The Family Letter Blog

Connecting Generations


So I’m not the first person in my family to go to law school!

All Things Kalen

If you had asked me when I graduated from law school 30 years ago this May (gulp!) I would have told you that I was the first person in my family to go to law school.  I would have been wrong.  My great great grandfather, Levi Jesse Bryant, was one of 38 men to graduate in the fourth class of the National University Law School. He graduated in May 1875 in Washington DC; 110 years before me, but less than 50 miles from where I graduated in Baltimore, MD.

There’s a very detailed account of the graduation program in the National Republican, which just happens to be the newspaper that my other great great grandfather, Herbert Augustine Preston, worked for during part of his career as a journalist in Washington DC. I haven’t confirmed whether he was with that paper in 1875, but it’s possible. Levi’s youngest son – Herbert…

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A Man Ahead of His Time – My GG Grandfather Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury (1827 – 1909)

My grandfather’s aunt Ella Kingsbury Whitmore wrote a book about her family’s life as pioneers entitled Salt of the Earth. It’s the Kingsbury family’s personal  Little House on the Prairie and recounts the events from Joseph and Hannah’s marriage in Vermont in 1850 to their life in the Midwest, first in Illinois and then in Iowa. If you check this blog often, you’ll get bits and pieces of that story from time to time.

Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury was a carpenter and he met his wife Hannah Brown when he was building a barn for her step-father John Robinson in Jamaica, Vermont.  Hannah’s father Orrin Brown died when she was young and her mother remarried. The headline picture on this blog is of the Kingsbury family of Osage Iowa – Joseph and Hannah seated in front of their four children – Emma, Wayland, Ella and Mary. It was probably taken in the late 1880s.

The family’s strong abiding faith in God and love of family shine through Aunt Ella’s account of daily life in the Kingsbury home. My grandfather, Joseph Bush Kingsbury (JBK) described his religious upbringing as something he never questioned until much later in life.  His father Wayland married a minister’s daughter (Flora Jane Bush, whose father Reverend Alva Bush founded Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, Iowa) so JBK and his brothers  had a strong religious upbringing. JBK’s diary from his time as a college student at George Washington University (1910- 1915) has numerous accounts of Sunday School meetings and other church related activities, in addition to his job as a stenographer and clerk in the Department of Agriculture.

JBK 1970My grandfather was 65 when I was born and he was a college professor at Indiana University.  I could talk to him about anything and he was a strong influence in all of my academic pursuits. Near the end of his life (he died in 1983 at age 92) I remember asking him about his belief in God and his religious views.  We had never talked about that but I always thought of him as “religious.” I was surprised by his reluctance to talk about his faith.  He said something like – “I think I’m just about ready to talk about that,” but it was a conversation we never had.

Somehow his reluctance to tell me about his faith journey made a stronger impression on me than if he had said, “Yes there is a God, Jesus is His son and you should believe that.” Coming from him, I probably would have. I think JBK understood the benefit of someone struggling with their own ambivalence in matters of faith and finding their way without accepting what they were told they should believe.  I think he was right about that.

I have digressed from my original intent in writing this post, which was to illustrate the progressive views of my very religious GG grandfather Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury but in doing so, I’ve shared the even more important and progressive views of his namesake, my grandfather.

So as for the views of Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury – his daughter Ella writes:

“Father was not only deeply interested in the abolition of slavery and of the liquor traffic, but also in woman suffrage. He thought his daughters were as capable as his son of expressing their convictions on matters of local or general interest. Their ‘in-laws’ were equally forward looking and progressive.”  (From p.55 of Salt of the Earth by Ella Kingsbury Whitmore)

I’m proud to be from a long line of progressive men.




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Kingsbury Family circa 1885

Thanks to my second cousin Chris Pahud for sharing this awesome photo of our Kingsbury ancestors from Osage Iowa. What a great way to spend a snowy day in Quincy Mass – finding and posting this gem to Facebook. WOW!!!

