Old Letters Give You Glimpse in to Ancestors’ Day to Day Lives

Left to Right: Charles Rundle, Marion Ratcliffe, Marion's siblings: Charles Ratcliffe, Lillian Ratcliffe, Thomas Ratcliffe
Left to Right: Charles Rundle, Marion Ratcliffe, Marion’s siblings: Charles Ratcliffe, Lillian Ratcliffe, Thomas Ratcliffe

As a genealogist, I’ve read official record after official record. You can, of course, glean a myriad of information from baptism records, marriage records, census records etc. You can make assumptions about what an ancestor’s life was like based on where they lived, what their occupation was, how much schooling they had etc, but nothing gives you an insight in to how they really felt like a letter.

I’ve mentioned my grandmother, Marion Ratcliffe, the pack rat, before. One of the things that she left me is a collection of a few letters written to her over the years. I’m in the process of scanning all of the photos and memorabilia that she saved, so I’ve been reading as I go. These letters are mostly from right around the time of her marriage to Charles Rundle in 1927. Marion grew up in Middletown, CT and Charles was from Wallingford, CT. After their marriage, Marion moved to Wallingford with her new husband. Middletown is only 15 miles away from Wallingford. If you drove it today, it would only take about 20 minutes. For that reason it is hard to envision what it was like for Marion in 1927. For her, newly married, with no driver’s license, it must have seemed like the other side of the world.

One of the letters that I have, was written days after Marion’s marriage and move to Wallingford. It is from her mother, Mary Elizabeth Kieft Ratcliffe. It is obvious from the opening of the letter, that it was written in response to a recently received letter from Marion to her family. Every time I read this letter, I get a lump in my throat. The sentiments expressed in her mother’s letter show a great deal of affection and concern on the part of Marion’s family back in Middletown. It mentions missing Marion ( with the word miss underlined!) It mentions worry over how Marion was adapting to “house keeping”. I found it interesting that not only her mother was concerned about this, but also Marion’s father, Fred Ratcliffe. In the letter, there is also mention of Marion’s maternal grandfather (Charles Kieft who actually died later in 1927), who worried about Marion being lonely. Charles Kieft’s wife, is also mentioned as one of the “Grandmothers” working on a quilt for Marion. The other “grandmother” would have been Marion’s “step-grandmother”, Martha Johnson Ratcliffe. Marion’s mother also talks about Marion’s younger brother, Charles Ratcliffe, wishing that he could “run in and see” Marion. The letter is signed with “hugs and kisses” and many “x’s”. When you read the genuine affection and concern expressed in this letter, you start to understand how hard it must have been for Marion to leave her close knit family and move what then was a great distance away.

I also found it interesting that Marion’s mother encouraged her to “put on her hat and coat” and visit her mother in law, Jen Smith Rundle, to “ask her anything you don’t understand”. I knew “Grandma Jen” when she was getting on in age, and yet I still found her to be an imposing, if not a big “scary” woman. I can’t imagine that it would have been easy for Marion to approach Jen. It makes me hope that Jen was a little more approachable her younger years.

Here is a transcript of the letter and actual scans.

Tuesday Morn
Dear Marian
You see we were thinking of you too. I washed Monday and it rained so the cloths (sic) didn’t get dry so we are working on the quilt for you. I have got it laid out on the dining room table and the two grandmothers are working on it.
I am so glad you wrote this morning as we all miss you very much but than (sic) I know it is for the best. Grampa said not for you to get lonesome that you will be allright (sic). Dad was wondering how you got along the first day of house keeping he said that Monday would be the first as Charley would go to work. I am glad that you are doing so well and hope you will keep it up.
Lucy was here just before supper last night and brought the pictures to show us. They came out pretty good. I told her to have some more finished and I would pay er for them. She said she hates the thoughts of you being so far away.
Mother Kieft as got a good glass wash board if you want it you can have it as it down cellar. I was going to tell you if ever you feel lonesome to put your Hat and coat and go down to Mother Rundle and don’t be afraid to ask her anything you don’t understand for I know she is good.
Charles often says he wish(sic) he could run in and see you once in a while. I will tell him to write.
Come over when you can. We shall allways (sic) be glad to see you and Charley.
Well Marian it is dinner time and Charles will be looking for something to eat. I suppose you are busy with your dinner too. I would like to see you. Will close with love and kisses to you both from all XXXXXXXX
Allways(sic) your loving
Mother & Dad

Marion and brother, Charles, in 1921
Marion and brother, Charles, in 1921

Marion’s younger brother, Charles, suffered from Polio and was in the hospital off and on. I have a letter from Charles to Marion from one of the times he was in the hospital, again, shortly after Marion’s marriage. It is heartbreaking to read how often Charles mentions being “homesick”. It is also funny to read about him not trusting a friend to borrow his drums. In later years Charles was an accomplished drummer and it is obvious from this letter that his passion developed at an early age!

Here is a transcript of his letter to his sister, followed by the scans.

Tuesday Morning
April 24, 1928
Dear Marion,
Just got your letter. It made me feel good. But I wish I was home though. How is Charlie? Gee I’m getting sick of this place. I wish I could go home. I’m getting home sick. The doctor was just in to see me and he moved my foot around and ? hurt it so I yelled. Gee Man.
I wish I was home. I can go to bed and get up at quarter to eight but down here you have to get up at five o’clock and wash. You know I’m not used to that. I guess I won’t be home for a little while yet. I asked the doctor when I could get up and he said not right away. Oh I’m sick of this place. I wish I could go home.
How are all of the Rundles? I held up is into every thing. Come over again won’t you?
Mrs. O’Toole was down to see me last night and one of the Grippo girls. Miss O’Toole is going to move on Main St. at the Paramount you know where that is next to the church on the corner of William and Main next to Sheridan taxi service. Why she is moving is she is to(sic) far from the city. The men that board there like it but they say its to (sic) far from the city. Mother asked Miss O’Toole how the house was. She said that she had the dark side and the flies were terrible but she said maybe they came because she was cooking all day. So I don’t know whether mother will take it or not.
Did you know that Bub Mantle wanted to borrow my drums for the wedding. You know most likely they would have drink there an Italian wedding and Bubby likes to drink so you don’t know what he would do to my drums.
Well I guess I’ll sign off Sta-in (sic) HOME SICK
Brother
Please answer soon