The Family Letter Blog

Connecting Generations

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A Significant Weekend

One of the biggest challenges I face in compiling family history is figuring out what to do with random bits of information. The first weekend of 2015 offers a perfect reason for a short post about two significant dates in the life of Joseph Bush Kingsbury. He’ll be featured in a longer post later this week that I’m working on for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge.

For the last several years of his life, JBK lived in Saginaw, Michigan with his youngest son, Preston Deane Kingsbury (Deane) and his family, which includes Deane’s wife Nancy and daughters Peggy and Stacy. My father Bryant Kingsbury and I visited Saginaw for JBK’s 92nd birthday in June 1982. That may have been when we helped build a wooden ramp to make it easier for JBK to get in and out of the house with his walker.  He liked to walk to the mailbox everyday.

By late December JBK’s health began to fail and from a recent conversation with Nancy, the family knew that he was approaching the end of his life on earth. On January 3, 1983, just before dinner, JBK laid down for a nap.  According to Deane there was nothing unusual about him taking a nap before dinner. Nancy recalls that he had not been eating much the previous two days, maybe just drinking a little water, another sign that his body was shutting down.

Stacy, who would have been 15 at the time, went to check on Papa Joe and discovered he was dead. Stacy had been spending a lot of time with Papa Joe in the previous months since her older sister Peggy had just started college at Michigan State University.

Other than how my 3 G grandmother Betsy Williams Bryant died (in her rocking chair on her front porch with her knitting in her lap), I can’t think of a better way to go. Nancy remembers that in the days before January 3 Papa Joe commented, “The light is so bright.”

Ninety-two years, six months, eleven days – not a bad run. RIP Joseph B Kingsbury

Had he lived but one more day, JBK would have celebrated the 55th anniversary of his marriage to Katherine Gertrude Bryant (Kitty).  Kitty died in December 1959 so they had almost 32 years together.  I know from his letters, they had a tumultuous relationship. I also know from his letters, especially the early ones, that he loved her very much. He admired her for her intelligence, beauty and poise.


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One Hundred Years Ago

Over the past few days I’ve been transcribing one of my grandfather’s letters from 1914. He wrote it to his folks (with carbon copies for his brothers) in early September 1914 after returning from Europe.  His summer trip to Europe with two friends, Jim and Bassett, had been interrupted by World War I.  They arrived in Germany on July 28, 1914, the day Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Within a week, the trains in Germany had stopped running in order to mobilize German troops to the Russian front.  My grandfather (JBK) and his companions were stranded in Nuremberg, unsure of when they would get out of Germany and how they would get home.

I can remember times when trips were delayed because of car trouble, or other situations that seemed inconvenient but thinking of my 24 year old grandfather in Europe at the outbreak of WWI gives new meaning to the term “inconvenient.” As if it wasn’t bad enough that wherever they had planned to travel was now out of the question since no trains were running, they were also arrested every time they ventured out of their hotel.  It seems the outbreak of war tends to arouse suspicions against “foreigners.”

My grandfather’s account of the events, written after he was safely home in Washington, DC, does not indicate the level of panic that I would attribute to the situation in hindsight. I know very little about WWI so I was surprised to learn that the US didn’t get involved for three years.  Out of character with our role in the world these days but because of that, it was very important to JBK and his companions that they be identified as “Amerikans” not English. In a humorous account, JBK describes their plan to avoid suspicion.

“We decided to raise moustaches so we will look more like the Germans. The Kaiser says a man isn’t a man if he can’t raise a moustache. We are going to prove that we are.”

For all of the time I knew my grandfather (he was 65 when I was born and lived to be 92) he had a moustache. Maybe it all started that summer in Germany.

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Resolutions and New Beginnings

New Year Wishes.vintagepostcard.1.2.2015After launching my “blogging career” in March 2014 with two blogs that I used to capture my family history research, I lost momentum when I found that things I wanted to write about didn’t fit neatly into either of the categories I’d created. Let’s face it, “One family’s connection to the Civil War, ” (the subtitle for my blog “Butternut and Blue Too”) was bound to run out of material after a few stories about my Civil War ancestors and the battles they fought in.

The blog I worked on more frequently was Trovando Famiglia. It recounted what I learned while researching my husband’s Italian family roots. That blog had a longer shelf life and through it we actually discovered relatives we didn’t know we had. We also learned that my research was providing new information to other descendants of the Giorgio brothers who came from San Vito Chietino (on the eastern coast of Italy just up from the top of the boot)  to western PA in the late 1800s. That satisfied my need to be useful and to provide information, one of the reasons I write. But when I wanted to branch out to discoveries on my side of the family, with names such as Broski, Bryant, Preston and Kingsbury, those entries never felt right on Trovando Famiglia. So I just stopped posting on either site.

