Letter from my great grandfather, Bill Tillinghast

Last year, one of the first things I learned in regards to my personal genealogy was my official “Tillinghast line” (thanks, Uncle Bud and Todd Lawrence!) and I quickly committed it to memory. For the benefit of my Tillinghast cousins, here’s my branch of our tree (for everybody else, pay attention to the fourth-to-the-last name!):

Robert – John – Pardon – PARDON – Pardon – John – Pardon – Stukely – Stephen – Isaac – Stephen – Isaac Fred – Wilmer – George – Daniel – and… yours truly.

(As you might guess from the many repeated names, it wasn’t all that hard to memorize my line.)


Capitalized Pardon, by the way, is the Pardon… the reason we American Tillinghasts are all here. Robert Tillinghast (1540-1613) of Sussex, England is the earliest known Tillinghast that I’m aware of. As for my 6th great grandfather Stukely Tillinghast (sometimes cited as “Stutely” — allegedly also called “Snuffy” for the “dull” color of his coat), he’s the father of the legendary Rhode Island “vampire”, Sarah Tillinghast. But more on all of them in future posts.

Sarah Tillinghast (artwork from MetlViking at deviantart). Her story is coming!

Meanwhile…

The other day, right after debuting this blog, I decided to go on a Google hunt for other Tillinghast blogs. I didn’t find any blogs — but that was okay, because I stumbled across something just as valuable (I LOVE finding treasure when I’m not even looking for it!).

It was the archives of an old Yahoo! mailing list. Actually, the list is still active, though barely so… anyway, if you’re wondering what’s so exciting about an old Yahoo! list — the group was/is devoted specifically to descendants of my paternal great grandparents, Wilmer Atkinson Tillinghast and Daisy Mae Richards!

The list was started by my Uncle Bud way back in 1999, and most of the relevant material was posted prior to 2005 (before people started flooding the list with off-topic posts, as tends to happen on mailing lists; I’m not sure if the off-topic stuff “killed” the activity — I also noticed some outright spam, which I’m sure didn’t help — but in any case it has since slowed down to maybe one or two new posts every couple of years. Had I known about the list, I would have participated sooner! I casually joined it anyway.)

No big deal on the lack of recent activity (though, with that said, I’d love to try to get some conversation going again; in fact, Bud asked me if I’d like to try taking over the list. I told him, sure!) I still found plenty of interesting tidbits in those archived messages.

Up until now, I knew next to nothing about my great grandparents. I never met them. They were both born in 1881, and died in the 1960’s (I didn’t come around until 1979).

Last year, when I started to explore my genealogy, I learned their names, and that they were both born in Pennsylvania (in my great grandfather’s case, in La Plume; I’m not sure what part of the state my great grandma came from). They married young, and had their first child in 1900. Altogether, they had 8 children.

The family re-located to Sonoma County, CA sometime in the 1920’s (based on information from the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses), which made my great-grandfather the first of our direct Tillinghast line to go “out west.” (He was not the first Tillinghast to do so.) I’m not sure what brought the family to Sonoma County, but they stuck around; my dad was born in Sebastapol, and many of Wilmer and Daisy’s descendants still live in that area!

That’s about the gist of what I knew about my great grandparents before I found this Yahoo! list (except that I also know at least the names of all of my cousins who are also descendants, thanks to a list that unofficial Tillinghast genealogist Todd Lawrence kindly sent my way several months ago).

I wish I could post a picture of either or both of my great grandparents, but I don’t (yet) have one, nor have I ever seen one. For some reason, I vaguely picture my great grandfather to look like Wilford Brimley… but I have no idea if he actually did resemble “Gus Witherspoon” (I doubt it). As for my great grandmother, Daisy — well, if you’ve clicked the “Brick Walls” link on this blog, you’ll know that I’m really lacking information on her, including her parents’ names.

BUT!

Based on tidbits and memories shared in the Yahoo! list, I now know that:

-Daisy had long hair and a “wonderful smile” (she was described as very beautiful when she was young). She was known to take her time doing things and not rush.

