Death Halves the Hearth

I’ve just finished complying the various genealogies, ancient documents and photos I inherited into one document and all I can say is: Don’t do it! Let some other poor relative take on the task of making sense of family history. It’s like opening a Pandora’s box. So hard to close.

It wasn’t so bad when I was writing about folks who lived hundreds of years ago but as I drew closer the present and began writing about people I’d met, no matter how briefly, it got painful. When I got to my parents, I just couldn’t do it. They lived, got married and died, the end.

I wish I could say I discovered many fascinating tidbits about my ancestors but alas, I didn’t. Probably the most amusing “find” was the official reason why my most famous ancestor, Deacon Samuel Chapin, was important to the colonial settlement that became Springfield Mass.

Deacon Samuel Chapin’s “delicate duties.”

Yes, the appropriate seating of the “Goodwifes” on the Sabbath was apparently the only thing that kept law and order in the colonies! Heavens, you simply can’t have Goodwife Chapin “sitt in the Seate” alongside any other lady than Mrs. Glover, the minister’s wife. (Don’t ask me why some ladies are referred to as “good wifes” and others as “Mrs” because I do not know!)

Thanks to a wonderful blogger from Finland, The Snow Melts Somewhere , I did solve one mystery: What was in the Swedish Letters that my great-grandfather didn’t want to reveal to his daughter. From what Snow was able to decipher, Great Grandfather Nelson wasn’t trying to be cruel. He was trying to shield his daughter. She was only sixteen when her mother died. He probably felt she did not need to know the heartbreaking side of immigration.

2b. But before I write more, we would like to let you know that we have received the money that you sent us, 17 kronor and 65 öre, for which we now present you our heartfelt gratitude. And we think it is nice since it is in any case of an assistance to us old people. We always think it is fun to receive your letters but even more fun when you think of us with donations. But we can’t send you anything except for our loving thankfulness and we shall pray for you and for all our children, for you are all equally dear to Him. May He give you good health and blessings and may He keep you from sin, for sin is an abomination to God. Instead, God loves (us) and offers (us) everything and we will hope for Him to give you everything.

4a. And I cannot be alone. (…) It isn’t nice for me (…) but I must ask the Lord for good health. (…) 
Johanna, she won’t be home with me more than yesterday, she can’t come home with me, she gets nothing from it. She can ask the master (?) to make a little bit more but she is young.
Now (.…) is having (…)+ (…) and growing, but we are having bad times here, I don’t ponder it much but I’ll take what I can++ 344 and death halves the hearth, my friend by my side, out of grief (…) I ask God (…), I am weak, save me from (…)+++
…parents, children gone away… so empty, watch out for the soul’s wellbeing


To families left behind in the mother country, hearing from children who have traveled thousands of miles from home to achieve a better life must have been bittersweet indeed. I’m sure they were proud to know that their children had found communities to be a part of and did well enough to send money home. But the cost, from these letters, was very high.

Thanks again to Snow for helping me solve the mystery and giving me more appreciation for my great grandfather’s struggles.

24 thoughts on “Death Halves the Hearth

  1. Hi Jan,

    In a lot of ways history is a game that involves the whole world. Everyone plays at the same time, even when they are dead. The point of the game is to make sense out of life. Some are good at that and others are not. Some never really get a chance to play, others last until what we might call the end game. The rules of the game are the same for everyone, but part of the game is figuring out the rules. Of course, even those who don’t play by the rules are playing by the rules. The only thing good about the bible is it has been a treasure trove of clichés that people use over and over again. For me the main rule of the game is, there is nothing new under the sun. Which if we quote it verbatim from Ecclesiastes, it reads “there is no new thing under the sun.” At least that is the mangled translation from the original all those years ago, you know, back in history, which is also part of the game. So I could go on like this for a long time and in fact that is what I am doing now. Going on and on about the game of history and you and I are playing together right now. Here is the kicker, you can never stop playing the game regardless of your handicap. Love. Duke

    1. I think there was an emotional sacrifice young people made when they came to this country knowing they would never return to their families in the old country. Part of the circle of life was disrupted. Maybe that’s why the American psyche is like shattered glass. I don’t know. Never will. Love Jan

  2. One of my cousins has been delving into the family’s genealogy on my father’s side. She sends me a few pictures and bits of information. My mom and I wrote a children’s book about her life growing up in Bungay, Suffolk during WWII. My mom was seven when the war ended so I also solicited details from her older brothers and sisters. I enjoyed learning more about her life and family.

    1. I’ll have to check out your book! My mother remembers spending hours wrapping bandages for the wounded. She was a teenager during the war and was very upset that so many her boyfriends never returned. The war decimated her supply of available beau!

    1. I’m happy that I organized all the documents and photos as they are all just thrown into photo albums and boxes but very happy to be able to move on. It’s not a good place to dawdle.

  3. The letters showed the other side of immigration, the one you don’t immediately think of. As for your Pandora’s Box, good for you for managing to get it done! I don’t think my family has any old records. Maybe someone in the future will be examining my blog as a pathway to life in the olden days of 2021?!

  4. “To families left behind in the mother country, hearing from children who have traveled thousands of miles from home to achieve a better life must have been bittersweet indeed.”

    This resonates so much.

  5. that was so nice of snow to offer some insight! reminds me of one of the huge perks of sharing with our blogs – these diverse global perspectives
    😉
    and congrats on bringing this enormous project to a closing point!
    🙏🤍

      1. I vaguely remember when she was more active as a blogger – goodness time flies – and I remember her sharing about how she chose that name for her blog – wanted something original and easy to remember (something like that) and then had her children and for a brief while hosted the Friday challenge with Amanda
        In fact JT – I will drop by there now – to say hello to Snow!

  6. I read your first two lines and thought ” Good for Jan – I must do this”… then I read DON’T DO IT! OK… it will be on my back burner with all the other projects I meant to start yrs ago.:)

    1. It’s just emotionally draining. Boxes full of pictures of strangers who I found out were great uncles and aunts … even, in one case, a great great grandmother.

  7. Wow. I don’t have that much history, but I do worry what I do know will be lost. I think you should be very pleased with yourself having accomplished so much.
    Isn’t Goodwife like Goody, a compliment of those times? Like Goody Cloyse and Goodman Brown?

    1. Hi Joey! I did google and minister’s wives were generally called “goodwife” or “goody” and other married ladies were called “Mrs.” Goodwife is supposedly a more humble title. I feel so sorry for the women who lived with all those crazy puritans! Hope you and the fam are doing well in these strange times!

  8. This is very interesting JT!
    I’m not going to do a genealogy on my family.
    It’s enough to know what I know.
    My grandmother & her brother were boat children. The family scraped up enough $ to buy them passage to Canada.
    The brother died on the boat trip. Her mother died while she was on the boat.
    My grandmother was taken in by a rich family, and became a maid, at 12 years old.
    Later, there was a scandal about her, and their heir son.
    She married my grandfather, out of neccessity.
    When I see the pics of Afgans passing their babies over the wall….I get it!
    It is an old story.

      1. Still, they made a better life for their offspring. 3 generations later, thanks and respects are hard too find!
        Take care, JT!

  9. I’m so glad to see that Snow was able to help you! She was one of the first who started to read my posts eight years ago when I started blogging, or who knows if I’d still be around. Congratulations on your achievement!

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