Thursday, May 19, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Letters Home

This post is 100% historical mystery and 0% food. Besides collecting cookbooks, I collect old photographs and letters. It was a fun project when I was a kid but I haven't really looked into this passion recently. The dream was to track down the people in the photos and learn what became of them since their belongings ended up in an antique shop.

A couple years ago, I bought a set of letters between a man named A.B. Wyman and a woman named Edrie Walsh. A.B was writing from Brookline which is close to where I lived in Boston so it turned into a local history hunt. After reading the letters, which were all from A.B to Edrie, I learned that A.B was a man named Andy and he was writing home to his mother while away at technical school in Boston. Through the course of the letters, Andy talks about his classes, how he does on tests and inquires about other family members back in Maine.

A few things I learned about Andy and how some things never change:
  1. He was pretty homesick. He often talks about wishing he were home and hoping his mom and grandmother are feeling well. Some of the letters are in sequential days or written just days before visiting home. Apparently mail was much faster then.
  2. His mom still did his laundry. Adorable.
  3. His mom sent him a lot of cake. This was important in determining that Andy's birthday was January 30th, 1918. 
  4. For a time, he was dating a girl named Nancy but then they broke up so he was a spoil-sport while he was home visiting one weekend and felt guilty for ruining his time at home. 
The letters only last for about a year in 1937 while Andy was at school so I wanted to know a few things. What happened after that? What about the people he talks about in his letters? Did he and Nancy get back together? Why did his mom have the last name Walsh while his was Wyman?

There are census records for such things. In 1920, records indicate that a Walter G. Wyman was married to Edrie Wyman (nee Breen) and in addition to his wife, his household included two young sons, Walter D. and Andrew, as well as his mother-in-law, Annie Breen. By 1930, the census records show that this household was now headed by Harold Walsh and his wife, Edrie Walsh, with the boys and her mother included.

More digging and Edrie had married Harold Walsh in 1926. So some time between 1920 and 1926, something happened to Walter Wyman (Sr.). Another fun thing about old census records, apparently you can change your name on there. In the census records in 1920, Andy's brother is listed as Walter D, likely named after his father. But in 1930, he is listed as Dawson. Andy refers to him as Dawes in his letters so he probably went by his middle name when he was older. Edrie's name is also misspelled on some of the records, appearing as "Edric" instead. 

Well, now I was really down the rabbit hole. Andy and Dawes both enlisted in the Army in January 1942 but survived the war. Andy went on to marry a woman named Eleanor in 1947 (sorry, Nancy). A little digging into Eleanor's background revealed she had a twin named Audrey and had grown up in Massachusetts. So now that Andy's story was more cohesive, I looked into his brother's background.

Having survived the war, Dawes married Audrey in in Audrey of Elanor and Audrey. Yes, the twin! The brothers married twin sisters!! It's probably how Andy and Eleanor met.

The brothers appear to have spent most of their lives in Maine or Massachusetts and died in the late 90's in Maine. The census records after 1940 aren't as readily available online but draft records, marriage licences and cemetery records helped piece this together. 

I have no idea what any of them look like but it's fascinating to me what you can glean from letters written home compared to what's left in the official records. 

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