For the past six months my blogging has languished and I’ve suffered from the “use it or lose it” effect. Let’s face it – I was born in 1955 -young enough to use a computer with relative ease but too old to easily master the multimedia options that make blogs interesting. I’d spend hours figuring out how to add a picture to a post only to discover that none of it stuck with me after a few months of inactivity. Daily blogging is best but a more realistic goal for me is at least one entry a week.  (New Year’s Resolution #1)

Over lunch with a friend on Tuesday (last year) as we discussed how we can encourage each other’s creative pursuits in the New Year, I realized that blogging offers the ideal outlet for the kind of writing I want to do. WordPress makes it easy – you can create as many blogs as you want. Until yesterday I was reluctant to create a new blog when I felt I wasn’t fulfilling my responsibilities to the two I already had. As you can see from this post on my newly minted blog – I got over that hurdle. And what better time than the first day of a new year to begin a new venture.

For at least 50 years (maybe longer) my grandfather, Joseph B Kingsbury, contributed to the Kingsbury Family Letter. Before the internet, Email, Facebook, Skype and Instagram, members of the extended Kingsbury family kept in touch by circulating a family letter. As the letter made its way from one address to the next, each contributor inserted a new update and removed his earlier one.  So when the family letter arrived, you got an update on the things that had happened in the lives of your family members. For the most part, the circle was unbroken for the better part of 50 years as the letter made its way from Massachusetts to Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and California.  Over time, the distribution list grew to include the children of the original Kingsbury brothers (Forrest, Frank, Joe, Dean and Clark) as well as their grandchildren.  Some time in the mid 1990s, the Kingsbury Family letter stopped circulating.

I will readily confess that for the few years I participated in its distribution, the FL tended to linger far too long on my desk.  I can offer up a lot of good excuses, but suffice it to say, life got in the way. Soon the arrival of the family letter, instead of being a source of joy (as clearly evidenced by my grandfather’s intro paragraphs to most of his contributions) became a source of guilt as I worried whether members of the older generation would die without an update while the thick envelope full of pictures and family news collected dust on the corner of my desk. (Just recounting that makes me feel guilty!)

I have the originals of most of my grandfather’s contributions to the family letter from the 1940s through the 1970s. I also have many of his earlier diaries and writings that relate to his career as a professor of Public Administration. These sources offer an incredible view of what was going on in his life for most of the 20th century as well as a view of world events.  I am in the process of converting all of the handwritten, type written letters and journals to a more permanent form (scanning them as .pdf documents) but I also spend time transcribing them, because it gives me a better understanding of his life.

For several months now, I’ve struggled to come up with a way to share the information from these letters with my Kingsbury family relatives. Facebook works well for some family pictures, especially on TBT but it’s not the best forum for a lot of detailed information. “Lots of information” does not seem to be the preferred style of communicating these days and that is something I worry about. Letter writing, reading cursive handwriting and the meaningful exchange of ideas, with time for reflection and insight, seem to be lost.

So this is my new family history blog and on it I hope to share my discoveries about the Kingsbury and George families, but also to include some of the insights from my grandfather’s contributions to the Kingsbury Family Letter.  It seems fitting that the newest member of the Kingsbury family – Grayson Michael Kingsbury – born on December 2, 2014, is the son of another Joe Kingsbury. My grandfather Joseph B Kingsbury would have been this Joe Kingsbury’s great grand uncle; i.e. the brother of this Joe Kingsbury’s great grandfather, Orrin Dean Kingsbury.

So what better time to recapture some of the stories that date back to the mid-1800s while sharing some of our new family stories. The blog format allows anyone to contribute at any time. You don’t have to wait for the next family letter to arrive or worry that you have nothing interesting in your life to write about. I can pretty much guarantee that if you just take the time to write something – anything – someone 100 years from now will read it and rejoice in the discovery. Your most mundane tasks will shed light on things that may no longer exist when someone reads about them in the future.  And for those of us alive today, it will create that family feeling that was lost when the Kingsbury family letter went out of circulation.

So I hope you’ll join me in this new adventure – especially if you are part of my extended family – but also as a way of sharing how your family keeps its stories alive.

Happy New Year – Happy Blogging