Threading the Family Needle with Letters and Furniture

I possess about 20 letters from my Great Uncle Frank Brownson to his sister, my Great Aunt Lois Brownson, when he was a soldier in the Philippine Islands in 1900-1901 and Aunt Lois lived in Iowa.  He was serving in Porac just northwest of Manila with Company M in the 32nd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Armed Forces (he abbreviates it USV in his return address) during the Philippine-American War.  The letter I chose was written on wood paper that he described to his sister in another letter as having been produced in Japan.  It is very brittle and thin, and he used a pencil as his instrument to write the letter, then a pen to address the envelope. 

The address to his sister is simple:  name, “town”, state.  The “town” of National (pronounced  Nayshunul) is actually just an intersection on Highway 52 in Clayton County in northeast Iowa where there was a school, cemetery, fairgrounds, and most important, a post office inside a building where people would drive their horse and/or buggy to do mail business.

Letters from Frank Brownson to his sister, Lois Brownson. Three letters on the bottom are in “wood” paper.

If you look closely at some of the envelopes, you can see that Frank would write “Soldier Mail”. I believe that would either expedite the letter, or would mean the letter would be free from the port of entry in the U.S. till it reached its destination. Also, Aunt Lois noted on some of the envelopes when she received the letter. After this letter, there are only two more.  One is from Nagasaki and the other from “Frisco”.  I presume he made it home by train to Iowa shortly after arriving in San Francisco.

The envelope, so simple an address

Outside of envelope:

From Frank Brownson Co”M”, 32nd USV Manila

Lois Brownson    National Iowa


Frank Brownson’s Letter to his sister, Lois Brownson, on wood paper, dated Feb. 15, 01

Inside Letter:

Porac, P.I.

Feb 14, 01.

Lois:  Will write you a short letter tonight so it will catch the boat tomorrow for the States.  We was paid one month’s wages today so we will have some money when we go to Manila this week, we have turned in all our goods but just what we will take home with us.  We have our orders to move to Manila on the 17th and leave Manila on the transport Grant March 1st by Nagasaki, Japan for the US. The 35th Reg goes with us. The 33rd was to go before us but smallpox broke out in the reg and they have been quarantined for a while, that is the report, it may not be so but if it is we may go in their place, army orders are changed so many times it is hard to tell what will be done.               One transport leaves for the States every 5 days with 2 reg on board.  The 26 & 35th leave tomorrow.  (the) 33 & 34th (leave) the 25th (the) 32 & 35 (leave) Mar 1st–You will not get only 1 or 2 more letters from me over here and then the next one you get will be from Frisco, it will take about 25 days on sea. The boys are playing poker and shooting craps tonight with their money some has not got any money and some has it all.  Burroughs & I have been playing cribbage and coon can, I got the best of him.

               We are all in the best of health and feeling good to think we only have 2 more weeks over here.

With best wishes to all

Frank Brownson


My Great Aunt Lois’ Dining Table and Sideboard that I inherited with the letters scattered on the table

Besides the letters, the dining table and sideboard I possess are from Aunt Lois.  She never married and I eventually inherited them through my mother.  They are in the Queen Anne style and date to the 1920s. 

I remember going to her house occasionally to visit, down in Clayton County when we were very young and the rule was “be seen and not heard.”  If we were inside, we had to sit quietly.  It was very painful, especially if it were summertime because the heat inside could be unbearable.  So we were exceedingly happy if we could go outside and play. 

I chose this assignment from Postcards from the Past because seldom do I get to share the letters that sit in my curio cabinet. This was a perfect opportunity! I see a future project of scanning all of the letters and sharing them on the internet for everyone to enjoy, while putting Frank’s letters in context of what was going on around him politically and socially, as well as what was going on back home.

I intentionally took a picture of the letter sitting AT my Aunt Lois’ dining table, holding the letter, just as she would have been doing over 120 years ago. She may even have had a lace tablecloth on her table like the one I have, which was crocheted by my mother over 60 years ago. The bowl and the lamps are also family antiques so I wanted to share all of that material family history in this image of the dining room.

Then, I wanted to show the letters side-by-side and the only way I could figure out how to do it was to photograph each section of the letter, then put each image on a PowerPoint slide and convert it to a .jpg file. I had hoped to just put each image up on the blog but I couldn’t figure out how to put blocks side by side instead of only vertically. I guess that’s for another day. I’m not satisfied with the outcome, to say the least–there’s literally too much white space around the images of the letter sections.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Bird Hanning

    Those are such cool parts of history that you have! The story is amazing, and put together so well. I love how you started with the letters then expanded on the other things your great aunt left you, as well as the memories you have of them. I am also strangely enticed by your great-uncle’s handwriting… so cool!

    1. admin

      Thank you for your comments and especially about my great uncle’s handwriting! It feels good to finally make his efforts visible in some small way.

  2. Celia

    This is an awesome story. I really enjoyed being able to see the letters that your great uncle shared. I also must add that the organization of your blog is awesome. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. admin

      I appreciate you taking the time to give me the feedback on the organization. Sometimes we look at things so long that we forget what we’re seeing! Now I’m motivated to get the rest of his letters out there! Thanks!

    1. admin

      Don’t know what this comment is…

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