Thursday, June 27, 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday (June 27, 2013) -- Ruth Cooke's 1904 Letter To Her "Aunt"

This 109-year-old letter is a real treasure for me because it was written by my maternal grandmother when she was a mere six years old in March 1904 (or as she puts it in the letter, "I am not seven year old").  I smile every time I read this letter not just because it is a cute letter from a little girl to her "auntie francis," but because my grandmother was later such a stickler for spelling that she would sometimes reply to my occasional letters or cards when I was young and gently weave spelling corrections into her return letter or note.

This letter is also heart-wrenching to read now that I know the background to the letter and the future events that were about to befall my grandmother and her family after she wrote it.  Additionally, the letter presents something of a mystery yet to be fully solved.  

My grandmother's father, Walter Wilson Cooke, had only one sibling -- a sister named Flora -- so she was not "auntie francis."  As for my grandmother's mother, Florence Leonette "Nettie" Cooke nee Flagg, I thus far have her as an only child in my genealogy research -- which could very well be the case since her mother, Mary J. "Jennie" Flagg nee Eaton, died when Nettie was only two and a half years old.   This means that my grandmother's mother apparently had no sisters who could be the "auntie francis" my grandmother wrote to in 1904 (and later annotated in adulthood to indicate it was written to "Frances Stanley" who she did not then call "Aunt").  However . . . 

The 1880 federal Census enumeration for Attleborough (now Attleboro), Bristol County, Massachusetts dated June 17, 1880, p. 55, shows my great grandmother Nettie as a ten-year-old "boarder" in the household headed by Susannah Stanley, age 69, whose occupation was listed as "keeping house."  The only other member of the household at the time of the enumeration was the daughter of Susannah -- Frances Stanley, age 30, who was stated to be working "in a jewelry shop." I currently know of no relationship between the Stanley women and my great grandmother, but it appears that Frances Stanley must have been the "auntie francis" my grandmother wrote to at age six and that Frances never married, but maintained a close enough relationship with Nettie that Nettie's daughter, my grandmother, viewed her as "auntie francis" in 1904.  Since my grandmother's mother Nettie died a mere four months after this letter was written to "auntie francis," I am very glad my grandmother had an older woman [1]  she felt close enough to correspond with as a six-year-old; she never knew her maternal grandmother who died long before she was born!

What follows is a transcription of my grandmother's letter to Auntie Frances complete with the misspellings, capitalizations, and punctuations of a six-year-old girl.  Since the letter is not signed with a closing by my grandmother, I have never been sure if this was the entire letter -- and of course there is the mystery of why we have the letter if it presumably was actually sent to Frances.  

               Dear auntie francis

               I thank you for My valen tine, there are very 
               pret ty, and I thank you very
               much for them.

               Mamma has sent me a 
               valen tine and 
               Helen is at Boston.

               It is a stome day to day
               I can not make valen tine.  
               I was not School yesterday 
               have't we had a winter stom
               the School is very nice
               we have some bode
               to come to wrok for us
               we have new teacher
               now and Miss Gilmore
               has gone

               we like are new
               teacher very much
               we have some pretty
               christ presents
               we had lots of presnts
               from are teachers
               Miss looirs [?] has mooved
               we are all wall
               Loise is nine year old
               Dorothy is fore year  Also
               Russell is two year old
               and I am not sev en
               year old
               Loise is all right

Nettie, my grandmother's mother, died of "tuberculosis with tubercular laryngitis"on July 20, 1904 at age 34 (just about four months after this letter was written); but I believe a further complication contributing to Nettie's death was a "broken heart."  She had given birth to six children before she died and two of them predeceased her.  The survivors were: my grandmother Ruth (1897 - 1979); Helen (1892 - 1987) the first born and older of my grandmother's two surviving sisters; and Lois (1894 -     ).  Helen and Lois are mentioned in the letter. The two children who predeceased Nettie were both of her sons -- Russell (1893 - 1894) and the Russell referred to in the letter, Russell Church Cooke (1902 - April 23, 1904), who died just three or so weeks after my grandmother wrote the above letter and three months before his mother died.  The Dorothy mentioned in the letter was my grandmother's younger sister (1899 - 1907).  Dorothy later died at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on January 7, 1907 of typhoid fever with a contributory cause being a serious, massive ear infection.  My grandmother was particularly close to Dorothy and I have written about Dorothy elsewhere on The Prism.

Ruth Eaton Cooke (L) and her younger sister DorothyB. Cooke (R)

My grandmother died when I was just a couple of weeks shy of 27 years old and married.  In all the time I knew my grandmother, I never once heard her mention a sister Dorothy or the fact that she had two brothers named Russell.  I did know both of her older sisters, Helen and Lois.  After I discovered these three siblings of my grandmother through my genealogy research, my mother told me that her mother always said she would never name a son Russell.  Her only son was named David -- from whom I got my middle name.

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[1]  Frances Stanley would have been about age 54 in 1904.

Letter from the personal collection of the author.
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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1 comment:

  1. My maternal grandmother was the youngest of five girls. Her oldest sister, Marion, died when she was 14 and my grandmother was 6 1/2. My mother has told me that her mother told her that she was not allowed to name a daughter Marion.

    That letter written by your grandmother is a treasure!