Monday, January 24, 2011

The Berlin Family :: Introduction to The Letters

John D. and Susannah (Huffman) Berlin are my 3rd Great Grandparents. I've been researching them, their children, and their descendants off-and-on for nearly twenty years.

John D. Berlin and Susannah (Hoffman) Berlin.
Photographs from the Solomon Berlin Family Bible.
In possession of Carolyn Gentzhorn Rensberger in 1997.

In 1995, while visiting the Public Library in Nappanee, Elkhart County, Indiana I “discovered” a collection of old letters that were on display. Somehow they had been overlooked on previous visits. These letters just happened to be from "my" family! Most of them were written to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Berlin Coppes, sister of my Great-Great Grandmother, Lovina (Berlin) Yarian.

There were thirty-five letters written, starting in 1862 and going through 1871, then there is a twenty-year gap with one letter from each of the years 1892 and 1895. The letters were donated to the Heritage Room of the Nappanee Public Library by Elizabeth's granddaughter, Helen Mutschler Chapman (1902-1990).

The Library allowed xeroxcopies of the letters to be made, and after a considerable amount of time spent in deciphering them, they were transcribed and posted on my (now defunct) website. I'm posting the transcriptions here on the blog so that they remain available to descendants as well as to other researchers. Images of the letters will not be included here due to the fact that many of the copies were of poor quality. And, also, although I did obtain permission to publish transcriptions of the letters, I never received permission to use images of them.

Every attempt was made to present the letters as they were written, including “errors” in spelling and grammar. However, some punctuation and many paragraphs breaks have been added to help improve readability. Many of the letters were one continuous sentence with little or no punctuation to separate thoughts, hopefully I've made the “breaks” at the right spot! The writers also often wrote in the margins in an attempt to use as much of the paper as possible. Some of the letters were very difficult to decipher.

There are several letters written by soldiers on the front lines during the civil war that describe the war as well as the tedium and boredom of waiting for something to happen.

The letters from one sibling to another are much like those you would write today to a family member (that is, if you still write letters, lol). They tell of deaths and births of family, friends, and neighbors; of the general day-to-day events of life, of joy and of grief. They provide a brief glimpse into the hardships of life in the mid-1800s yet they remind us that those things that are important to us were just as important to them.

What struck me was that “home” was where their parents were! For example, Sarah (Berlin) Greene remained in Portage County, Ohio when her parents and several siblings moved to Elkhart County, Indiana and several times she addresses letters to “Friends at Home” and other times says she would like to “visit family at home”.

(Links will be added as the two items below are published.)

A list of the people mentioned in the letters as well as some information about each of them can be found in The Cast of Characters.

A List of the Letters includes the date of the letter, the location where it was written, who wrote the letter and to whom it was sent.


Jasia said...

I'm just amazed that you have photos of your 3rd great grandparents. Letters too is beyond amazing. I only have photos of 4of my great grandparents and that's if you count the photo of Great Grandma Josie who is dead in the picture!

Becky Wiseman said...

Jasia, I am also amazed and realize that I am very fortunate to have distant family members who kept these photographs and their descendants who have willingly shared them with me.

It was an incredible experience to find the letters at the Nappanee Library. I'm so glad that Elizabeth's Granddaughter decided to donate them so that they were publicly available.

Carol said...

I am soooooo soooooo enjoying these!

And, have to say, I have a serious case of letter envy!