Monday, January 21, 2013

Hall Family Published Letters and Stories

My friend Teena came to me just over a year ago for help in organizing her family history. This I agreed to do, as she is very willing to be involved in the research. We have had such a great time exploring her ancestors. Some of this I have blogged about before, like going to two local cemeteries in search of information on the Hall and Uno families. Her Hall family is from New Zealand and they are related to John Hall who was Prime Minister from 1879-1882. She has made some amazing connections to people related to this line and they made her aware of three books about the family.

The first book is very small. It contains the stories of two generations, father and son. The first is an autobiography, A Little Sailor Boy by George Hall (1782-1865), first published 1862 three years before he died. George Hall first went to sea as a cabin boy in January 1795, age thirteen, on the ship Neptune under Captain Green. At age 45 (1827) he left the seaman's life. Some Recollections Of My Early school Days by John Hall (1824-1907), the son of George, is a publication of his manuscript of 1907 written just before he died. These men are Teena's third great grandfather and his son.

Teena thought at first she was descended from the John above who became the Prime Minister, but quickly discerned that she actually descends from his brother Tom. There were three brothers and two sisters, George, Thomas, John, Anne who died at the age of seven, and Grace. John and Tom both had sons named John, and they both eventually immigrated to the United States. Her ancestor was born at sea, which helped to distinguish him from the other John who had the middle name of Dryden, his mother's maiden name. There is substantial information about this family in online websites.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book and gleaned many genealogical facts about the family, it was the next book that truly took my breath away. This book is Letters to Grace, Writing Home from colonial New Zealand, edited by Jean Garner and Kate Foster, published in 2011. The letters were sent to Kate in 2008 from England by the Neal family who are descendants of Grace and her husband John Neal.

Jean Garner utilized the letters and other documents of the family in writing her thesis paper, which is included in the book, pages 13-48, with endnotes. The letters are on pages 49-190 and then there are four appendixes, Fabrics and Clothing, Medical Terms, Ships, and Miscellaneous Letters, pages 191-196. The Bibliography, pages 197-200 is in two sections, Primary Sources and Secondary Sources. There is a three page index, mostly of people and places.

The letters are written by the three wives of the brothers who lived in New Zealand, Sarah wife of Thomas, Rose wife of John, and Agnes Emma wife of George and their daughter Agnes Mildred, and Grace who married John Neal and remained in England. They are presented in order of the date the letter was written, beginning January 31, 1862 to January 30, 1877. In the middle of the book are sixteen pages of pictures, portraits of the women, their families and homes. At the front of the book is a descendancy list of the family and a map of Canterbury highlighted by the location of family properties or stations where they raised sheep. From these isolated locations written about in the letters we can learn of the lives of these strong immigrant women.

Most of the letters are the result of Agnes Mildred being sent by her parents from New Zealand to live with her Aunt Grace, in England in 1861, so she could receive a quality education. Agnes Mildred, an only child, was gone from her parents for eight years and the letters describe her life, changes in the families over time and her adjustment in returning in 1869.

Tom and Sarah Hall had five children; Sir John and Rose Hall had six children, the first dying shortly after birth. Grace and John Neal had six children, two dying as infants. Rose and Agnes Emma are sisters born to William Dryden and Jane Ritson. The thesis paper written by Jean provides the reader with thought provoking concepts related to the lives of these women.

Agnes Emma wrote twenty-four letters and her sister Rose wrote twenty-five. It is noted in the book that they wrote to each other over the years, but those letters have been lost. Sarah wrote only five letters, but they fascinate me the most as she is the third great grandmother of Teena, and thus provides insight into her family group. Agnes Mildred wrote nine letters, some to her mother and others to her Aunt Grace, whom she considered a mother figure in her life.

I highly recommend reading this book. With my own collection of family letters from two family groups, I have wanted to publish something similar and this may motivate me to do so. There is such little material about our women ancestors that letters like these are priceless; they open views into their lives. If you possess any such family correspondence, please don't leave it tucked away in drawers, where it some day may be cast off with little appreciation of its true value. We are still waiting for the third book to arrive.

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