The Family Letter Blog

Connecting Generations


Lillian Stillion – Lorion Stillion and Aunt Ella Kingsbury Whitmore

Continuing from my post on Friday January 27, 2017, the search to find out about Aunt Ella and her adopted daughter Lillian Whitmore, soon yielded a bountiful harvest of news from the West Union Argo Gazette and the Fayette County Union.

Once I had Lillian Whitmore’s married name – STILLION – it didn’t take long to learn a bit more about her and to learn that she and her husband, Reverend Jasper Clyde Stillion, had one son, Lorion Stillion, born in 1915. This announcement appeared in the West Union Argo Gazette on August 18, 1915.lorionstillion-birth-wuag-18aug1915

I am always happy when someone I’m searching has an unusual name. When that happens a Google search often yields great results and I was not disappointed. This 1987 article from the L.A. Times suggests that  Lorion inherited some of his mother’s musical talent. It also suggests that Lorion and his wife Ardell did not have any children. Further searching indicates that sad conclusion is correct.

Filling in what I wanted to know about Aunt Ella’s life, I found this In Memoriam article in the June 10, 1948 issue of the Fayette County Union, written by her nephew Frank Kingsbury of Osage.


Such a lovely tribute to a woman who was too modest to write of her own accomplishments in the family history she wrote in 1941 – Salt of the Earth.

The most surprising news of this article is that her daughter Lillian Stillion preceded her in death, by a couple of months. I haven’t searched for Lillian Stillion’s obituary so I’ll have to work on that in my next research session.

There were 59 “hits” in my search for First Name: Lillian; Last Name:Whitmore. From these articles I’ve gotten to know Aunt Ella’s adopted daughter. Let me share her story.

Lillian was an accomplished violinist at an early age. Her name even appeared in 1977 obituary for someone who mentioned her as his first violin teacher.

She grew up in West Union, Iowa  but attended Cedar Valley Seminary for one year,  graduating on June 8, 1910. She returned to West Union, with her grandmother Mrs. J.B. Kingsbury on June 14, 1910 (Hannah was visiting her daughters Mary in Fayette and Ella in West Union). On June 29, 1910, Lillian took a position as a stenographer at the State Bank of West Union. She worked there until September 1911 when she left to attend a ladies seminary in Mt. Carroll, Illinois. Probably this one.

When Lillian’s parents moved to California in 1912, she went with them. She graduated from Redlands College in Redlands California in June 1913. Many years later, her cousin Forrest Kingsbury, retired to Redlands College after his long career in the Psychology Department of University of Chicago. Another interesting coincidence!

Lillian Whitmore married Jasper Clyde Stillion sometime after June 1913 and before August  1915. Interestingly, the census for 1910 shows that Jasper Clyde Stillion was a science teacher at Cedar Valley Seminary so that must have been where their paths first crossed. He was a lodger in the home of  Mrs. Polly Holliday.

Jasper and Lillian spent most of their married life in California. Including some time at Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles) which was located at Hope and 6th Streets in downtown Los Angeles. Coincidentally, 65 years later, I worked at Arco Tower, within a block of the Bible Institute. The original Bible Institute building was demolished in 1988 after damage it sustained in a 1987 earthquake made it too costly to renovate. But the iconic “Jesus Saves” sign in 7-foot tall neon red letters that once graced the rooftop of its dormitory, remains atop the trendy Ace Hotel in downtown LA today.

Here’s a 2010 blog post about the history of the “Jesus Saves” sign.

I am  fascinating by what I call “overlapping ancestor tracks.” What are the odds that a girl who grew up in Richmond, Virginia would end up in Los Angeles 30 years later, living within a few miles of where her unknown cousin – Lorion Stillion – was living at the time. Or that a few years later, she would be house hunting in the same neighborhood where her great great aunt lived 50 years earlier? That’s crazy!

This is a 2015 picture of the house at 311 Wild Rose Avenue, Monrovia California. This was Aunt Ella’s address in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 census reports. I noticed in previous research that Aunt Ella took in boarders but I didn’t appreciate the significance of the ones listed in the 1940 census until yesterday – Jasper Stillion and his wife Lillian!


