (These are some of the longest run-on sentences in the history of writing. Perhaps it was the style of the time for personal letter writing.) I have inserted a blank anywhere I cannot make out a word or words. Please feel free to comment with any suggestions for the missing words.
It cost two cents to mail these letters to Desha from Washington DC to Little Rock. As you will see, every available blank space on the page was filled.
Equally remarkable to me is that the letter could simply be addressed "Jo D Williams Russellville Arkansas" and it got to him. These were the days before zip codes.
I will add editorial comments in regular type after points in the second letter where I have information that will allow you to read the letter in context.
Letter postmarked 25 Jan 1915My dear Desha,
Hazen is not dreaming dreams or seeing visions, although he is getting pretty near three score and ten, and I am not far behind him, we have just passed our 40 years of wedded life, and when I think of your four children in the parlor, seated upon the green sofa in the corner, when we walked in, looking so prim all in a row, I have to laugh for it seems as though it must have been in the beginning. But I must confess I do not feel any much older, till I begin to think of the great discoveries that have been made electric cars, telephones, autos ____ ____ flying machines and last but-not-least- doing away with the old time bath houses, as Pa always called them, we are strictly sanitary at present. I am enclosing some verses Hazen wrote for the dinner friends thought so fine had Roy run off a few copies, now see if you can come up that in your old days. With many good, and much love to all of you from the Shinn family, your sister, Minnie.
Comments: Hazen was what Minnie called her husband, Josiah Hazen Shinn. Roy was their son. They lost their daughter, Grace Electra Shinn, to typhoid fever at the age of 10 while they were still living in Russellville.ETA: filling in one blank with the word "sanitary."
Letter postmarked 4 Feb 1915
Page 1My dear Desha and Maxie,
Your good letters, and box of many good things came as quite a happy surprise, and I can ashure you have been greatly enjoyed by the entire family. I never had so many goodies in all my life before. They just come in time for our quarterly missionary meeting, when we take box lunch at an all day session, and they have been used at several luncheons I have had since my return, and still have my plum pudding for thanksgiving, so you can see I am making good use of them.
(NOTE: According to a biography in History of the Shinn family,
by JH Shinn, published 1903, at page 254, Minnie was a member of the Christian Church and active in several ladies' circles of the church.)I had often wondered if your children ever fully realized just what it ment to care for four extra ones upon a poor salary for only nine months in the year. It was trying to meet this new demand, that we had to open our little store, which proved our ruin for we lost everything as you will remember, and had to turn to our friends with nothing to face the future save our six children, that we still held to, and how well we have succeeded you know.
(NOTE: Minnie and Hazen married in Bridgeport, Franklin Co., KY on 17 Jan 1875. In October that year, their first child, Grace Electra was born. Joseph Roy Longworth Shinn was born on 18 Mar 1880. On 14 Jan 1879, Minnie's mother died, leaving her father with her four youngest siblings to raise. For whatever reason, Jacob Williams was not up to the task, so Minnie's sisters and brothers - Margaret, Mattie, Desha and Julian - went to live with Josiah and Minnie. Minnie's household exploded from four family members to eight. Minnie and Hazen moved to Arkansas in 1882, and then to DC in 1902. Minnie raised her siblings to adulthood.ETA: "how well" in blank before "how well we succeeded you know."
)The Lord was with us and blessed us in our every undertaking. We have never doubted him and his goodness, and we did not flinch when other burddens came to us, such as Zella _____ Judd, and our own father.
(NOTE: Although I cannot read the two words preceding "Judd," I feel this must be a reference to Hazen's mother, Elizabeth Frances Gilpin Shinn Judd, who died in 1892 in Russellville, and is buried there. Minnie's father, Jacob Williams, died in 1900 in Russellville. So it is likely that from 1885 to 1900, Minnie and Hazen had their son Roy, Minnie's dad and Hazen's mother, and Minnie's youngest brother, Julian in some combination in the household. We don't have the 1890 census to see how many there were.ETA: "Zella" in one of the blanks preceding Judd.
)We still tried to do our duty as best we could although not all ways understood or appreciated. With all our burrdens and troubles we tried to keep sweet and happy and make the most of life, and have found many pleasures all along the way and many many blessings, such as our lovely trip this summer, and new friends as well as old ones met, and other avenues of services oferred to us, we have not found very much time to lay up treasures below, although trust we may have a few above.
Page 2 (written on the back of page 1)It seemed sweet to do the one thing that had always been upon my heart, that of moving our mother. This was a duty of love and devotion long deferred, on account of our obligations to the living, though after all of your children have been reared, and well placed in life, and the grandfathers put away, Then we could gather a little unto our selves, and do some things we liked and had always wanted to do, of course we are glad to have all of you share in this labor of love with us, and do you know that she still lives in the heart and lives of the people there as much as ever, after thirty six years.
(NOTE: I do not know where Catharine C Mueller Williams was originally buried. I do know she is now interred in Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Franklin Co., KY.ETA: To fill in blanks in "Then we could gather a little..."
)It was our dear mother who was the most ______ of person I heard about during my visit, her life had not been lived in vain, her praises were still sung by all. We counted this duty long deferred the crowning joy of our delightfull ________, and a most happy ending, and do you know that the first letter written by Hazen upon our return was a letter of love and sympathy to a niece, in ____, whose mother died while we were away a half brother's child, to make our roof her home though she wishes as long as her grandfather will stay with him, her mother and grandmother died this year. Hazen will soon be her _____ _____ as the grandfather is very much broken in health. When we thought we had finished our task here the Lord has still further service for us I believe. She is eighteen and a very lovely girl finishes college this year. I am glad to hear that the grandbaby is such a lovely sweet child, guess our next trip will be down to see for our selves, and peep in upon Cedric and Katheline, had a lovely card from her inviting us, have answered thanking her and asking them, know that she must be a lovely girl from all you say, am so glad to hear of their beautiful little flat - know they must be happy, and trust that nothing may ever come but happiness to them, again thanking you for your many good things, and kind words appreciation and love, your devoted sister, Minnie.
(NOTE: The grandbaby was Gwendolyn Williams, daughter of Paul Meek Williams and Ruth Youngblood. Cedric was Cedric Hazen Williams, who must have announced his engagement to Kathleen Kilgore. They would marry on 14 Jul 1915 in Butler Co., MO, but the marriage would not last.ETA: Words to help complete "...a letter of love and sympathy to a niece in [location] whose mother died while we were away, to make our roof her home though she wishes..."