-My great grandparents differed in their politics; she was “an ardent FDR Democrat” and he was a “died in the wool Republican”, according to a post from my Uncle Bud (based on words and memories from his father). It didn’t affect their marriage; they just didn’t discuss politics around election time! I don’t really want to discuss politics either, but I will say that (for more than one reason) this anecdote made me smile.

-They spoiled their grandkids. (There were several examples posted on the mailing list to back this up!)

I read all 280+ messages in the Yahoo! list and appreciated every detail (no matter how small) that helped me form a better picture of Wilmer and Daisy; but the best message of all came in the form of a letter transcribed by my Uncle Bud that was actually written by Wilmer Atkinson Tillinghast, Sr., my great grandfather… whom I’ve always thought of as “Wilmer Atkinson Tillinghast” or “Wilmer A. Tillinghast” (because those are the names I see in Ancestry dot com). But after reading his words, I feel like I have a better grasp on who he was; and for starters, he didn’t go by Wilmer, he was Bill!

Here’s the letter, which is addressed to his niece, an “Elizabeth Henry” (Ancestry confirms that his brother, Albert Brundage Tillinghast, had a daughter Elizabeth whose married name was Henry). I love that the first part of the letter is actually about genealogy.

***

___ Reed Court
Healdsburg, Calif.
December 12, 1960

[According to Find A Grave, Bill passed away almost two years to the date after he wrote this letter.]

My Dear Elizabeth;

It seems to take the spirit of Xmas to jar me out of my absorption in purely personal matters long enough to give some thought to other members of my family.

I have always had a pride of family, probably exaggerated out of all proportion of reality.

[I feel closer to him already!]

so come Xmas time I begin to wonder what is happening to other members of the family with whom I have only infrequently contact.

I don’t know whether your Dad or your grandmother Tillinghast told you that our original ancestor, Pardon Tillinghast, came to this country in 1643, with a 1/4 interest in the original grant to what is now the city of Providence, R.I. He built the first Baptist Church in America and on his own land and preached in it until the time of his death at 96 years of age.

This is all confirmed in Appletons Encyclopedia, which is available in most public libraries.

[It's true; we Tillinghasts are very proud of our ancestor, Pardon... something that has clearly been passed down through the generations.]

You are also related to Thomas Edison and Woodrow Wilson.

[!]

The Edison connection is through his mother who was the daughter of a blacksmith named Brundage, in Orange, N.J. who was a cousin of our Grandfather Brundage.

The Woodrow Wilson connection is through the grandfather of my mother who was Dr. Bruce Wilson, whose brother settled in the valley of Virginia and became either the father or the grandfather of Woodrow Wilson.

A couple of years after my mothers death I received a letter from a Dr. Wilson in Princeton, N.J. stating that he was asking me to furnish him with vital statistics concerning my family as he was writing a continuation of the Woodrow Wilson family and they had already had a record of the birth of myself and my brothers and sisters but had no information later than that.

So your Dad’s name and mine are already recorded in the Wilson family history.

[VERY interesting! I actually knew about the Edison connection; though, oddly enough, I think I traced it through a different set of ancestors. The ancestors I found in common with Thomas Edison are my 6th great grandparents, Samuel Ogden and Phebe Baldwin; I have that their daughter, Phebe Ogden, b. 1759, married James Brundage, b. 1761. James and Phebe Brundage were the 2nd great grandparents of my 2nd great grandmother, Bill's mother, Edith Brundage. This is all based on information I found originally at Ancestry dot com. However, I think that Edith Brundage's grandparents were... cousins, so that might explain some of the confusion. I still have a lot to learn about the Brundages! As for the Woodrow Wilson connection, that's ENTIRELY new to me! What I would do to get my hands on that book!]

I have the Tillinghast family record from Pardon Tillinghast down to my generation and always intended to bring it down to date but there are so many matters of which I have no information that I will probably never get it completed.

