Saturday, April 14, 2012

The month from heck

The month of March was ultimately a rather successful month, but it was dogged by two unfortunate developments:  I was sick for most of the month, and I encountered a major technical problem with the website that took until mid-April to resolve.

But first on to happier topics.  March was letters month, and I collected and scanned about thirty of them and posted them on the website.  In addition, I began the Herculean task of transferring Dan Holsenbeck's Navy journal to the website, which included scanning his substantial collection of ephemera and memorabilia, and transcribing his handwritten captions and entries.

The largest batch of letters is a series written by Andrew Jackson Kiser to his sweetheart/betrothed, Mary Emma Dixon in the year 1885.  Andrew (or A.J., as he was known on his letterhead) was a 41-year-old dry goods merchant living in Atlanta, and Mary Emma (or simply Emma) was a 23-year-old living in West Point, Georgia, near La Grange, situated on the Alabama border.  Unfortunately none of Emma's letters survive.  Most of the A.J.'s letters I received from Bryant Holsenbeck Moore in 1998 when I first moved to Atlanta, and the balance were given to me recently by Martha Gillham Waskey.

The other letters come from both the Kiser and Dixon families; that is, the paternal and maternal lines of Mother Cile.  On the Kiser side we have a letter of congratulation sent to A.J. by his sister, Eugenia, on the occasion of his marriage to Emma on December 17, 1885.  Eugenia had married George Alanson Fox, who was originally from Wisconsin and had settled for a time in Marietta, Georgia.  They eventually moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where they had several children, including a son Henry.

Henry Fox, a first cousin of Mother Cile, penned a letter that is also in our collection.  He wrote it to Mrs. A.J. Kiser, or "Auntie," on Kansas City Star letterhead, so we can assume he was an employee of the paper.  The main purpose of his letter is to request that his aunt send him any information she might have about the Leo Frank case, which had come back into the news after Frank was convicted of murder in August, 1913.  At the time of this letter (January 23, 1915), Georgia governor John Slaton was considering commuting Frank's sentence from death to life imprisonment, due to new evidence that had come to light since the trial.  Slaton would eventually commute the sentence in June, 1915, which then led to the lynching of Frank in August.

On the Dixon side we have several interesting letters, including a "mystery letter" penned in 1876 from Philadelphia, PA.  The envelope is worn clean of any writing, and the letter is addressed to "My dear boy," and signed "Your papa," so there is very little information to help pinpoint the author's identity.  Even the content of the letter consists mainly of general descriptions of the man's travels and the friends he meets.  However, in the letter's closing, the writer asks his son to "kiss Mamma and Sister for me," which definitely describes the family situation of Robert Warren Dixon, who had two children by 1876 -- James and Emma (Mother Ki).  Robert would have been 38 at the time, and James 10 (the probable recipient of the letter). 

Robert Warren Dixon would die three years later in 1879 at the age of 41, of an unknown yet "dread" disease.  On this occasion, his widow, Frances Catherine Fleming Dixon (Nanny Dick), received a letter of condolence from the director of her church's aid society.  In this letter the director also inquires as to the number of children she has at home, as the society would probably have some money to give her now that her husband has passed.

The last Dixon letter is a gem, written by Nanny Dick to Frances Holsenbeck in 1913, just five months after Frances was born.  In the letter, Nanny Dick gives a concise history of the Baileys and Flemings.  I received these scanned pages from Anna Waskey Hamel, and apparently only the first four pages of the letter survive.

In addition to transferring Dan Holsenbeck's Navy journal to the website, I have also scanned a letter he wrote to his family during this time.  It is quite long and informative, and is full of the wonder and innocence of a 26-year-old from Atlanta seeing the world for the first time.

The website is now up and running properly.  I still have not solved the original problem, but between me and two tech support teams and several hours on the phone, we have devised a solution that circumnavigates the problem and allows the website to load.  It involves a little more time and effort on my part every time I edit and re-publish the site, but not enough to make it unmanageable.

In the meantime, I have been working on my April benchmarks, which is the collecting of family stories.  The main event is Dan Holsenbeck's Navy journal, but I have also been getting some stories from you out there, and have found several in the various family histories and letters in my possession.  Also, I will continue to post photos and letters as I received them, including several on the Gillham side.  I also will meet with Penn Holsenbeck and Margaret van Naerssen this month to continue my search for Holsenbeckiana, as well as some Penn and Moore family information.

As always, please email me at any time about anything, and send me any scans or other information you care to share on the website