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Archive for March 16th, 2008

Most of my family knows I’m a family genealogy buff, occasionally immersing myself for days in a search and then putting it aside again for weeks or months at a time. I’ve been searching for more information on the Walford and Richards branches of the Prentis family lately, nearly exhausting (it seems, but probably not) every possible Internet-based genealogical resource to which I have access. I did find cemetery records and added a few names, but could not for the life of me find the marriage date of my dad’s mother’s maternal grandparents (2nd great-grandparents to me), Sarah Walford and Richard E. Richards. Only then did I reluctantly dig into the mess of genealogical papers I’ve been hoarding for years without thoroughly going through them.

I was so organized years ago when my two darling, curious daughters (probably about ages 3 and 4 at the time) accidentally dumped the contents of a very large file box and scattered its contents. I’m still not sure how two little girls could get it so jumbled, so quickly. All I could do was look into their apologetic faces, tell them it was okay, put it all randomly back in the box — and avoid it for years. Little by little, I pick at it, try to make sense of it, and enter the information into my computer.

Today I picked through stacks of still very disorganized papers and folders and came across a thick folder of Dad’s sister Anne’s information that had been given to me after she died. I had glanced through it, and except for Xeroxed photos I hadn’t seen previously, most looked familiar. (Since many of the older photos burned with my Dad’s parents’ home back in the 1950s, who has these originals now?) Anyway, Anne and I had corresponded for years working on family history pursuits along with another distant family member (a daughter of my grandfather’s half-brother).

The first thing I found in her information was my Grandma Main’s obituary. (Wrong side of the family. How did that get in there?) Putting that aside, I then found a church program dated 14 Dec 1940, from Lincoln Center Methodist Church in Lincoln Township, Adams Co., Iowa. With that, I knew I was in the right section of Aunt Anne’s family papers. It listed as three of their seven charter members, Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Richards and Miss Mary Ann Frederick (also called “Mamie,” the 2nd wife of Sarah’s brother Charles).

The next few pages were obviously poor Xerox copies of very old, handwritten letters that were difficult for me to decipher, but I tried with the help of Ali and Steve, especially after reading one that (thankfully!) had already been transcribed. Anne’s transcription begins with, “I can’t read the name of the place where this letter was written, but from his diary, we know that in April 1864, he was in Gordon’s Mills, Georgia, so we can assume he was somewhere in that vicinity the month before when he wrote this beautiful love letter!” The marriage date I’d been struggling to find was there in my hands within the first few lines. I don’t know yet what became of the diary Anne mentioned, but the letter is so touching that it would have been a shame for me not to have found it.

Richard Edward Richards - Company C, 125th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

Richard E. Richards -125th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Company C

March 26th ’64

My Dear Wife,

It’s 8 years ago today since our nuptial vows were mutually given. Our love was then young, but it was planted in sincerity and like the sturdy oak of the forest has tightened its roots as the storms of time have beat upon it. Many changes & some trials have met us as we journey along, but with all the changes time has wrought with wars and separation, it has not robbed us of our early affection for each other. We have sometimes seen the time when for a moment, when love seemed to vibrate, but it was only the effect of a little storm passing by which when passed only stimulated and encouraged the roots to again shoot downwards and tighten their hold in a firmer bed of better earth, to become more substantial and better able to stand defiantly against the storm and bid the whirlwinds howl.

I feel, my dearest, the truth of the words in the old song (absence makes the heart grow fonder) such I feel it to be in our case. I fancy sometimes you love me too much, but how can I say it, were I to feel that you loved me less, my heart would be sad. Yet I feel unworthy of the unwavering affection with which I am crowned by my darling companion and sharer of each of the sorrows which lurk in my path. I love you dearest wife. No freezing wind can chill that warmth of mutual love. No dashing snow or pitting rain can drown even one spark. We are separated in body at least for a time, but I feel that we are together in spirit and enjoy a sympathy of soul which neither time nor space can deprive us of, and should we fail to meet again on this terrestrial ball, faith whispering peace, exclaims we soon shall meet in Heaven. I am in an enemy’s country exposed to pain and death, but still my soul is tranquil. I know that my stay upon the earth is but short and the summons will soon come for you, but my prayer to my Saviour is that we may meet ere the cold flood shall bear us away, but still may our hearts breathe the language of resignation and say with one of old, thy will Oh Lord, not mine be done.