Aunt Ella’s house sold for $1,027,500 in 2015, so I doubt I’ll be moving in anytime soon but oh how I’d love to at least walk through it!


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Why I Read Old Newspapers – REALLY Old Newspapers!

One of my favorite ways to relieve stress is to immerse myself in newspaper searches for my ancestors. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately because work is especially stressful right now with no end in sight. I stopped reading the daily paper years ago and I certainly have no intention of resuming that habit any time soon. In today’s news climate?!? Talk about stress!

Today I learned of a great resource for  online newspapers thanks to my daily dose of genealogical wisdom from Genea-musings, which shared a link to The Ancestor Hunt. I learn a lot from other genealogists who so willingly share resources and information. Thank-you!

So wine glass in hand (the other way I relieve stress) I settled in for my favorite Friday night activity – scanning historic newspapers – but this time armed with a valuable new resource. The link on The Ancestor Hunt identifies online newspapers in each state and provides links to local libraries, some of which have free searchable databases. So in no time at all I was perusing the late 1800s, early 1900s papers from the counties in Iowa where my Kingsbury ancestors lived.

I found interesting facts about the Kingsbury family of Osage involving tax assessments, real estate transfers and Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury being chosen as a petit juror in 1888 and a grand juror in 1889. Nothing too earthshattering but I like to add bits and pieces of the family puzzle that way.

And I always enjoy the advertisements and interesting quotes and quips that make it just plain fun to read old newspapers. Like this one from the 1936 St. Ansgar Enterprise.


My grandfather’s father, Wayland Briggs Kingsbury, was the only son born to Joseph and Hannah Kingsbury. His three sisters, all born in the mid 1800s on the newly pioneered plains of Iowa, were Mary, Ella and Emma. Much of what I know about those members of the Kingsbury family is because of a self-published family history written my Ella at the request of her daughter Lillian.

When people in the Kingsbury family talk about the family “blue book” they usually mean the genealogy compiled and published by my great uncle Forrest A. Kingsbury in 1958.

But this is my favorite “blue book” of Kingsbury family history


It’s my favorite because Ella describes her childhood and writes about the day-to-day things that she and her siblings did while growing up on the Iowa frontier in the mid- 1800s. It is such a treasure to know what the family was like; that her father was a good carpenter, that he they enjoyed singing together as a family, that they stopped farming and moved into town where her father started a hardware store in Oelwein and then West Union (or vice versa) before moving to Osage.

But the thing that always bothered me about Aunt Ella’s book was that she never talked about her own family. From what I can tell, she never had any children of her own. She was 36 when she married Frank Y Whitmore, a widower, in December 1893. From the US Census in 1900, I knew that the family included a 10-year old adopted daughter (identified as such) named Lillian, who was born in New York. Both of Lillian’s parents were born in Norway.

A few years ago I spent many futile hours trying to track down information on Lillian Whitmore. She was born in 1890, the same year as my grandfather, but I’ve never seen her name in any of his writings. I was reading The Orphan Train at the time so I wondered if that could be how Lillian came to live with Ella and Frank. But mostly I wondered if I could track down any of Lillian’s descendants so I could learn more about Aunt Ella. Maybe they have extra copies of Salt of the Earth. Maybe they have more family pictures. Maybe they have stories to share. Maybe they will read this and contact me.

Ella Kingsbury Whitmore also fascinates me because she lived in Monrovia, California. (But why did she move from Iowa to Monrovia?) Monrovia is in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, east of LA, but not too far from Alhambra and San Marino where Rick and I lived from 1985 to 1997. We looked at houses in Monrovia. Maybe I drove past the house Aunt Ella lived in and didn’t even know it. Maybe we almost made an offer on a house that was on her street! I definitely recognize the name of the street she lived on in 1940 – Wildrose Avenue.

So nearing the end of my search for the night I decided to browse the West Union Iowa papers for mid-November 1918.  A search for “Frank Whitmore” had turned up a few interesting articles, but a search for Lillian Whitmore came up blank. But just because you don’t get a hit doesn’t mean there’s not something there – you just have to decide how much time you’re willing to spend searching.

