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