[Well, that's what I'm here for, Great Grandfather. I wonder whatever happened to his records?]

My family here are growing so fast I can hardly keep track of them. We now have 29 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.

Your Aunt Daisy is still in the hospital over two years now and is completely helpless’ can move only her head and arms, and can talk only a few words, and is just dying by inches.

[This part almost made me cry. On an interesting, albeit sad note, her date of death is listed almost three years after his, so I wonder if she recovered for at least a short period after he wrote this letter?]

George and Frances are both dead, also one granddaughter, Harold’s girl Margie is gone.

[I felt sad for Bill here, too. How strange it must be to outlive not only your children, but at least one of your grandchildren. George and Frances were Bill and Daisy's two youngest, by the way. George is also my grandfather; he committed suicide in 1958. I don't say this in a judgmental way, for I'm sure when he ended his life he must have felt for whatever reason that it was his only choice; but I know it affected my dad, who was only 6, and this letter made me think for the first time about how it must have affected his parents.

On a happier note, my grandmother, Clara... better known as Susie... later married George's brother -- the Harold mentioned in this letter, who is also the father of Bud, who transcribed this letter! -- and they remained together until his death in 1976.]

Our oldest boy Bill Jr. is Deputy Agriculture commissioner.

Dick is in Fresno in charge of that territory for the Blue Chip trading stamp Co

Harold is a building contractor, now living with me here as he is divorced

Bob is manager of a cabinet company in Santa Rosa. Steve is still running a delicatessen in Elizabeth, N.J. and Harriet’s husband is voltage tester in the Pacific Gas and Elect. Co.

Frances husband is a chef in a restaurant in St. Helena, Calif .

I have always wanted to get back east for a visit with all of you but as I had a second heart attack a couple of months ago, which put me out of circulation for three weeks, and since I’m nearly 80 years old it seems rather doubtful if I can make it. 

May God Bless you all, Sincerely, Uncle Bill

***

God bless you, Great Grandfather Bill. I hope you made it back east for a final visit.

I’m so glad that I found that Yahoo! group and got to read this letter. (And very grateful to Uncle Bud for sharing it!) Logically, as my great grandfather was born 100 years before me, even if he’d lived to 100 years, I never would have known him. But if this letter is any indication, I know that I would have liked him… and, that we would’ve had plenty to talk about!

In fact, with his interest in family, he probably would have appreciated this blog (at least, I hope so!). Hopefully I can keep it going, continue his work, and make my great grandfather proud.

6 responses

  1. Mary Tillinghast Leneis | Reply

    Ahh so that’s how we’re related! We’re both great-granddaughters of Wilmer Atkinson. You through George and Daniel, me through Harold and Harold (Bud). My older sister was born in 1960, in fact, so she was one of the newest of the 23 great-grandchildren he mentioned.
    I don’t know if I realised before that your grandfather committed suicide. I think I’d just heard that he died. My father’s older sister Marjorie (the Margie mentioned in the letter) also committed suicide after being diagnosed with depression and undergoing the barbaric electro-shock therapy they used in those days. I feel so bad for her, and possibly George too – depression can run in families and I’m betting it does in this one, and previous generations of sufferers had so few options and so little understanding. Poor Auntie Marjorie and Great-Uncle George.

  2. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com/
    Author of “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories” and family saga novels:
    “Back to the Homeplace” and “The Homeplace Revisited”
    http://thehomeplaceseries.blogspot.com/
    http://www.examiner.com/x-53135-Springfield-Genealogy-Examiner
    http://www.examiner.com/x-58285-Ozarks-Cultural-Heritage-Examiner

  3. Welcome to Geneabloggers. What a great post and how great to find this letter that gives first hand knowledge of this ancestral family! I look forward to reading more.

  4. That’s an interesting portrayal of Sarah… I wonder what she would think of it. :-)
    Regards,
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  5. […] yet included anecdotes about them… ¬†and a transcribed letter from my great grandfather (see this post for more on […]

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