I knew from records on that Frank Whitmore died in Monrovia, CA on November 10, 1918. Maybe if I got lucky I could find his obituary and learn more about his family. And sure enough on the front page of the West Union Argo Gazette from November 13, 1918 I found this:



The article also provided much needed detail about the timing of Frank Whitmore’s marriages, his career and his family. It confirmed that he was survived by his three children, his wife and an adopted daughter. But better than all that – the article provided Lillian Whitmore’s married name – Mrs. J.C. Stillion.


My search didn’t end there, but this post will. Check back tomorrow for the rest of the story!



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Herbert Augustine Preston – Fired Again

Life in the late 1800s as a Washington DC newspaperman was no walk in the park. At least not for my gg grandfather Herbert A. Preston. Here is the text from an article that appeared in Helena Independent (probably picked up from a wire service) in March 1891 about his discharge from the Washington, DC office of the New York Herald.

Herbert A Preston, who was suddenly relieved the other day of control of the New York Herald’s Washington office, is one of the old men on the paper. For fifteen years, although Charles Nordhoff has been the head of the bureau here, Preston has borne the responsibility and ate at the news desk night after night. Why he was dropped no man knows. It is one of those things that happen on the Herald now and then to prove that it has an owner and perhaps to scare the men who are left into greater effort. The queerest thing about it is that the best men are the ones who are visited with sudden dismissal.

Preston made an especially good record during the sickness of President Garfield. The Herald all through the summer of 1881 surpassed all other papers in the fullness and accuracy of its reports of the wounded man’s condition. Most of this success was due to Preston’s acquaintance with a young drug clerk in the store where the president’s doctors sent their prescriptions.

Every night Preston knew what the physicians and surgeons had sent for and as a geologist constructs and restores an extinct species from a single stone, the Herald correspondent from the hieroglyphics of the medical men made up his story of the president’s condition. If ether was ordered he knew cutting was being done. If stimulants were sent for he knew the patient was worse; if no extraordinary drug was needed or none at all, the indications were hopeful. From such a slender thread of fact the Herald’s whole circumstantial story depended and a strong imagination made the daily account the best we had.

Herbert Augustine Preston died in May 1893. His obituary ended with a request that each newspaperman of the city contribute 50 cents so they could purchase a headstone for his grave. Although the obituary reported that his last mortal remains were laid to rest in a private ceremony at Mount Olivet Cemetery, he is actually buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Was he originally buried at Mount Olivet and then moved? Or was the newspaper mistaken?

According to the records of the Arlington National Cemetery, he, his wife, Annie McNabb Preston, who died in November 1930 and his daughter Theodora Preston, who died in October 1966, are buried there.




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“A Plump and Pleasing Person”

Herbert Augustine Preston was my great great grandfather. His third daughter and fifth child was Elizabeth Monica Preston who married Herbert Sydney Bryant in  1900. Their first child, Katherine Gertrude Bryant, was my father’s mother. Kitty was born in Washington DC in 1902.

The Bryant and Preston families were residents of Washington DC since the end of the Civil War. Members of both families held positions as government clerks, lawyers and journalists but the only one to have his caricature appear on the first page of a DC paper was Herbert Augustine Preston. (At least, he’s the only one I’ve found so far.)

hap-charicature-washingtoncritic-5-28-1885This picture appeared in the sixth column (above the fold!) on the front page of The Washington Critic  on May 28, 1885. The text of the article is transcribed below. It provides a timeline of HAP’s career and insights into his character and physical appearance.

The three line title of the article reads:

Our Press Gallery

One of the Most Enterprising of News-Gatherers

The Washington Correspondent of the “New York Herald,” Whose Varied and Industrious Career as a Journalist Covers Fully a Quarter of a Century

Mr. Herbert A. Preston is the regular correspondent of the New York Herald. He is in his forth-fifth year, a native of Charlestown, Mass., and has been connected with journalism for a quarter of a century. In Boston before the war he worked on the Herald and also on the Ledger, the latter a paper started once upon a time in opposition to the former. He served in the army for three years and was offered the position of war correspondent on the Cincinnati Commercial. This he declined and became one of the city staff of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

He came to this city in 1866 and became an attaché of the National Intelligence. In 1869 he went to the National Republican, and in 1870 he accepted a place in the Washington bureau of the New York Herald. In 1875 he took charge of the New York Sun bureau, but returned to the Herald in the fall of 1877 and has been its regular correspondent here ever since.

