Saturday, February 9, 2013

No Use Trying to Write

Sometimes, old family letters introduce more questions than they answer. And if one is really lucky, an unsolvable mystery may be thrown in as an added bonus.

Such is the case with this last segment of Ella Shields Bean’s letter home to her father, William James Shields in Fresno, California. It’s not just because the letter leaves me wondering what was written on the missing second page. The details that were included are so unexpected that I have no clue how to connect these dots to the larger family picture.

It leaves me asking questions like:

  • Bill? Who’s Bill?
  • What “coppiests”?
  • There was a trial?

Ella’s next youngest sister was Lillian—nicknamed Lillie. Lillian married George Taylor a half year prior to Ella’s own wedding to Leon Bean.

Since Lillian was not quite on my genealogical radar at this point, I took a moment to check out what could be found online for her. As far as I can see at this point, the couple had four children, with the oldest—Hazel Alice—having a date of birth with as many variations provided as documents I’ve been able to find.

Despite the temptation to be lured down that bunny trail, I’ve withstood that bright, shiny decoy because of another discovery: according to the United States census closest to the date of this letter, Lillie and George had moved their young family far from Fresno to northern California.

The location of their new home may shed some light on a summertime photo I had posted a while back of young Leona and the twins at the Noyo River in Mendocino County. For that is exactly the place where Ella’s sister and her husband were residing at the time of the 1900 census.

One mystery cleared up—just in time for another mystery. I have no idea who the “Bill” is that was involved in a court case Ella mentions as she wraps up this letter to her father.

If that weren’t enough, the letter just dribbles off the end of the page. There is no second page. But, as Ella mentioned, Leona has just awakened from her nap, and there is just “no use trying to write while she is around.”

End of letter. Even if there was a second page.

            How is Lillie and babies, and what are they going to do? It will soon be Thanksgiving again where are you going to eat turkey this year. We are going to be alone and have duck. You had better come and take dinner with us. We had a fine rain last night and this forenoon and I guess it is not over yet. I am ever so much obliged to you for sending that plush. By the way I got a package of Fresno papers out of the office last week that was sent me in 1891, the time Bill was having his trial about cheating the coppiest’s out of their saleries. Well Leona is waking up so I must stop as there is no use trying to write while she is around.
            Well this is Sunday 26th guess I’ll try and …


  1. Yes I certainly agree that old family letters can introduce more questions than they answer. My blog is proof of that. They also send me everywhere looking for answers which raise more questions.

    1. Grant, those letters certainly can send you on a merry chase, can't they? But you are finding out such interesting details from your letters, even if they are putting you through your paces.

      I like the fact that details in the letters can open our eyes to possibilities that we hadn't yet considered in our research. Blips on the radar, such as the mention of a previously-unknown name, can lead us to a gold mine of information, if we can connect those pinpoints in the letter with the dots in other documents.

      You certainly have had your fair share of great leads in the letters you are working on for your blog, Grant!

  2. Nothing will do but for you to go in search of Bill's trial. I guess a copiest is a human Xerox machine. Did he pay by the page? Did he cheat them?

    1. Well...before I do that, I'll have to figure out who "Bill" was. That Bill pre-dates my Bill Bean, who wasn't even born yet, at the time of this letter. Since Ella didn't have any brothers by the name of Bill (that I know of), unless her father or mother had a brother by that name, I'm clueless who this Fresno "Bill" might be.

      Maybe someday, I'll stumble across another hint--and then the chase will be on!

  3. Interesting letter..I am sure you will get to the bottom of it all:)


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