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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Old Letters Are Treasures

Finding Clues In Old Family Letters

My Grandma, Ofa Steward Williams, kept a lot of family treasures. They weren't pieces of valuable jewelry or heirloom antiques - they were so much better. Grandma kept boxes of old family photos and letters. These are the treasures that genealogists dream of finding.

On many of my visits with Grandma, she would give me some of the photos and letters. She knew I was interested in the family history - I always asked questions about who was related to us and how??? I suspect there were some days when she wished I would stop! But she always seemed eager to discuss the "old days" and told wonderful stories about her family life as she was growing up in Fairland, just north of Shelbyville.

Her father was James Matthew Steward. He was a rural mail carrier until he retired when he became ill with T.B. He passed away when he was 60 years old, in 1932. He was my great-grandfather and everyone called him Pampaw or Pampaw Jim.

I recently found a letter that he wrote to his only son, Charles Sumner Steward who lived in Indianapolis. I think this letter is a wonderful example of the closeness Pampaw had with his family. It reminds me of what life was like before we had tv, computers, cell phones and all the other distractions that intrude into our lives every day. Before we had all of these gadgets, we had lots more time for our family and friends - and isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

This letter was written just after the passing of Pampaw's dad, William Frederick Steward, he died just a few weeks before, on December 22nd. The letter is so full of love and caring. It showed how very close Pampaw Jim was to his father AND to his son. It made me feel as if I had known Jim Steward, even though he was long gone before I was born. The old letters reveal so much about the writer - his personality, his love of family, even his intelligence (I never knew how much schooling Pampaw Jim ever had.)

So, save all those old letters (and emails) from your loved ones. Your future generations will be thankful some day that you did. I know that I am.

Here is Pampaw Jim's letter to his son, Sumner:

New Years Day 8:30 PM 1928

Dear Folks,

We have a jolly big fire going and Mom and I are resting in our big chairs comfortably, and hope you are, at this moment, as comfortable and safe from the outside cold as we are. We do enjoy your company so much, even if only for a little while at a time. I believe everybody had a good time today, and I hope all are safe at home now, feeling repaid for braving the elements of this bitter cold, by the pleasure they brought to the old home visit once again.

We are always glad to welcome you all back home, but you especially, Sumner, stand in a peculiar relation to your old Dad now, as I feel that you are the one man in the world I can tie to. I have confidence in others, and I like my friends, but my brothers are gone, my old Dad has crossed over, and I have only you.

I am proud of you, boy, and can truthfully and thankfully say I have always been. I hope when you look at me, as I have so recently had to look at my own father, you can pray the little prayer I prayed as I looked upon his face for the last time, and I hope I can merit it. "Oh God, make me worthy of him, help me to emulate his virture, forget his failure, and meet him again in a better home." His passing has been a hard blow to me, but nothing in life has ever plumbed the depths of my being as did your going nearly ten years ago, when you left home on that awful night - bound for war. I want to keep young in heart, always. I want to work and play, and to be worthy of the family and friends God has blessed me with, so I can always enjoy and interest them all as they come and go. I just got to thinking of things like this after you all left, and that's where you come in at. I can unload some my burdens on younger shoulders - on yours.

I am full of hope for the future and hope we all meet in many more family gatherings - but one never knows what the future holds. Wishing you both a happy and prosperous New Year, I am the same old