Thursday, September 13, 2007

9. A Letter from Mother - 25 Sep 1918

Read more about the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces at Footnote.

While Bryan was suffering from influenza and getting ready to be sent to the Railroad Front, his mother was home, worried, having not heard for quite some time from either of her sons stationed overseas.

This letter displayed below was sent to Bryan from his mother, Mary May KIMBALL, also known as Lula WEAVER, on 25 September 1918. The handwriting is difficult to read, and I have made little attempts to correct the grammar and spelling except when absolutely necessary to clarify the meaning, because I feel it lends better to the character and the colloquialism of the writer. It is a typical mother's letter...full of news, neighborhood gossip, and anxieties:

Muskegon Hts.
Sept. 25, 1918

Dear Bryan,

I have been looking everday for a letter from you boy's, but will write you a few lines this after noon[.] the sun shines so bright and the air looks so clean and the leaves are changing color it makes any one think that fall has sure come and then will soon be winter. it was a cold rainy week last week was[.] it was the fair week at the Rapids, and over at Hart [The bottom line of the letter is folded under, hiding the end of this sentence and the beginning of the next.]

[...] heard from home. I write ever week and some times twice a week, so I have a letter crossing the old Pond ever week. it has been two weeks ago to day since I saw Sarah. she don't come up very often any more. and I have not been out to Lakeside for some time but will go some of these day's. I see by the Papers that the married men without children in class 1 will go to Camp next Oct. I have not seen Curley in a long time[.] I wonder if he has left the Hts[.] I do wish your dad would hunt him up. The other night

our Phone bell rung, and I went to the [?], and a woman ask for Earnest Taylor and I said no he was not here any more, and she said oh I made a mistake I was use to calling 6780, and she wanted the Williams block. and I know it was Ethel. I think Ethel had better let them alone[.] what I have seen of curley['s] wife I belive she makes things hot if she get mad.

Mr. Dominee is working at Camp Custer. they are building 300 more barracks. Well Bryan, it made me feel pretty lonesome yesterday (Tuesday) when your car was sold[.] I could not keep the tears back but I do get so lonesome at times but I do try to keep up[.]

I often wish your dad would get in something else, so he would be at home more, and Angie is gone so much of the time, just Donald and myself here alone so much of the time and it get pretty lonesome at times. your dad went over to Grand Haven this morning[.] he has a very bad cold.

Friday Afternoon. Sep. 27
Bryan I did not get your letter finished the other day. and yesterday afternoon I went with Mrs. Dominee she took little Lloyd over to Oak Grove school to Baby Clinic, quite a baby show. so many little ones, and I been

washing to day, but will not write much more this time. I will write a few lines to Lloyd. have not had a letter from either one of you Boy's in a long time. Do hope will get one tomorrow. have you written to Lloyd yet, granddad is back from the west, but have not seen him [them?]. Sarah has not call me up since a week ago last Tuesday. The girl's Mildred and Dorothy, say's to tell you hello, they are going to school. Angie has a air gun now. he and another boy goes hunting nearly ever night after school. Bryan write as often as you can[.] all ways anxious to get your letters. all real well only colds. hoping this will find you well[.] I suppose you are drilling pretty hard[.] do your very best in all things and it will be brighter days to come. write son [soon?] may the Lord watch over you all.[...]

[continued upside down in the top margin of the fourth page]
[...] Is the Pray[er] of your Mother.
with best of good cheer and Love
from Mother
in America
Mrs. A. M. Robbins

P.S. Donald marches around the yard with Angie['s] air gun singing the Yank[s] are coming. We have a lot of new records, war songs. Mr. Cobb told me he was going to learn his wife to drive the car, and he would have her come and take me for a ride, he is handy with it[.] made me think of you with the car.

From little Donald [scribbles]

It was no wonder Lula was worried, anxious, and lonesome. Of the seven children she had given birth to, two had died, one was institutionalized, and two were in harm's way fighting in the Great War. Her husband was a traveling salesman, her teenaged son was busy with school and hunting, and she was all alone at home most times with a four-and-a-half-year-old! And isn't it incredible that anyone would let that little boy march around with an air gun! Angie (Angelo, Jr.) and/or Lula must have kept it unloaded when they let little Donald play with it, for Don grew up safely to adulthood, serving in World War II in the Navy instead of joining the Army like his older brothers. He also served with the Muskegon Fire Department, and became the Chief of Police for Muskegon Township.
I had fun attempting to figure out who the non-family members were that were mentioned in this letter (see "2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins" for descriptions of individuals of this family group).

Earnest ("Curley"?) Taylor: It's inferred that Curley may have been living with the Robbins family at one point, but had moved away, was married, and that perhaps Ethel was an old bothersome flame of his (this does sound rather spicy, doesn't it?). Running a search in's World War I Draft Registration database turned up two E(a)rnest Taylors: one was Earnest James Taylor from the City of Muskegon, unmarried; and the other was Ernest Henry Taylor of Muskegon Heights who was married to Ora (? draft card has a poor image). Searches on Curl* (Curley, Curly, Curlie, etc.) gave me eight hits; none in or near Muskegon County. Sifting through the 44 Ethels that appear in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census in Muskegon Heights would not likely be effective...and I'm not sure that this is even the community Ethel lived in at either the time the letter was written, or two years later when the census was taken.

