The Family Letter Blog

Connecting Generations

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JBK’s Diary – Sunday May 26 – Wednesday May 29th 1912

Sunday May 26th – Great day – fine weather. Finest day ever. Carey went over to Georgetown to sing but didn’t. Jack Brantly and I went canoeing. Fine time. River full of people. Supper at Curry’s. CE (Christian Education – I think) meeting led by Mrs. Cookman. Bed at 11.

Monday May 27th – Fine. Got up 6:30. Studied Logic. Took suit to be pressed. Busy at work. Quit at 4 pm. Came home and studied Logic – took exam. Missed 1 question. Fooled away the evening. Bed at 11. Took run and swim.

Tuesday May 28th – Fine weather. Rose 6:30. Carey and I went shopping at Woodward and Lothrop before work. Fairly busy day. Board meeting. Talked with Hank at noon. Picture with Leaders Corp’s  Harris & Ewing 5 pm. Went out to Henry Olson’s room, bought 3 camp blankets at 4005 14th Street. Hank & I went swimming. Started packing away stuff. Bed 11:45.

Wednesday May 29th – HOT. Packed up stuff. Busy at work. Did shopping at noon. Went out to Dom. Heights at 4:30 & saw Comley about Carpenter. Talked with Dean Wilbur til 7. Punch in Mizell’s room. Packed trunks. Marcy & Marshall came up and took swim. Bed at 11.


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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!




Two Missing Children of Herbert and Annie Preston

Herbert Augustine Preston and his wife Annie Elizabeth McNabb (my great, great grandparents) married in Washington DC on 19 October 1869. I know they had seven children because in the 1920 census, Annie reports she had seven children but only five were still alive.  Hmmm… I found birth records for some of them but not all. I also found a short article in the Washington Evening Star about the death of their first-born daughter Mary Gertrude, who died of typhoid fever in 1878. But all of my searches over the past year were only coming up with six children – five girls and one boy.

This often happens when children are born and die between census years. This is why the 1920 census account of number of children born/number of children living is very helpful. It’s a lot easier to find something if you know what you’re looking for – or at least that what you’re looking for exists, even if you don’t know quite what it is.

The recent snowstorm kept me indoors and home from work for a few days so I had lots of time for my favorite genealogical activity -reading old newspapers. I also had access to the digitized version of the Washington Evening Star available from the Washington DC public library. The $20 I paid for a library card when I was there a few years ago was a great investment.

Since I had that rare commodity, time, I browsed through each of the  16,000+ records for “Preston.” Within an hour I found this bit of news from the Evening Star published on December 29, 1876:


So there was the missing child who also turns out to be the first son born to Herbert and Annie. From the gap in their children’s births (between Annie Beatrice born in 1872 and James David born in 1876), I surmised that the missing child was born around 1874. Unfortunately, this article doesn’t tell us much other than “little son” – not even his name, age or cause of death. But with a death date, the records on soon generated a “hint” from the Washington DC death and burial records for a Herbert Preston who died on December 28, 1876 at age 2. My guess is that his name was Herbert A. Preston, Jr.

As for the death of their first born child, Mary Gertrude, born in 1871, who also was born and died between census years, I found this article from the Washington Evening Star on June 1, 1878.


It seems that Mary Gertrude was at her grandfather’s house to avoid infecting the rest of the Preston children. I do wonder what is meant by “their interesting daughter.” I’ve seen various weddings described as “interesting” but I wonder what that means when used to describe a seven year old?

The Preston family of Washington DC has certainly captured my attention lately so you can expect to see more posts about them over the next few weeks.



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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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