During the negotiations for the treaty of Washington the Herald was the medium through which a number of important state secrets were made public, to the great annoyance of President Grant who thought someone was conspiring to defeat the chief ambition of his Administration, and openly charged Mr. Preston with aiding the conspiracy. This caused the proprietor of the paper to “fire him out,” as it were.  During the last Irish famine Mr. Preston exerted himself in collecting funds in this city to aid the sufferers, and secured nearly $6,000.

Like most of the older newspaper men, continued indulgence in the luxuries of life have made him a plump and pleasing person. He is fond of conversation and devoted to bon mots, which he handles in a style that greatly resembles that of Senator William M. Evarts. Mr. Preston carries about with him a somewhat sparsely settled beard and moustache of a reddish hue.

He makes no pretensions to phenomenal gifts as a writer, and cares only to be esteemed as having “a nose for the news.” He is certainly so esteemed. Facts, rather than rhetoric, constitute his forte.

Mr. Preston is ably seconded in the discharge of his laborious duties by the intelligent assistance of Mr. Patrick Diggins, who commenced his journalistic career on the Herald with the elder Bennett in 1835, when the paper was started. Mr. Diggins is a permanent fixture attached to the Herald’s real estate.

…   …   …   …

So  if you’re like me and don’t remember learning about the Treaty of Washington, it establish a precedent in international law about the role of “neutral” countries. Under the Treaty (which was signed in 1871 despite my grandfather’s alleged efforts to defeat it) the United States received $15 million from Great Britain for damage and losses caused by Confederate cruisers built in Liverpool during the civil war. These ships, largely the Alabama, caused significant damage to the US Merchant Marine during the Civil War. The US sought compensation from Great Britain for these losses in 1869 and Senator Charles Sumner originally sought $2 billion or the annexation of Canada! The Treaty of Washington settled these and other claims. I’m reading about this now, in issues of the New York Herald from 1871 to see just what my gg grandfather did to get President Grant so riled up.

Is it possible my great great grandfather tried to defeat that Treaty? Pretty cool that Grant specifically identified him although I doubt he thought so when he was losing his job! Herbert A. Preston was from Massachusetts and fought for the Union for three years, so I don’t have any reason to believe he was a southern sympathizer.

Hamilton Fish, Grant’s Secretary of State, was a key player in the negotiations that began in early 1871 when Sir John Rose came to Washington DC to sort out differences between the two countries involving the Northwest boundary dispute.  The US agreed to enter into discussion with Great Britain, provided their scope was broadened to include the Alabama claims that had not yet been resolved.

Perhaps there was something about the process that HAP found newsworthy. Or perhaps President Grant just didn’t like him. We may never know but I love when my genealogy research broadens my general knowledge of history and world affairs.

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Cedar Valley Seminary – Osage Iowa

When I visited Osage in October 2016, I spent about four hours in the Mitchell County Historical Society’s library.  I remember hearing that my great great grandfather Alva Bush, started Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, Iowa. I also knew that my cousin Stacy had visited the Mitchell County Historical Museum many years ago when it was housed in the seminary building. I always thought it was interesting to have an ancestor who started a school, but I didn’t really understand the significance of it until I visited Osage.

First point of clarification – CVS was not a seminary as we now think of that term (a school for training religious leaders) but more like a junior college. It was started by the Cedar Valley Baptist Association at the request of the citizens of Osage, many of whom, were from New England. They wanted their children to have a good education and opportunities were limited, or perhaps nonexistent, in that part of the state. Alva Bush served as the school’s first principal when classes began in January 1863.  Cedar Valley Seminary was one of the first schools of its kind.  For some general information check

When Alva Bush moved his family to Osage in 1862 they lived in family quarters of the county jail. Classes met in the Mitchell County Courthouse for a few years until it was finally decided that Osage would be the county seat (instead of Mitchell). A new building was constructed for CVS and classes began meeting there in 1870. That building is still standing today thanks to the efforts of people who love history and fought hard to save it. Here’s a link to the Cedar Valley Seminary Foundation.