This woman sounds like a relative or close friend, but searching through my database of relatives on both Angelo and Lula's sides of the family tree did not yield a Sarah. I tried both Lula's biological and adoptive families, as well as future daughter-in-law Marie Lewis' family, and still came up empty. It appears that she lived a ways away. Making an attempt to find a Sarah in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census would not be very effective. In connection with Sarah, Lula mentions going "out to Lakeside." There is no community by that name currently in the county or in any of the neighboring counties. Muskegon Heights, however, is only three miles inland from Lake Michigan. Perhaps this was a general location meaning near that lake. There is also a Lakeside Cemetery southwest of the City of Muskegon. I do not have a burial location for Floyd Arthur ROBBINS; could he be buried in this cemetery (his name does not appear in the cemetery's published records)? Was Lula planning to visit his grave there?

The Dominie Family: At first, I could not decipher the Dominie's last name written in Lula's handwriting, so once again I turned to the WWI Draft Registration, using Dom* as my search term. Fred Frank Dominie, with dependent Mrs. Fred F. Dominie, was living at 1701 Mystic, confirming my theory that they were the Robbins' neighbors. Taking a second look at Lloyd Robbins' WWI Draft Registration Card, I realized that Fred Dominie was the name of his employer that I had struggled to decipher earlier. Lloyd had worked for Fred; coincidentally or not, Fred and his wife Ella had a son named Lloyd (born in the summer, 1918), too, as well as children Dorothy (b. c. 1903), Mildred (b. c. 1905), Mabel (b. c. 1911), Ralph (b. c. 1913), and Frank (b. c. August 1915). This information I garnered from the 1920 U.S. Census, but the family had moved from Muskegon County by this time, to the East Central area of Michigan, in Mt. Morris, Genesee County. During World War I, Fred apparently used his carpentry skills to build barracks at Camp Custer.

Mr. and Mrs. Cobb: Mr. Cobb apparently bought Bryan's car; searching the WWI Draft Registration turned up seven Cobbs in Muskegon County, two of which lived in Muskegon Heights and were married: This is assuming the the Cobbs lived in Muskegon Heights and that Mr. Cobb was of the correct age to have registered for the draft. In a subsequent letter from Angelo, Bryan's father, we learn that the sale of the car enabled the family to buy coal for the coming winter.

I also discovered, with the help of the Muskegon County Genealogical Society, and a recently-discovered cousin on my LEWIS side that Mystic Avenue's name was changed to Jefferson Street, apparently before the 1920 U.S. Census was taken (believe me, I looked and looked through all 83 pages of Muskegon Heights on that census trying to find Mystic Avenue!). My cousin, Bob Stefanich, asked his son who works as a sergeant in the Muskegon Heights Police Department to check old maps, and they went driving around to try to find Number 1612 - or what may once have been that address. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful. Sanborn maps and city directories might be helpful in this search.

Some of the locations mentioned are the Rapids (probably Grand Rapids, Kent County, southeast of Muskegon Heights); Hart (county seat of Oceana County, north); Grand Haven (county seat of Ottawa County, south) and Oak Grove (a school in Muskegon Heights).

From this letter we can also ascertain that the Robbins had a telephone and a Victrola. They (or at least Bryan) had had an automobile, until it was sold to purchase coal for the coming winter. Money certainly seemed tight, as it often has during wartime, but it is apparent to me that before the war, the Robbins family had lived fairly comfortably as a middle class family. I love how this letter--and deeper analysis--has given me a such a rich description of the home life of my ancestors!

Other posts in this series:
1. A Polar Bear in North Russia
2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins
3. Bryan and Marie - A WWI Romance
4. Bryan Gets Drafted
5. Basic Training at Camp Custer
6. Getting "Over There"
7. Bryan and King George V
8. To Russia, with Influenza
10. A Letter from Father - 7 Oct 1918


Janice said...


I love reading letters between parents and children during wartime. Your story, and your research on it, was very interesting.

It does make me wonder, in this day of email vs hand written letters (how many of us print out our email?) of the great amount of letter writing that will not be passed along to the next generation when the time comes for them to research us.


Miriam Robbins said...

Janice, you bring up a good point about e-mail. Years ago, I started saving e-mail from family members that I felt ought to be preserved, documenting major family events. These are kept in the genealogy files that correspond to that particular family, and are backed up on disk and privately online.

As I've gone through to "re-do" my genealogy (deeper analysis, better and complete citation), I've added the names of friends and non-related witnesses to my family tree software. These neighbors played important roles in my ancestors' daily lives, and hopefully some of their descendants will stumble across their names when they do a search at RootsWeb and Ancestry, where my GEDCOMs are stored. You never know how a connection like that will enrich your family history. One example is when a co-worker of my late grandfather e-mailed me with some memories of Grandpa at work. I saw a part of my grandfather's life and personality that I never would have gained otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on being Blog of the Day. I am doing my tree on here and finding loads of family stuff to share... aren't you so glad the family kept them :-)

Miriam Robbins said...

Yes, I am thrilled these things have been saved, especially as I live so far away from the majority of my relatives and my ancestral residences!

Thank you for your kind comments.