Front Row: Hannah and Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury  Back Row: Emma Kingsbury Berger, Wayland Briggs Kingsbury, Ella Kingsbury Whitmore and Mary Kingsbury Fussell

Front Row: Hannah Brown and Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury
Back Row: Emma Kingsbury Berger, Wayland Briggs Kingsbury, Ella Kingsbury Whitmore and Mary Kingsbury Fussell

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Hannah Brown Kingsbury – A Lifter, never a Leaner – Week #5 – 52 Ancestor Challenge

With Winter Storm Juno bearing down on New England, it seems like a good time to write about my great great grandmother Hannah Brown who was born in Vermont in 1830. (Even though it is a week early for Challenge #5) No doubt she had her fair share of plowing through snow during her childhood in Vermont and perhaps plowing of a different sort when she and her husband Joseph Kingsbury began their life as pioneers in the Midwest; first in Illinois in 1852 and five years later in Fayette County, Iowa where they secured a quarter section of land, built a log cabin and began farming.

Hannah was the youngest of three girls born to Orrin Brown and Mary Read Cheney. Her father died when she was only 3 years old and her mother remarried a few years later. Mary and her second husband had four sons (Clark, John, William and Nathaniel) and one daughter Lucy Ann. The 1850 census for Jamaica, Vermont shows 19 year –old Hannah Brown living with her mother, step-father and half siblings.

Hannah met her husband Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury while he was building a barn for her stepfather. Hannah and Joseph married on October 4, 1852 and they moved west that same year. Their first child, Mary Lucinda, was born in Cherry Valley Illinois in1853. In 1857 they moved to Iowa and began life on the prairie where their next three children were born, Fannie Ella (1857), Wayland Briggs (1859) and Emma Brown (1861).

SaltoftheEarth.1.27.15I have a book written by Hannah’s daughter Ella Kingsbury Whitmore entitled Salt of the Earth. She published the book in 1944 in Monrovia California and dedicates it to the descendants of Joseph B. and Hannah Brown Kingsbury. She wrote the book at the request of her daughter to capture some of her memories of life in the Midwest. It describes her childhood growing up in Iowa and provides a detailed account of daily routines – everything from making soap and candles, making and washing clothes, and the importance of music and religion to her family.

On page 12 Ella writes of her parents when they were young:

“One can picture the young Vermont couple, Joseph with his dark hair and eyes, tall, and thoughtfully serious, Hannah, short and plump, blue eyed and earnest, as they grew interested in each other. Her voice was a rich soprano, full and true through the years, such as is rare. His was bass, sweet but not strong, and before many years, was but a whisper. His love of music was deep.”

Their wedding was a simple ceremony at the minister’s home with Hannah’s older sister Mary and her husband as witnesses.  The young couple left for Cherry Valley, Illinois where they had relatives, as soon as they married.They carried all of their worldly possessions, “a strong tool chest, filled with carpenter tools, a small trunk of Joseph’s make, containing his wardrobe and a ‘big box’ of Hannah’s store of clothes and bedding, and keepsakes. They had youth and health, and habits of frugality and industry, and a good share of the rare quality, common sense.

After a few years in Illinois, the family visited Vermont with their first child, Mary Lucinda.

“A daguerreotype picture of them at that time shows three earnest, thoughtful faces. The young mother and little daughter have their dark hair parted over their broad foreheads, and smoothly combed over their ears, not very different from the style of young people today.”

From the story of Joseph’s tall silk wedding hat dropping to his shoulders when he put it on, and the reference to Hannah and her daughter’s “broad foreheads,” I think it’s a safe bet that my “bulgy Kingsbury brow” as my husband lovingly calls it, might actually have come from the Browns and not the Kingsbury side of the family.

In 1881, Joseph and Hannah sold the farm and moved into the town of Oelwein, which was a new railroad town. They eventually moved to Osage and Joseph worked with his son Wayland in the family hardware store. The hardware store in Osage stayed in the Kingsbury family until the mid-1950s, with Wayland’s second son Frank as the final owner.

Hannah and Joseph stayed with Wayland and his four sons after the death of Wayland’s first wife, Flora Jane Bush in 1900. Ella writes:

“Father and mother willingly gave up their quiet home and went to that of the desolated family. They were glad that they were wanted, and could still be useful. When the children were told that grandpa and grandma were coming to stay with them, and they would all be careful and try not to tire them, Joseph said gently, ‘We will be quiet, we are used to walking on tiptoe.’ And what little Joe said, was sure to be acceptable to his small brother Dean.”

Ella recalls her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary as a grand celebration held at the home of Mrs. N.J. Berger. Grandchildren played violin and piano and recited verses. Their children and friends shared stories of Joseph and Hannah’s life together. There was a picture taken in the yard with 34 people in it (sadly, not reproduced in the book) and the next day 24 family members went to the photography studio for a more formal picture (also, not reproduced).

Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury died in September 1909, a month before their 57th anniversary and Hannah later moved to the home of her son Wayland and his second wife, Annie Walker Kingsbury. On August 24, 1914, Hannah wrote to her daughter Ella, then living in California:

“I am settled with Wayland and Annie again, with no prospect of unsettling, and I am satisfied. Shall try to be cheerful and agreeable and useful, as far as I am able.” After describing her day at church she continues: “Dean received a letter from a girlfriend in Washington, with a clipping containing a whole lot of names of Americans that were stranded in Europe, and Joe’s was among them, as also the two friends that were with him. They were in Nuremberg. We have to keep satisfied with ‘watchful waiting’ for awhile, probably. Oh, the cruelty and meanness of such a war.”

Hannah died when she was 84 and her daughter Ella describes her as brave and helpful to the end. In one of my favorite lines in the book she writes of her mother:

“No self-pity, no whining, no grumbling, do I recall. Trustful and true to the last. To her it was humiliating to be a leaner. A lifter was her habitual character.”

Good advice – the world could use more lifters!


50th Wedding Anniversary Poem for Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury and Hannah Brown Kingsbury – October 1902

This poem is from the book Salt of the Earth by Ella Kingsbury Whitmore on the occasion of her parents’ 50th Wedding anniversary. It was written by one of their granddaughters.

Just fifty years ago today,
‘Mongst Vermont hills so far away,
In a little quiet eastern town,
Occurred the things I’ve written down.

Perhaps you’ve heard the tale before –
Perhaps you’ve heard it o’er and o’er;
But it ne’er before was writ in verse
So listen, please, it might be worse.

October four, in fifty-two,
The sky was not a lovely blue,
At early morn the rain came down,
On the wedding day of Hannah Brown.

The stalwart youth who won her heart,
And Hannah, lived some miles apart,
But he was young, and strong, and full of life
And went through the rain to take his wife.

Up the big long hills he drove along –
His heart was full of joyful song,
For today he and the young school teacher
Had planned to go and see the preacher.

So what cared he for mud or rain?
He soon would see her face again
And side by side, through life, from now,
He’d always have a smiling “frau.”

And she was young, and fair, and sweet,
As any girl you’d chance to meet,
If you would travel far and wide,
Up many a mountain’s rugged side.

From her country home to Londonderry,
Where lived the young man Joe Kingsbury,
Over the mountains she had come,
To teach the youngsters near his home.

As long as the old world turns around,
Just such cases will be found.
He learned to love, and wooed and won,
The shy and pretty Hannah Brown.

So now he planned to take his wife,
And go out west, begin a life,
In far away big Illinois,
Of which he dreamed, since but a boy.
The wedding gown was fine and new,
It was light gray-it was not blue
There’s a joke about the bridegroom’s hat-
Maybe he will tell you that.

No wedding grand was in their plans-
A quiet marriage, by a man
They both knew well was kind and good,
Jamaica’s preacher, Elder Wood.

As eve drew on, the sky did lighten,
And stars came out, their way to brighten,
As on they went, these loving two,
With sister and her husband true.

The knot was tied, and good and strong-
Has not come loose through all the long
And busy years passed through since then,
Through years now counting five times ten.

Some days perchance were dark and dreary,
And oftentimes they both were weary;
But through hard times they came at length,
Each strengthened by the other’s strength.

And now around them in their home,
Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren come;
Each one’s heart is full of love,
Each one trusting God above

Will send his blessings, rich in store,
For long years prolonged many more.
So here are congratulations hearty!
At this anniversary party.

Three cheers for Grandpa and Grandma Kingsbury,
For Jamaica Town, and Londonderry!


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Joseph Kingsbury. . . “Too much addicted to the world.”

I’m following the second prompt for 2015 by describing a relative who left England to start a new life in America. There are plenty of “King”sburys in my family tree but I might as well start with my first American immigrant ancestor.

Joseph Kingsbury, was the youngest son of John Kingsbury of Boxford, England. He came to Massachusetts with his older brother John and they eventually settled in Dedham, Massachusetts sometime around 1638. When genealogists write about the Kingsburys in America they differentiate between the Joseph Kingsbury line from Dedham Massachusetts and the Henry Kingsbury line from Ipswich Massachusetts. It’s easy for me to remember which line I’m from because my grandfather is also named Joseph.