Here’s an account by Clara Bush Call of the Seminary’s early days that I found in the Library’s extensive collection of CVS memorabilia.


Clara Bush Call – Personal Recollection of CVS Early Days – Reprinted in a 30th Anniversary Yearbook

One of my favorite finds was a file with letters from former CVS students on the occasion of the school’s 100th anniversary in 1963. In it was a letter from Forrest Alva Kingsbury that is copied below. There were also letters from JBK and his brother Dean as well as Frank Moore, Josephine Kingsbury’s father-in-law, who also attended CVS, as did his wife.

Here is Forrest’s letter describing his father’s experience at CVS in 1878.


And here is the transcription of Wayland’s first card and letter home to his folks in West Union.


It isn’t clear to me whether or not Wayland B. Kingsbury completed his studies at CVS. I never found his name in the list of graduating students, but I may have missed it. His wife Flora Bush was listed although at the moment, I don’t remember what year she graduated.

I do know that Wayland opened a hardware store in Osage, with his father and that two of Wayland’s sons, Frank and Dean, worked in the store with him from the early to mid- 1900s. Frank was the last Kingsbury to own and operate the family hardware store in Osage. But the building is still there and getting a face lift. I checked the address from a city directory. It is on Main Street not too far from the new location of the Cedar Valley Seminary building (which is around the corner on a side street.)













Life in Bloomington, Indiana

Joseph B Kingsbury moved to Bloomington, Indiana at the end of summer 1946 with his wife Kitty and their two boys, my father, Bryant Kingsbury who was 14 at the time of the move and Preston Deane Kingsbury who had just turned 10 in August that year. The family had lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland (just on the edge of Washington, DC) before the move and that was also where Kitty and the boys lived when JBK was in Tehran, Iran for most of 1944.  

The moved marked the beginning of JBK’s career as a professor of Government at Indiana University, returning to university teaching after many years in government service and working for a private consulting firm. In an early account from this time JBK writes: 

October 31, 1946 –We have been in Indiana 2 months. The country is charming, the weather has been beautiful and warm, the faculty and townspeople easy to get along with. The boys like school better than ever before and seem to have more friends than they did in Chevy Chase. I could be happier than ever before but Kitty seems determined not only to wreck herself, but to take us all with her.

 This is the first account in a file labelled “KBK” in my grandfather’s neat, distinctive print. The file is an inch thick with letters, both typed and handwritten, mostly from JBK documenting four years of Kitty’s drinking habits and bizarre behavior. There’s no benefit to blogging about the details, other than to say they provide a lot of insight into what my father and uncle lived through and leave me even more amazed than ever about my grandfather’s patience and resilience.  

I’ve read through most of JBK’s letters before but I always find something interesting that I missed the first time. Today’s tidbit comes from a letter in the KBK file dated May 17, 1949 in which JBK analyzes his behavior to evaluate the merit of Kitty’s claims that he is responsible for all of her unhappiness.  

I love it for his succinct but accurate description of the Kingsbury and Bush families. When I think about my Kingsbury and Bush ancestors who moved to Iowa in the early to mid- 1800s I tend to lump them together under the labels – religious, hard-working pioneers; strong, mid-western stock; salt of the earth. It’s interesting to read JBK’s perspective on the differences between the two families and his perspectives on self-analysis. 

I don’t know anything harder to do than see ourselves as others see us. Too much introspection is like a disease; I know, because I suffered with it between the ages of 12 and 30, and I have been trying ever since to get over it. But when we are in a cold war, with no referees and no rules, I had better examine myself as critically and objectively as possible and see if I am as right as I think I am. I have no illusions that I can see all my faults, but I shall make an honest attempt. This is my story and it is bound to be one-sided. If I bring you in, it is because it is impossible to leave you out. We are still husband and wife. I shall not go back into history any more than is necessary to explain the present situation. 

