Information gleaned from old family letters and documents can lead to surprising and useful kinship clues. Unfortunately, we’re so used to skimming chatty news that it’s easy to miss important information or overlook potential connections.
I’ve found it’s a good idea to faithfully transcribe every old letter in the same way I’d transcribe a deed or pension paper. If the letters are typed in the same Word document it’s easy to search for reoccurring names, places, and dates. Often, information only becomes relevant after reading another letter or finding new information elsewhere and it’s helpful to be able to easily locate the reference and make connections.
My grandmother papers included a small folded note I organized in a folder marked “Loose Sheets.” When analyzed with another letter in the same handwriting, I found clues to identifying or corroborating five generations.
Clues on a Slip of Paper
The small half-sheet of ruled notepaper reads “Aunt Sue” in faint pencil on one side. The paper has been folded, and inside, in the same handwriting:
Your father was born
in little valley Miflin Co. Pa.
Grand mother allen
name was Dunmire
“Aunt Sue” is most likely Sue (Kinsel) Tozier writing to my grandmother, Arline Allen Kinsel. It’s possible that the note was written by “Emey Kinsel” but the handwriting appears to be nearly identical to that in other letters from Sue Tozier, making it more likely to have been written by Sue.
The note refers to Arline’s father, E.B. Kinsel, corroborating a Family Bible entry for his birth 25 January 1862 in Pennsylvania. Someone has added “McVey” in ink to the Bible entry.
“Grand mother allen” would likely refer to Arline’s grandmother, “Mary Ann Allen” who is is listed in the Bible under Deaths with no additional information. The Dunsmire [sic] and Kinsel households were neighbors, according to the 1870 US Census.
But who is “Emey Kinsel” of Hamton, Iowa? And is McVey in a “little valley” in Mifflin County. These are great clues for further research.
Aunt Sue Writes
The same collection includes a letter dated 1934 from Sue C. Tozier addressed Mrs Arline Brown. The letter-writer uses the same rounded handwriting style in faint pencil:
Tescott Kansas May 10. 34
Dear Niece will try & answer you letter that came to me sometime past no one told me of your little new baby did not know of it till I got your letter I am glad you named it for me I spell my name Susannah it sure was sad about your Dear papa I felt so bad about him going that way lots of times the go that way have one then take the second one & go that way Sister Annie girl help take care of him & I cant help but think tha took good care of hime when Olive was with him what is your other little girls name we all cant think of her name home you will get this for sometime on Mother day Brother Jack never wrote a thing to me about your Dear papa Pat told me he was buried a day after Robert was Pat is Sister Becca daughter in law, Chester is not doing much these days only feeding & w his chickens the keep us these days my health is not very good some better than some time back
This sender of this letter is identified by the closing signature “Aunt Sue” and the return address, “Sue C. Tozier, Tescott, Kansas;” the relationship to Arline suggested by the salutation “Dear Niece” and address “Mrs. Arline Brown, Wilder, Kansas.”
While “Aunt” is used affectionately or in respect of ages between younger and older generations, Sue’s use of “Niece” implies a true familial aunt-niece relationship. If so, this direct evidence helps sort out other people and relationships mentioned in Sue’s note and letter, corroborate earlier information, and suggest new research:
- Identify Emey Kinsel, Hamton, Iowa
- Research Dunmire/Dunsmire as maiden name for Mary Ann Allen
- The letter confirms that Arline Brown’s has two daughters, a new baby named after Sue and an older daughter. I know these girls are my mother Suzanne and her older sister, Frances.
- Research married name of “Sister Annie” (Annie Kinsel,) and daughter who may have been in Los Angeles when E.B. Kinsel died.
- Identify Olive
- Confirm “Brother Jack” as Sue and E.B.’S older brother, possibly John.
- Identify Robert, and death date (check with E.B.’s burial date)
- Identify Becca Kinsel’s married name, and her daughter Pat. Becca is probably Sue’s sister Rebecca.
- Identify Chester
This research ToDo list will likely confirm relationships and may add a few names to the family tree. Did I miss any clues? Do you have next tips for research?
Genealogical note (MS, undated); Arline Allen Kinsel Papers, privately held by Denise Levenick, [address for private use,] Pasadena, California, 2013. Untitled handwritten note found in Arline Allen Kinsel Papers inherited by Levenick in 2000, previously held by Arline’s daughters Frances Brown and Suzanne Brown. Handwriting closely resembles that in letters from Sue (Kinsel) Tozier to Arline (Kinsel) Brown.
Tozier, Sue C. To Arline [Kinsel] Brown, letter, 10 May 1934; Arline Allen Kinsel Papers, privately held by Denise Levenick, [address for private use,] Pasadena, California, 2013. Handwritten note in pencil on ruled notepaper. Inherited by Levenick in 2000, previously held by Arline’s daughters Frances Brown and Suzanne Brown.