Before email and texting, people wrote letters to keep in touch with family and friends and many saved the letters they received. If you’re lucky enough to find letters written by family members or their friends, you’ll likely find valuable genealogical information. This post is about one such letter shared with me, and the things I learned from it.
The Letter (transcription)
I was surely glad our mutual friend, Arthur Lee, located you. I have some of the pictures he took of you and your lovely wife. You look like Uncle John, your dad, when I last saw him several years ago.
I will tell you just who I am. I am the youngest of your Uncle Lee’s sons. There were Dick, Elvie, Verdie, Aggie, John, Perry and I. They are all gone except Dick, Elvie and I. I was born there at your old home, the big house near Dalton in 1901. I grew up around Uncle John and Aunt Mattie and Goldie and George. They are all gone except George, as are Uncle Jim, Aunt Molly, Uncle Tommie Goodloe and all of the old family. Vernon Goodloe and Aggie Hankins are both still living. They are the daughters of Tommie and Jim. They are the daughters of Tommie and Jim. Aunt Molly Clemens has a living daughter with several grandchildren. So you see, Tom, you have more kinfolk than you thought you had. I have tried in vain several times to find your sister Jack. I have passed through her town in Washington several times but didn’t know her married name. If you have it, let me know and I will stop in and see her. I called on your friends in Long Beach but haven’t had a chance to sop and see your son yet. I gave Dick and Ev each a picture of you and your wife and Dick started telling me tales of long ago about two young men around Providence and Stony Point.
Enclosed is a picture of the three of us. Dick is a retired engineer in Alabama and Ev is an insurance man in Spokane, Washington. They both send their regards and would like to see you.
Hope Mr. Lee finds you and your family well and happy and that we get to see you both some day. Why don’t you come to California?
Jim Hankins”1James Bailey Hankins (Los Angeles, CA) to cousin, Thomas Hankins (Philippines), Letter, Nov., 1956; privately held by Thomas Hankins (grandson of recipient), copy provided to Linda McCauley, 2004.
Sender and Recipient
This letter was written by James Bailey Hankins, the youngest son of Thomas Leander “Lee” Hankins and Samantha Angeline Petty of Hopkins County, Kentucky. The recipient was Thomas Hankins, son of Lee’s brother John Houston Hankins and his wife Martha “Mattie” Clements. Jim was my great-uncle, brother of my grandmother Verda Waller Hankins. Everyone in my family called him Uncle Jimmy but since he signed the letter Jim, that’s how I’ll refer to him in this post.
Jim and Tom were 1st cousins although Tom was twenty-one years older than Jim. Tom joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in the Philippines by 1910, when Jim was only nine years old. Tom stayed in the Philippines, and that is where he lived when Jim wrote this letter.
It appears that Jim knew a man named Arthur Lee who apparently traveled to the Philippines. Mr. Lee either also knew Tom or Jim asked him to find Tom. Whichever was the case, Mr. Lee had seen Tom and brought pictures of him and his wife to Jim. Jim wrote this letter to Tom after that.
How I Got the Letter
I don’t remember exactly how, but early in my venture into genealogy (about twenty years ago) I was in touch with a great-grandson of Mary Madore Hankins Clements—the Aunt Molly referenced in the letter. He put me in touch with Tom’s grandson who lived in California and the grandson had this letter.
Since I had just started genealogy research, I had not yet learned a lot about Jim and his siblings, uncles/aunts, cousins, and extended family. This letter was helpful with that.
- Jim was born at his Uncle John’s “big house near Dalton.” I knew Lee and Samantha and their children lived in Dalton, a small community in northwestern Hopkins County, Kentucky, when Jim was born. Without this letter, I would have assumed Jim was born at their house.
- Jim mentioned their Uncle Jim, Aunt Molly, and Uncle Tommie Goodloe. I knew from census records that Lee Hankins had three siblings—John, Jim, and Molly, but I wasn’t sure who Uncle Tommie Goodloe was. Lee’s mother was Isabella Jane Goodloe, and I soon made the connection that Uncle Tommie was Jim’s great-uncle, youngest brother of his paternal grandmother.
- Jim gave Aunt Molly’s surname as Clemens [sp-Clements] and noted she had a living daughter. He also mentions cousins, Vernon Goodloe and Aggie Hankins. These names and connections made me sure I’d found the correct families in census records.
- Jim said Tom’s sister Jack lived in Washington, but he didn’t know her married name. I’d last found her living with her parents in 1900 in Hopkins County and listed as Jackie. Learning that she lived in Washington in 1956 led to finding that Jack and Jackie were nicknames for Julia, that she was married three times, had seven children, and lived in Cowlitz County, Washington.
- Jim said his brother Elvie was an insurance salesman and lived in Spokane, Washington. I knew from my aunts that he was an insurance salesman, but they knew very little about Elvie and thought he lived in Idaho. Putting Elvie in Spokane opened the door to a great deal of information about him found in newspapers and records. And I also confirmed that he had, at one time, lived in Idaho.
In the letter, Jim referenced a picture of Tom and his wife that Mr. Lee brought to him. He also mentioned that he was sending Tom a picture of Elvie, Dick, and him. I’m fairly certain that the photos below are those two pictures.
For more about Jimmy, his parents, and siblings, read their stories at https://documentingthedetails.com/tlhankins-sapetty.
|↩1||James Bailey Hankins (Los Angeles, CA) to cousin, Thomas Hankins (Philippines), Letter, Nov., 1956; privately held by Thomas Hankins (grandson of recipient), copy provided to Linda McCauley, 2004.|