It would be foolish to deny that I am still influenced by my parents and early life. I am the product of two rather different families, the Kingsburys, Vermont and Iowa farmers; hard-working, thrifty, puritanical in their religion and morals, undemonstrative, but capable of genuine liking for and kindness to people. The Bush family were more sensitive, imaginative, humorous, and demonstrative, more intellectual in their interests but equally devout in their religion. I was brought up to believe God punished wrong-doing, and the Bible and the church were necessary to keep one straight. I was 25 years old and in graduate school before I had serious doubts that the Bible and the church had all the truth. Then I reacted rather bitterly against churches, but I guess I never lost my fundamental religious nature and never will.  

In my reaction against early piety and strictness, forbidden pleasures became very alluring: smoking, drinking, gambling, forbidden books, women, etc. That was the Prohibition era and the gay 20’s when many young people lost their inhibitions. I had a short and very unsatisfactory affair with a high school teacher in St. Louis – aside from that I was terribly innocent and ignorant of women and quite content to be a bachelor. When I met you, I was beginning to see that bachelors usually turned into queer, selfish, old-maidish persons, and I didn’t want to get that way. The thought that a girl as young, beautiful and sophisticated as you could be interested in me was exciting and flattering.

 Of the early days of their relationship he writes: 

I suffered tortures between the time I met you and the time I asked you to marry me – and milder hell from that time until we were married. My natural caution told me not to, and my study of Sociology told me we were too different to get along well. My newly awakened gambling spirit and my physical desires said “do it.” In the end I think my decision was rational. I convinced myself that I could get along with anyone and you were a very desirable creature.

I will always think of the first 5 years of our married life as happy ones. I was proud of your beauty, your social poise, your hospitality, your initiative, your hard common sense, and many other qualities. I thought it was a case of two quite different people supplementing each other’s lacks and proving that common likes, values and traits were not necessary to successful marriage. We did have some good times those first 5 years, and we were proud and happy when the first baby came.

 Hope I’ve left you wanting more – I just can’t get enough of my grandfather’s writing. I never knew Kitty, but from reading his letters, I get an image of what she was like.


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My Grandfather’s Love Letters

My grandfather was a college professor. He was 65 years old when I was born in 1955, but I enjoyed a 28 year relationship with him that profoundly influenced my life. The letters he left behind continue and deepen that relationship. I am so thankful for his written legacy.

I am taking the liberty of sharing a side of Joseph Bush Kingsbury that most of the world never knew. I’ve decide it is okay to do that. When I read his letters they are completely in line with the person I knew him to be and yet they reveal a side of him most people who knew him never got to see.

When my grandfather met his future wife he was 36 and she was 24. They married 11 months after they met. Thank goodness – or I wouldn’t be here! It’s kind of crazy (and a little selfish) when you think of things that way but I wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be reading this if those two people – who seem like such an unlikely pair in so many ways – hadn’t gotten married on January 4, 1928.

This letter was written about a month before their wedding when he was on assignment in Columbus, Ohio and she was living at home in Washington DC. I’m pretty sure she worked at the Library of Congress, which is so COOL!  (If you haven’t been to the Library of Congress it is one of those places that I think all Americans MUST visit. Right up there with Gettysburg – but for entirely different reasons.) He worked for a Chicago consulting firm, Griffenhagen and Associates, doing studies for state and local governments on personnel policies and salaries, usually in an effort to come up with a uniform salary structure that equalized compensation based on training and experience across many levels of government.

When I read my grandfather’s love letters to Kitty, it’s bittersweet. I know their relationship didn’t work out the way he wanted it to and they had many years of unhappiness. But when I read of his “head over heels” love for his young bride to be, I’m happy to know that he had these feelings.

I also like these letters because I get a bit of an idea what Kitty was like. I met her, but I have no memory of her. She died in December 1959 when I was 4 years old.

December 1927

Monday Night – Columbus, OH

Forgive me, darling, but I have another sentimental spell on, and I can’t go to bed without writing you again. Went to a romantic movie tonight (The Road to Romance – good too) – maybe that’s all that’s wrong, but I think it’s something deeper. Lately I’ve been so happy that it’s almost alarming. I’m likely to forget my dignity and do something childish most any time. I haven’t worried about anything for several weeks, and the world looks like a good place to live.

