The Letter Archives
I like writing letters and receiving letters. It’s a shame that we’ve lost the art of letter-writing and saving correspondence.
–Elizabeth McGovern, actress in Downton Abbey.
Andrew and I often refer to the Hagenbuch Archives which include photos and recorded papers. We have hundreds of family photos; our family genealogy is rich with images of people, places, and things. We also have the paper records, or paper archives, which are the family sheets (LDS long forms) that I began compiling about 1975, but rarely updated after about 1988 when I became involved in living history reenactments and my children’s growing interests. Then we have the ephemera archives which include newspaper clippings, funeral notices, birth certificates, and many other pieces of paper related to our ancestors. However, it wasn’t until I wrote the articles about Dorothy “Dot” (Hagenbuch) Weyant that I rediscovered one last group of artifacts—the letter archives.
Fortunately, as I went into my senior year in the summer of 1970, I took a typing class at my high school in Milton, Pennsylvania. It was one of the best things I ever did. Over the years, I have honed this skill so that I can probably keep up typing on the computer keyboard with most well-trained secretaries. This typing skill, used on my electric typewriter during the late 1970s and early 1980s “BC” (before children), was a great boon to contacting family when genealogy first became more than a few-hours-a-week hobby for me. I was a voracious letter writer as I contacted every Hagenbuch or related family that I could find in the United States and even abroad. But, just as important as writing the letters, was saving the written correspondence I received.
As much as I can figure, I saved all the letters I received concerning genealogy between 1978 and the early 1980s. I have all those letters organized in a box. They are filed by the last names of all allied families, and by first names of all Hagenbuch correspondents. This box was stored behind other boxes of ephemera, until I realized last year that they were an important source of our family’s genealogical journey.
Taking a quick glance through the letters, one of the earliest I found was from Lauretta Hagenbuch from Williamsport, PA. I had found Lauretta’s information in the phone book as Williamsport is just north of where my family group is from. The letter is dated May 1, 1978 and is in response to the first letter I wrote to her asking about her family group which at that time I knew nothing about. Lauretta led me to her first cousin, Roberta (Hagenbuch) Buck who lived in Watsontown, PA, which is a town next to where I grew up!
Roberta and her husband “Bucky” became good friends with Linda and me. I learned so much about this family group, all because of that first letter which I still have (along with one from Roberta). Lauretta and Roberta were featured in an article about their parents in September of 2015. Their family were avid photographers, especially their relative Henry W. Hagenbuch (b. 1834) who had an early photography studio in the area. Lauretta’s and Roberta’s ancestral line is: Andreas (b. 1715) > John (b. 1763) > Charles (b. 1811) > Hiram (b. 1842) > brothers Edmund (b. 1876) and R. D. Hiram (b. 1884) > first cousins Lauretta (b. 1915) and Roberta (b. 1915).
Digging into another file, I found letters from Mae (Hagenbuch) Laudenslager. I contacted Mae’s sister, Ruth, in late 1978. Mae answered me with a letter in December and began providing me with lots of information about her family. She also had information from the early Hagenbuch genealogist, William Hagenbaugh from California. Mae and her husband Herb were from Allentown, PA and kept in contact with me through the early 1980s. Her ancestral line is: Andreas (b. 1715) > (b. Henry 1737) > (b. John 1776) > Reuben (b. 1805) > John (b. 1839) > Malden (b. 1872) > Mae (b. 1910). Unfortunately, as with so many of the corespondents during this time, I lost contact. Mae died in 1998, but her memory lives on through her hand written letters filled with family information.
One of the larger family groups who I received information from early on in my research was the family of Dr. Warren M. Hagenbuch from Blissfield, Michigan. I first wrote to his brother Dale who put me in contact with Warren in May of 1979. Warren sent me lots of information, so I could trace his family and claim him as a fourth cousin once removed. Warren’s information filled in many gaps at a time when there were no computers with online census records. Along with Warren, his sister Marjorie (Hagenbuch) Buck were subscribers to The Beech Grove. Their family was mentioned in an article in October of 2022. Warren’s ancestral line is: Andreas (b. 1715) > Michael (b. 1746) > Andrew (b. 1785) > Aaron (b. 1810) > Charles (b. 1860) > Samuel (b. 1887) > Warren (b. 1919).
Warren mentions a “book” written by “Beatrice Bayley” in his letter (in the above picture). It was simply a listing of individuals and their addresses in the United States with a certain surname, for example, “Hagenbuch”. The book was actually published by a company which sent out postcards to thousands of people in the country claiming you could buy your “family heritage book” which contained your family’s genealogical information. It was investigated by the Better Business Bureau in 1982 and found that the company’s claims were misleading. In an article I wrote in The Beech Grove newsletter at that time I warned our family not to purchase the $30 book as it had no genealogical worth.
Looking through the hundreds of letters I saved over a seven year period makes me appreciate the work that went into keeping in contact with many, many relatives as my spiderweb of communication grew. It also makes me appreciate the very old letters we come across in our research that give us clues to the life our ancestors lived. For example, the letters of Timothy and Enoch Hagenbuch from the mid-1880s. Think of it—the letters which I have filed in that box are already more than 45 years old!
I expect these hundreds of letters, some of them from relatives of persons reading this article, will be preserved for another 45 years and more. Not only are they a window into the early research of our family, but they also preserve the handwriting and thoughts of those people. Take for instance these lines found in a 1980 letter from Ethel (Davis) Hagenbuch from Utica, Illinois. After misplacing a form which I had sent to her to complete, Ethel wrote:
Ooops, aren’t u proud of my sense of humor – the envelope edge is from the glow of my face – Now there is one list still lost but I found this form where I expected to find the last! Sorry about that +
Linda and I visited with Charles and Ethel at their farm two times, and she was very consistent in writing to us over the years. I know that Ethel’s grandsons, Ben and Garth, read Hagenbuch.org and will remember their grandmother’s dry wit which is found in this note to me 43 years later. Ethel was married to Charles Bartlett Hagenbuch (b. 1913). His ancestral line is: Andreas (b. 1715) > Michael (b. 1746) > Jacob (b. 1777) > Charles (b. 1819) > Albert Sr. (b. 1859) > Charles G. (b. 1884) > Charles B. (b. 1913).
Unfortunately, due to email and social media, we can’t expect to sit down and handwrite letters anymore. Much is lost by corresponding with each other through the high tech methods of today; not only the images of personal handwriting, but also the use of correct punctuation and grammar. However, these hundreds of scribblings found in the Hagenbuch letter archives are a treasure that I not only want to preserve, but also want to use as a resource for further research as Andrew and I head towards our tenth year of writing articles about our family.