Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Chain Letter that Solved a Family Mystery

As many know, I have placed intense focus on one branch of the family for the past five years I have been doing genealogy: the Deans. I was thinking back today on the item that gave me the hammer to begin breaking through brick walls for this seemingly impenetrable line and shocked myself with the realization: it was an 80 year old chain letter! That’s right, a culturally superstitious piece of junk mail kept by my great-grandfather was the key to unlocking one branch of the family.

                How, may you ask, is a useless piece of paper valuable to genealogy research? I will begin with where I encountered the “treasure” to answer this anomaly in research tools. Back in 2010, I had the idea to hit up Mom about getting copies of the family letters she had transcribed many years before. These letters were few of the extant records our family possessed of the Dean line, as B.G. wasn’t a stellar record keeper. Most letters were written by his mother, Ida, and B.G. himself.

Courtesy of Playbuzz

                I have referred to these quaint letters several times to look for research angles. One day, I was traipsing into the domain of looking for B.G.’s brothers, something caught my eye—a letter from his brother Tom! Tom, the third oldest child born to Harry F. and Ida J. Dean, wrote to Ida in 1928 from Manchester, Ohio. The letter is signed “Tom & A.” Obviously, Uncle Tom, or “Doc” as he was widely known, had a companion whose name was signed as “A.”

                Finally having a lead on one of the now unknown family members mentioned in the letters by initial only, I had a mystery for my very novice brain to solve: Who was this mysterious “A”? I pored over the letters several times, even hitting up the internet for help, but alas, my limited expertise at the time hindered my ability to figure out who she was.

                Then I recalled seeing a list of names in a chain letter forwarded in 1934 to B.G. The transcribed text reads as such:
In God we Trust Who Supplies our Needs. “Prosperity Circle”
Mrs. Leona Wagoner, Oklahoma City Okla.
Mrs. Anna Ketchum, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Mrs. Nell Montgomery, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Mrs. Anna Kaufruan(?), El Paso, Texas
Mrs. Aletha Dean, Hot Springs, Ark.
This chain was started by Box 43 an American Colonel and has a definite purpose. Copy the above omitting the first name and add yours, and send to five friends whom you wish to prosper. It must be mailed within twenty-four hours after receiving.
Mrs. Sanford received $5000
Mrs. Guines $1000
Mrs. Cluasy broke the chain and lost all she had. The chain has a definite purpose to all who copy the words and will find prosperity nine days after mailing. Please don’t brake the chain.

Courtesy of Buzzfeed

Her name popped out on the page when I scanned over it more closely than I had before: Mrs. Aletha Dean. The letter had been addressed to Tom in Hot Springs and had her name listed. Bingo! Finally had a searchable piece of the puzzle. The rest was smooth sailing from there when I had a legible name to put into Google. From that chain letter, I have learned so much more about the Dean line through researching Tom’s and Alethea’s lives in the public records.

                So the moral of the story is this: One man’s junk mail is another woman’s genealogical treasure. So if you inherited the papers of your grandmother or other aged relative and something seems worthless, look it over carefully before you consider throwing it out.