When I first knew you and we used to talk in a sophisticated way about love and marriage I said I thought marriage didn’t change anyone much. I’m beginning to think it does – at least the immediate prospect of it does. I may be kidding myself, but I think I am changing a little. For one thing – I can look back just a few months and see what a baby I’ve always been. I’ve just naturally thought of myself first and expected everybody to do things to please me, and if they didn’t I wouldn’t play. Probably you’ll have some occasions yet to remind me of this, but I’m beginning to grow up, at least.

Just think, a year ago I didn’t mean anything to you nor you to me! I don’t know yet why I fell in love with you – I certainly didn’t intend to. It was a rash thing to do, but having been cautious and deliberate all my life I enjoyed being reckless and I think it’s the wisest thing I ever did. As usual, I’m talking as though I did it all. As a matter of fact you just happened across my path and having seen you I was done for. For some unknown reason you chose to let me stay and now I’m your prisoner for life, and don’t want to be anything else.

Writing is so unsatisfactory. If you were here I would hold you so tight and kiss you till I made you promise never to let me go.

                                                                                                                Your lover


2017 – The Year of the Letter

Before New Year rolls around each year, I think about all the things I want to accomplish in the coming year. I generally don’t make firm resolutions but I think about ways to be more successful in accomplishing my goals.

Getting back to blogging is certainly one of the areas I want to focus on. My practice was waning as fall began and after spending a couple of months focused on my mother’s health problems (she had a weird form of cardiac arrhythmia that was hard to get under control) with lots of time spent in Richmond, VA where she lives, it definitely took a backseat to getting caught up at work.

But now for a fresh start. Mom is doing well – much better than any of her doctors expected. I thought she would have more lingering negative effects than she does after three weeks in the hospital (including 9 days on a respirator) and three weeks in rehab but she seems to have bounced back to her usual self.  To say she is “one tough cookie” is an understatement.

One of my biggest challenges has been how to convey the vast amount of family information contained in my grandfather Kingsbury’s contributions to the family letter. The Kingsbury family letter kept the five Kingsbury brothers from Osage Iowa connected as they scattered across the US and the world. This was in the days before Facebook, Skype and Instagram. Even long distance phone calls, which were probably available, were not used as often as the family letter.

I’m fascinated by every word of each letter but it is unlikely that posting each letter in full would interest most readers. So here’s my plan for 2017.  At least once a week, I will feature one of my grandfather’s letters and using extracts, recount our family history. I’m not planning to go in chronological order, but will choose a letter that has a date close to the date I’m posting.

My first post comes from Joseph B. Kingsbury’s letter of January 19, 1953. He was living in Bloomington Indiana at the time with his wife Kitty and son Deane. My father, Bryant, had enlisted in the Navy the year before and was stationed in San Diego, CA. Deane – if you’re reading this – you may remember exactly when Bryant enlisted. Based on the stage of his training (medical corps school in San Diego followed basic training) I’m guessing he enlisted sometime in 1952.  I know he completed at least one semester, or maybe a year,  at Indiana University before he enlisted.

And so we begin, this year of the letter:

January 19, 1953

Dear Family,

The good letters came today.  We have just finished writing to Bryant, and while the typewriter is still hot I will try to write our installment, although it is 11:30 pm.  But tomorrow is inauguration, and I have no classes, and the main business will be to decide which friends with a TV set to honor with our presence.  It will be a great event, and Ike has our best wishes even though we didn’t vote for him.  I can hardly believe that I saw my first inaugural 40 years ago – Woodrow Wilson.

 JBK was a student at George Washington University in 1913 when he attended Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. After a year or two at Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, Iowa, JBK started college in Washington DC in the fall of 1909 or 1910. He studied shorthand and typing at CVS and used those skills to work for the Department of Agriculture while he attended George Washington University.

The big news from the letter is JBK’s new teaching assignment.

