Monday, May 10, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Letter from Margaret Van Every - October 1917

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them. If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post in the comments.

This week I transcribe a letter (or likely two letters) written by my great grandmother Margaret (Denyer) Van Every (1868-1923). The letter was written on ruled paper which was folded into an envelope, but the envelope was lost, and only 1/3 or 2/3 of some pages remain. All the pages were stored together, but there's only one salutation, and two closings, so I suspect it was two letters, but it's unclear when the second was sent.  (Though there are some clues.)

1917 was an important year for the Van Every clan.  Melvin and Margaret (Denyer) Van Every had moved approximately 600 miles from San Marcos to Fabens, Texas (near El Paso) - with the warranty deed purchasing the land dated July 27.  Their youngest child, my grandmother, Myrtle, was 17. All their other children were living on their own - son, Samuel, age 31, had just been married in March, in Jacksonville, FL. Their daughters, Minnie, age 33, and Evelyn, age 25, were living somewhere in Texas - exact location uncertain.  The one letter was addressed to Minnie, and I suspect the other one was as well.

Opening of Letter

Fabens Tex Oct 21 1917
My Dear Daughter

Your kind and good letter came about a week ago. I was indeed glad to hear from you. I have been pretty busy as we have put up another tent and have been moving in to it. It has froze two nights this week killed all the broom corn and my garden. The beans was just beginning to be fine snap beans. I had decided to send you some by parcel post but the frost beat me. I have turnip beets radishes left. The lettuce was just up and did not get hurt.

I have been looking for Myrtle all the week, but she has not got here yet. I have been quite uneasy about her.

We keep pretty well only your papa still has rheumatism and has quite a few sores on his hands that bother him quite a good deal. But they are somewhat better now. Many thanks for the good advice you gave me will try to profit by it.

How are August and all the children? Tell Marguerite I claimed the hair pins before I really knew they were for me. Thank her for me tell her I appreciated them very much.

End of letter

hope she does well in school again this year.

I have not found a thing broken yet the lamp came safe also. The hens are laying so good now, we have eggs quite often.

That is all right about those pictures. I may fix them some day myself. If I don’t what is the loss? I sure wish you lived nearer. Even if you were as near as Evva I would be satisfied.

Write and tell me all about your self. Sorry you were not feeling well. Hope you are OK. I believe you do too much for your strength. I thought when I got away your burden would be lighter, but it seems you just found something more to do.

I have ordered some sateen to reline my coat to my suit. Think I will get a long coat and not get any thing else for this winter. How did you like what you ordered? Were they as good as you expected?

I had a letter from Sam’s wife. They have gone further north. She did say where.

Well I want to send your Uncle William a letter so he will get it on his birthday so will bid you good bye. Write soon and a long letter to your loving mother.

Fragments (possibly of the same letter above, or a different letter, though written in the same hand, and kept with pages above.)

to let you know I am still kicking.

This leaves us all well hope it will find you all the same.

Did you all have some snow last Sunday we did, Friday it rained some, and today it looks like it is going to rain again. This beats Berclair don’t it tell August no use to wait that 15 days come on it won’t rain

want it to rain.

We had a letter from Sam this week saying he felt better and was going on to California to try and find a warm place. I really don’t believe he had the measles, do you?

Say Minnie do you know where I could get about a quart of chinaberrys as I would like to plant a lot around here for wood. You know they grow so fast do you remember your Uncle William having that patch in his field. It furnished him in wood. Of course cotton wood grows quick also but the wood is not so good.

Next Saturday your Papa is going to El Paso and out back [?] the Baby

and you don’t get so lonesome and homesick to see us, you never have said you got homesick for us but I know you do,

My hand is somewhat better I guess it is rhumatism. You see I am getting old and no one knows it more.

[written upside down on same page:]

Well this is all for today. Do write often it seems a long time between letters. Love to all your loving mother.

I will take them back Sunday evening. I sure wish you lived close so we could run in and see you all. I am glad your Uncle Jud kind of takes our place.


them I do. Sam says I will live to be a hundred years old. I hope he is not right. If the next 50 is as bad as the past 50 won’t I have a lot to answer for.


1) Why doesn't Margaret know where her 17 year old daughter, Myrtle, is? Apparently, she didn't make the trip from San Marcos to Fabens with her parents.  How did she travel - by train/bus?  What kind of public transportation was available in Texas in 1917?  

2) Margaret's brother William was born on October 23, so it does appear that the first ending above, goes with the beginning.  Those two parts could form a complete letter, as Margaret often didn't capitalize the beginning of sentences and rarely used punctuation.  Most of the punctuation in my transcription is added for clarity.  Marguerite was Minnie's eldest who would have been 11 in 1917.  If those pages (the front and back of two sheets) form one letter, then the fragments are all part of a second letter.

3) Margaret wouldn't turn 50 until September of 1918.  But she could still have referred to her "first 50 years" in 1917.

4) Minnie's Uncle Judson (Melvin's brother) was living in Beeville, Texas in 1917.  He'd move to El Paso in April of 1918.  Beeville is 100 miles south of San Marcos, so if Minnie was near Jud, it's likely they were still living in the San Marcos area.  This also suggests the second letter was written prior to April of 1918, so not too much time had elapsed.

5) Margaret's reference to "Sam's Wife" is intriguing.  The mere fact she doesn't address her by name suggests a lot.  Though I need to be careful not to read more into it than is there.

Sam married Amy C Johnston in March of 1917 in Jacksonville, FL.  According to Amy's statement in an FBI file, they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas and in December of 1917 Sam abandoned her and moved to California. So if the second letter was written immediately prior to Sam's moving to California, that likely puts a November/December 1917 date on it.

A move to Little Rock could be considered moving north from Jacksonville, but it's not 100% clear that the reference to "Sam's Wife" in the first letter was to this wife.  This is the only suggestion I have that anyone in the family knew about his second wife.  His second wife definitely doesn't appear in the genealogies Minnie's daughter, Marguerite would write up as she grew older.  Or the ones that Melvin's sister, Lettie, would write.  On the other hand, if the marriage only lasted 9 months without offspring, they might have decided not to mention it, even if they knew about it.

Sam did have a prior wife (Esther Dahlin), and she was raising their son, Everett, in Austin.  While perhaps unlikely, I think it's possible Margaret might have referred to her as "Sam's wife" if she didn't know about the second one. However, I'm not aware of Esther and Everett moving away from Austin for any period of time.

 6) It does appear that Margaret isn't 100% trusting of everything Sam tells her.  Apparently he had written he had the measles, and his mother has reason to doubt it - and mention not believing him to his sister.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I've been frustrated by fragments too. It seems to me that there were two separate letters but I'm not sure.

The lining for her coat was going to be sateen, a cotton weave with the look and feel of satin.

John said...

Thanks for the catch on sateen. The fading pencil makes transcription difficult enough - and then they go use words I'm unfamiliar with.

I had considered it was a misspelling of satin, but decided that was unlikely.