A journey from 1891-Post 4

Signature number four

A fly on the wall

My mom has two, gold trunks in her apartment, and both are filled with genealogical treasures. In late August, she found something in the bottom of the smaller trunk. It was an autograph book once belonging to my great, great, great grandparents Charles and Maria Smith.

To be given access to who visited their home, to be let in on the well-wishes lovingly written to my ancestors, is a dream come true. The earliest date is from 1891! I feel like a fly on the wall.

That, and mom’s been keeping secrets.

Missing pieces

A bit of history


Mary, center, was the fifth child born to Maria and Charles. Most entries in the book were written to Maria. Mary’s entry was to her father. Here is what Susan wrote about Mary, her husband’s ancestor (and mine).

Charles and Maria’s autograph book is an amazing treasure.  Sometimes the entries seem a little strange, but all have a history.  Consider the fourth entry by Mary Smith Phelps, Maria and Charles’ daughter.

On first read, what she wrote does seem like a strange thing to put in an autograph book. It helps to understand what was going on in Mary’s life when she made that entry.  Mary and her husband were currently living in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Mary was obviously home for a visit.  Given the date, one might assume that it was a visit for Christmas, as well it may have been.

In Mary’s case, there may have been a second reason for the visit.  It is possible that she was either bringing home the body of her two-year-old son, Warren, for burial in the family plot in Wisconsin, or that she was visiting her family in Wisconsin for the first time since Warren’s death.  In either event, the pain of that recent loss was clearly on Mary’s mind when she signed the book.  (A cousin was kind enough to visit Morrill Cemetery in Stockton, WI, to confirm that Warren is buried there, even though he died in Knoxville.)

Given the background history of the entry, it is easier to understand Mary’s message to her father.

The death of Mary’s son Warren is one tidbit, but it adds significant meaning to the nature of her signature. Each heartfelt entry has a history; may we continue to be this lucky when trying to discover its meaning. Mary used one of my favorite lines to express hers.

Knoxville, Dec. 23, 1891

Dear Father:

Death cannot sever the ties that bind our souls through mortal years-They last forever. 

Your loving daughter-  Mary

mary smith phelps

Mary’s choice of “the ties that bind” speaks volumes as to what was in her heart. Death cannot break, steal, or sever the bond and love we feel for another. Well said, Mary.

I wonder what else mom is hiding in those trunks.

Do you know?

A question for the next autograph post

Autograph books, originally used to collect signatures, were at the height of their popularity during the Civil War. Do you know which modern day book is now considered the replacement for the former autograph book?

Photo credits: Maria Smith and Mary Smith-credit Donna Fetzer; Charles Smith-credit Susan Phelps.

  1. I have my great great grandmother’s diary from the Minnesota frontier where she writes about the death of her 6 year old boy. Our ancestors certainly had to live with much grief from losing children.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, that must be wonderful for you to have. What time period does the diary encompass? Years, or months? What a fabulous treasure.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s from about 1855 to 1872.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Wonderful. Will you write about this on your blog? 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Sooner or later. Knowing me, probably later!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I’ll be waiting. 😉

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Thinking regularly of your family.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Thank you. That is so sweet. I’m plugging away, trying to stay positive and get back to my writing and family history, things I dearly love. Thank you for tagging along. ❤

                  Liked by 2 people

                2. No problem. Know that you have a companion in the blogging world.

                  Liked by 1 person

    2. I am jealous. I have a journal written by my husband’s grandfather, and it is wonderful.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I was intrigued that there was so much about daily life and almost nothing about her interior life. I think that inward focus is more recent.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Actually, I am working on a story about another of her letters that does reveal a little of her interior feelings. Stay tuned!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Looking forward to it.


  2. I didn’t know they went back that far! I have my mother’s from the 1940s and my own from the 1960s. But to have one from 1891—that’s incredible.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is amazing to me that the book made it this far without more damage. The pages are intact, the ink very clear, and aside from the front cover missing something, it has traveled quite a distance through this life. I like that I can now research not only family but their friends. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I haven’t seen or thought of autograph books in years…what a spectacular treasure your Mom found. Yes, what else is hiding in those trunks? ~ Sharon

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Right?! I’d been researching the Smith line for a while, and I think mom knew about the autograph book but had forgotten. It came into my life at just the right time. Mom has more trinkets and treasures. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re fortunate to have such a treasure to cherish.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel so fortunate that my parents were packrats. I never thought I’d say that, either. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: