What I Know So Far

Before new knowledge has permanently embedded itself into my sense of family history, it feels important to take one last look at the picture I already have in my head about Great-great-great-great-grandpa Henry Munroe.

The first point of contact is through his daughter, Mary Louisa; “Little Grandma” as she is known in my family, was born in Cold Springs, California within days of the assassination of President Lincoln. Her obituary states that her father, Henry Munroe, was born in Massachusetts and came to California over the Isthmus of Panama as part of the California Gold Rush. He boarded a ship in the Atlantic Ocean that traveled down to Panama in Central America, decades before the Panama Canal was created. He then traveled overland to the Pacific Ocean, and boarded another ship that took him to San Francisco. From there he made his way, along with thousands of others, to Central California and the heart of the Gold Rush. The rest of the details are not available to me. I’m hoping that the letters, as well as other online research, will help me fill in the picture.

Ultimately, Grandpa Munroe owned multiple mines and did well for himself. I am very impressed by this man. Of the thousands of people who rushed to California to make their fortunes, I doubt many continued to work and make money from their claims as he did.

Family lore says that he married, had children and sent Little Grandma to Barre, Massachusetts to live with his sister, and her namesake, Louisa. According to her obituary, Little Grandma attended finishing school, then she returned to California, married and had three children, one of which is my great-grandmother.

So far as I can tell, the gold rush money ran out around the stock market crash of 1929 that lead to the Great Depression. It’s one thing to read about history in a textbook, watch movies or read books that take place during that time, but quite another to get a glimpse of the real lives of my own family.

In 2013, I traveled to Columbia to visit Grandpa Henry’s grave. IMG_0702.jpg

His wife died in 1873, when Little Grandma was eight, which explains the move to live with a spinster aunt.

One of the reasons I am interested in Grandpa Henry is directly related the fact that he sent his daughter away as a child. I realize that he was left without a wife to raise his her, but he had plenty of money and could afford staff to help him with childcare. And his son, Robert, stayed at home. I’ll admit, I’m a little concerned that the ongoing generations of abandonment in my family began with him.

I have so many questions. It will be interesting to see if they are answered and how much more information will come to light as I begin to read and transcribe the letters.


New Home for Visceral Musings

I’ve finally taken the plunge and moved to Word Press*.

Visceral Musings is a blog focused on an exploration of the internal, or gut, reactions to the past, the present and the potential of the future. It is also home to a new project.

Take a trip with me into the 19th century. I’ve found a treasure trove of old family letters dating back to the 1850s! I’m putting them into archival sleeves, scanning, and attempting to transcribe them. Almost all of the ink is in incredible shape and most letters are in envelopes, but the earliest ones don’t actually have stamps on them. (I’m also learning a little bit about stamp history from a colleague.)

packet of old letters

This is one bundle; so far I’ve opened several dozen letters. All are written to Henry Munroe, my third-great-grandfather. He was a miner in the Central Valley in California during the gold rush and up until his death in 1904. It would appear from the other paperwork I’ve found amongst the letters, and family stories, that he did quite well.

I’m discovering some interesting things about the general population of the 19th century. Many of them didn’t write any better than the general population does today. All letters are written in cursive, but it’s a much older style than I learned, so deciphering words is sometimes difficult. In addition to the old, and at times inconsistent cursive, the spelling is often creative, and at times the legibility lessens deep into the letter when the writer has clearly become tired. Sometimes when a writer ran out of room on the page, she would then add more around the edges, overlapping some of what was  written earlier.

I won’t be posting full transcripts, but I will be sharing what I learn about some family and friends in Rutland, Massachusetts, early California and beyond.

*All old blog posts for Visceral Musings can still be found at http://visceralmusings.blogspot.com/.