I don’t know why Joseph (1600-1676) and his brother John left England but I do know they were the youngest boys in the family so it may have had something to do with the laws of primogeniture (meaning that the eldest son in the family inherited all of his father’s estate.) This was the only way real property could be inherited in England until the Statute of Wills in 1540 but even after that it was common practice and was often followed in America as well. It meant that the younger sons in a family, often with support from the older brother, entered the military or pursued  a profession. So if they weren’t going to get any of their father’s land in Boxford, perhaps the chance to become landowners in the New World appealed to  Joseph and John.

I’ve seen conflicting reports of when they arrived in Massachusetts (sometime between 1630 and 1638) but most sources agree they were here by 1638 and they were not part of Winthrop’s fleet that arrived in 1630. Joseph came to America with his wife Millicent, whom he married in Boxford, England in 1628. Their first child, Sarah Kingsbury, was born in 1635 so depending on when they arrived in America, she was either born here or was a very young child on the voyage. Town records indicate that the second child ever born in Dedham Mass was Mary Kingsbury, the second daughter of Joseph and Millicent. She was born on September 1, 1637. After another daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1638, Joseph and Millicent had four boys – Joseph (1640), John (1643), Eleazer (1645) and Nathaniel (1650). After about eleven or twelve generations you get to me. I kept my maiden name because I came of age at the height of the women’s liberation movement, but also as a way to honor my grandfather. His only male heirs (my father and my uncle Deane) only had girls.

When I think of our ancestors coming to America, in part, for religious freedom, it surprises me to learn how oppressive the early church in America was. I guess that shows you how much the term “religious freedom” can change over time.  The Puritans who were part of the Great Migration wanted the “freedom” to impose their religious views and practices on everyone in the community. There were very strict rules for joining a church and what was expected of members. Apparently Joseph Kingsbury hadn’t been following those rules so he was NOT admitted to the church in Dedham in 1638. His wife Millicent however, was found to be “a tender harted soule full of feares and temptations, but truly breathing after christ” and was admitted. Some sources indicate Joseph was ill-tempered, but others suggest that his differences with the church may have started when he “swapped” land, giving the church some of his very desirable land in town in exchange for rocky, swamp land. He expressed his displeasure with the trade, which may be why he was found to be “too much addicted to the world” and denied church membership.

By 1641, the church was convinced of his piety and repentance for his worldly ways and Joseph was christened on February 9, 1641.  Although their grave markers did not survive, Joseph and Millicent were probably buried in the church burial ground, the very land he had given the church many years before his death.

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WordPress Blogging 101

I’m determined to learn more about the ins and outs of blogging this year so I signed up for Blogging 101 an online course for new bloggers sponsored by WordPress. I will split my response to each day’s assignment between this blog and the one I began last March that is devoted to my husband’s Italian ancestors and their stories:

So who am I and why am I here?
This blog is inspired by the Kingsbury Family letter as explained in my first post on January 2, 2015 “Resolutions and New Beginnings.”
I’ve been doing family history research for the past two years. The hobby began as a way to cope with an empty nest when my youngest left for college in 2011.
I started two blogs in 2014, but they each had a narrow focus and I needed a new blog to capture ALL family history – not just my husband’s Italian roots and not just my civil war ancestors’ stories –

So here’s my newly minted Family Letter Blog – Connecting Generations. I’m lucky to be part of a wonderful family that has a well-documented family tree thanks to my great uncle Forrest Kingsbury. Through Facebook I’ve recently reconnected with Kingsbury cousins in my generation and the younger generation, which just added its newest member in December 2014 (Welcome to a wonderful world Grayson Michael Kingsbury!)

I’ve also inherited my grandfather’s letters that cover most of the 20th century.It is a daunting task to compile them in a meaningful, permanent way. Of course I could take all the time I spend learning to blog and focus on organizing my own collection of family documents and memorabilia. There’s a lot of material to compile and there are only so many hours in a day. So why do I blog?

To me, the whole point of a family is to be part of something bigger than yourself. I hope that someone, somewhere will read something I write and find a connection. Maybe through the information I provide, they will learn something they didn’t already know about the Kingsbury family (or the Preston, Bryant, Broski, Hubbard, Jenkins, Powell, Swan, or Bush families – to name just a few.)
I also hope that someone reading this blog will have information to share that I don’t have and that they will take the time to leave a comment and share what they know. That way I can learn new things about my family and form new connections.

I guess you could say it’s a circle of life kind of thing. That’s why I blog.