The biggest news first.  I have an offer to go to Turkey to help organize an Institute of Public Administration, and stay for a year, teaching personnel administration.  The invitation came from the Technical Assistance Division of the United Nations.  I said I was interested, and a letter from them a few days ago indicated that the only thing necessary to make it final is the approval of the Turkish government.  UN says there is no reason why I should not take my family, and they will pay travel expenses.  The salary is more than I am now getting and there is a living allowance, but the fact that really decided us is that it is tax free, so I think we will come out ahead financially; certainly we won’t lose.  I feel like having one more trip abroad and Kitty is in favor of going, although there are a number of big questions to decide, such as what to do with the house and furniture, the car, etc.  Deane’s first question was whether he wanted to miss his senior year, with the football, wrestling, and other interests, but he quickly decided that he could wait a year.  There are no English or American schools in Ankara, the nearest is at Istanbul, an overnight trip on the train, two hours by air.  More about this in the next letter.

 JBK’s “one more trip abroad” turned out to be the first of many, most notably the years he spent in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Thailand. Those were his last working trips abroad but I remember that after he retired he took trips to Scandanavia and Spain. There may have been other trips but I remember those two and he writes about them in family letters in the 1970s.  

About his two sons, JBK writes:

Bry still writes cheerful letters and sounds as if he is having a great experience, although he had been troubled by a cold which turned into pneumonia and he spent a week in the hospital.  Then as he was about to leave they found some kidney trouble that had been giving him a lame back.  He writes as though it has all cleared up, and he is back in San Diego after 6 weeks at Camp Elliott, 10 miles out in the desert.  His barracks face the bay, and he says it is quite a welcome change from the desert.  While he was convalescing in the hospital he helped the corpsmen take temperatures, respiration and pulse, mix penicillin sterilize instruments, etc. etc. 

Deane keeps busy with wrestling and being official statistician for the basketball team.  He has won enough of his matches to get his letter in wrestling and we are turning into wrestling fans.   It is a nice sport; the referee is very careful to prevent illegal holds and see that nobody gets hurt.  Deane looks long and thin in wrestling costume, but he is quick, slippery and aggressive.

 Camp Elliott was used to train Marine artillery and armored personnel in World War II. It was also home to one of the most classified projects of WWII, the Navajo Code. Hundreds of Navajo were recruited to develop a code based on the Navajo language that was used during WWII and has never been broken. I think there are some recent books about some of the Code Talkers. After WWII, Camp Elliott fell out of use but was revived when the Korean conflict began, which explains why my father was there in the early 1950s.

I’m having fun picturing my Uncle Deane in his wrestling “costume” but even more surprising is the description of him as ‘aggressive.’ To his credit, “aggressive” is not a word I would ever use to describe my uncle. But I guess on the wrestling mat, it was his time to unleash the beast. 

One of my favorite things about my grandfather’s letters is learning about his outlook on world events and learning about things I would never have had any reason to know or even think about. Learning bits of family history is always fun but putting things in historical perspective on a personal level, is one reason his letters are such a treasure.

So who reading this knows what the Monon is? I think it will be clear from the context of the following paragraph and I’ve also included a link below the post with more detail.

When we began thinking of going to Turkey we realized we would both have to have some new clothes, so one evening we decided to go to Chicago, and left the next morning on the Monon.  It was quite a successful trip: Kitty got a new winter coat, gray green with gold flecks, and a suit (purple) with a hat to match the coat.  I bought a blue suit, a sport jacket and a pair of shoes.  We stayed with the Meekers, had lunch and dinner with them down town, and they took us to see the Mikado – a live show, not a movie.  It was the first theater we had been to for years and we enjoyed it.  Again I was surprised to remember how I used to like Chicago: now it seems dirty, noisy and depressing. I guess living in a small town has spoiled me for city life.

 I’ll close with JBK’s comments on the news from the family letters and his general outlook on the world. Other than learning the details of his life, my favorite parts of my grandfather’s letters are his nuggets of wisdom. Sometimes they are about the human condition, sometimes about the state of world affairs. But they are always sound and timeless advice. Often when I read some of his pessimistic views I wonder to myself –“Good Lord, if he felt that way then, what would he think about things if he were alive today!”

The pictures and descriptions of the babies were delightful and make us wish we could see them while they are still small and sweet and funny.  We spent an evening recently clearing out desk drawers and came across an album of pictures of Bry and Deane at various ages, and it made us feel that those were the best years of our lives.  But these are good years too, even if the human race seems to be headed for extermination; the more intelligent people will have to do more thinking and try harder.

 Here’s to more thinking and trying harder! Happy New Year!