Your health is poor. Be careful of yourself. Keep your mind easy and should I be spared to return to my home, may God grant that I may not find there a vacant seat. I know, dear wife, you pray for me and it encourages my heart. May we meet again.

I received your letter of the 11th on the 20th, with one from George. I posted one to you the same day. I suppose you have seen Edward before this time. I wrote to him in care of Mr. B. on the 18th. Give my love to him. We had a very heavy snow storm on the 22nd. It was 7 inches deep. By the night of the 24th, it had all gone and before the morning of the 25th, another had fallen, which went off yesterday and last night with a rain. It is very muddy and still threatens storms. We are all tolerably well. I feel better than I have for several days. I wish you would send me more of Ayers pills. You might send a box and try to keep me supplied with stamps. I am very near out. Paper and envelopes I can generally buy. Give all my love to all friends. Hoping you are all happy and well, with love and kisses for the little ones and yourself.

My ever beloved,
Your aff’t husband

The George he mentioned receiving a letter from may have been Sarah’s brother and Edward may have been his uncle, but I’m uncertain as to whom Mr. B. may have been. A postscript, in which “C.” probably refers to Sarah’s brother Charles, reads:

I haven’t heard from C. for a long time and he promised to write punctually. My last to him was (can’t decipher date).

In 1986, Dad’s cousin Marion Anderson had written to Anne as a follow-up to her inquiry about “the Civil War letters.” A copy of this letter, which I also found today, has been included in Anne’s material. From that letter, it’s apparent that there were sixty letters in all. According to Marion, the letters were given to her mother (my great-aunt Edna) by her mother, Fannie Tennant, after having been stored “in the attic of the house in Adams County all the time the Tennants were in California.” She also said “mice have dined on many envelopes and a few of the letters themselves,” and the “marvelous letters” were “so old and brittle.” Marion and her sister Thelma did not think most could be unfolded and handled to copy without harm, and so I assume only these few were ever copied. Since Marion is no longer living, the original letters, and perhaps the diary, may still be in my dad’s cousin Thelma’s possession. It would be nice if they could be put in the local historical society’s hands, at least.

I’m not sure how Anne accomplished it, but a few of these letters were obviously eventually copied or I would not have them. Attached to an 1864 letter that Anne had not transcribed is her note that the following was written by Richard to his two young sons, Eddy and Freddy, in Peoria, Illinois, while recovering from wounds he received in battle at Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia. He had first been taken to a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, then Louisville, Kentucky, and finally Chicago, Illinois. Their sons were Thomas Edward and William Fred, hence “Eddy” and “Freddy.” His daughters Mary and Fannie were not born until later.

I’ve transcribed the letter as follows, guessing at a few words here and there:

Marine Hospital
Chicago, Ill. Dec. 21st, ’64

To Eddy and Freddy, my very dear little boys,

As you may be pleased to hear Ma read a letter from your Pa to you, I will write a few lines and someday I trust each of you will be able to read it for yourselves, should you keep it long enough. You will then see and remember that when your Papa was far away from you, that he still loved you both very dearly. I will tell you where I was a year ago and see if you can remember Ma telling you about it.

I had just got back from a long and very hard march into East Tennessee, where we had been to drive the Rebels away from Knoxville. They were surrounding the place and trying to take it and capture our brave Soldiers. The weather was cold, as you know it is in December. We had no blankets with us, and our clothing was thin. We had to sleep on the ground, which was very damp, and the snow would sometimes fall on us while we slept. It was very uncomfortable and hard, but God, who is ever good and always present preserved us from harm and brought us back. And while I was cold and shivering, and sometimes hungry, I often thought of my little boys at home and hoped they were warm and comfortable and happy. I prayed to God to bless them and me, and he did bless us and brought Pa back again, and you saw him a little while ago at home.

I hope you will always love God and pray to him, and he will bless you and you will be happy while you live and happy when you die. We must always pray to God. I pray that he will still preserve our house and that he will bring Pa back to stay with his dear little Boys and Ma, and that we may be very happy. I hope you will pray too, and I trust God will hear and answer our prayers.

I send with this as a token of my love, a little piece of money with which you may do what you please. The streets are so slippery and the weather so cold I can’t get out of the house. I shall perhaps be home in the Spring and I hope I shall find you not only big, but also good boys.

Give strict attention to what your teacher or your Ma may tell you. Learn all you can that is good and try not to do anything wrong. Always be kind ones to the others and never get out of temper or be cross. Always be cheerful and when you have anything to do, do it well always, and as quick as you can. Never stop to think it is hard and make a great many excuses, but go right to work. That will help you do it easy.

And now may God bless, preserve, and help you is the prayer of

Your aff’t
Papa

A note attached to a third letter not transcribed by Aunt Anne states that the following is a letter from Richard’s mother, Ellen (Steward) Richards, who lived at Eastern Hill in England, the farm the Richards family rented for nearly 100 years. It is postmarked 1872, from Redditch.

Again, I have had to guess at some of the words:

Eastern Hill
August 9th, ’72

My dearest Richard,

I am spared once more to address you and feel very anxious to hear from you, as I have written some months ago to you requesting, or rather expecting a speedy reply, but no doing.

So without hearing as much as an account of America makes one feel very uncomfortable about you. I hope your poor foot or any other affliction, whether of body or mind, has not prevented it.

It has been and shall remain a very irregular and unusual season. There has [sic] been very many thunderstorms, strong winds and considerable damage. A (building?) swilling cattle is out, filling house with water to the extent of great losses. I will send you an Alverton paper which will give you some better idea England at this time is in. Very confused and unsettled, with God only knows what will be the result. Talk to who you will, all seem to have some particular trouble or (threat?) to contend with your brother. Joseph remains in the town as Bailiff for his (Land log?). He has behaved very kind to him. I should say he is freer from (law?) with trouble than he has been for years. His wife has been spending a little time with us and she a very good kind of woman. C. Brown and your sister are doing very comfortably. They are all with your sister. (Polly?) has been very poorly but is getting better. She has got a very nice little home and her husband is very (under~?). I think I told you in my last all [illegible] about (Nollen?). I shall suffer very much from my (heart?) and think I shall be taken off suddenly. God’s will be done. I pray that he will prepare me for that great event as I can do nothing of Myself.

Your Brother, (his?) Lucy and Myself are very happy. We have much to be thankful for though troubles often [illegible] and this is not our home for real happiness. You will see by the paper I send Your Aunt Sarah is leaving her farm. It has been sold and put to another. She is very much upset with husband but I suppose he is in a pretty good position and it is [sic] fearful times with farmers. Crops are very bad generally and labour fearful high amid Gents too. But I hope all will work together for some good. I hope to have it in my power to pay my way the short time I have to remain here.

I must now, my dear R., say adieu. God bless you and yours to whom we are much in affectionate love. Hoping to hear from you soon. Kisses to the dear children. Tell them Grandma has got a pretty little boy and would love to have a game to play with them again and will. God bless you. Believe me.

Your aff’t
Mother

Ellen died at the age of 81 years, 10 days on 13 Jul 1881.

Out of sixty letters, I seem to have only the three, but how fortunate I feel to have them. Too bad that no one had the foresight to transcribe and preserve them better. That kind of thing is much easier to do these days. Now that I’ve perhaps piqued my family’s interest in the Richards and Walford branches of the Prentis family, I have more entertaining, genealogical details for the same branches to post another day.

I have set aside large amounts of time in the last 40 years to finding and preserving my family’s history, but I am forever grateful for my aunt’s similar dedication and for the treasures saved, discovered, and left to me by her, my parents, grandparents, and other ancestors. I’m also grateful that I’ve kept some letters addressed to me and my children from our own grandparents, and hope that one day they will be as cherished by future generations as these Civil War era letters are by me today.

Richard Edward Richards

Richard Edward Richards

Sarah Walford Richards

Sarah Walford Richards

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