Hazel de Helen

She stood all of 4′ 10″ and weighed 110 pounds. She was my father’s aunt but was more like his second mother. When I recently found a box with her name on the outside I felt my heart twist. Dad became her power of attorney. He passed 11 years ago; now those records sit at my house. I sat down the other night to sort the papers. They are still there. I can’t toss them, not a single one of the three-years-worth of 37 year old cancelled checks, not yet.

I grew up mostly in awe of her, the woman so much like a grandma but who wasn’t. She was, in fact, my grandma’s sister whom we visited often. She had no children–I’ll get to that–and I always wished that had been different. Of the four sisters in my grandma’s family, only one–grandma–had children (my father). The other sisters either died young or had no children. It may have been a miracle we were born.

Hazel_young woman_probably at Oakes st house_Tacoma around 1914 or so

Hazel de Helen Butterfield Kasae, my great aunt, made me laugh as often as she made me tow the line. I nearly wet myself once when I stayed with her; I was about 10. I was with her while my sister was at grandma’s. We’d switch off so they each could enjoy our charm all to themselves, then we’d switch again.

She’d bought ice cream and after dinner, we both stood in her kitchen while she began scooping. Her freezer must have worked hard that day, requiring her to use some muscle. She stressed and strained, worked a bit more. Suddenly, a scoop of ice cream went flying into the air, over our heads, promptly landing on the floor. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen, and I lost it. Her belly hurt as much as mine for the laughter; it was written all over her face. She tried to refrain. Soon, we were both toast.

Once, when she visited our house in Oregon, she and my mother were in the kitchen preparing for dinner.  Mom needed a can of something for dinner, but she’d run out. I was told to run up to the market three blocks away to buy said can. I reluctantly went and bought the desired can. I came home horribly glad THAT was over only to discover it wasn’t. I’d bought the wrong can prompting mom to ask me to go back to the store to get the right one. I didn’t want to go. I’d already been to the store. Couldn’t they do without? Apparently, not. It was Hazel who looked at me and, knowing I was upset and without saying a word, simply shook her head in the affirmative with her sweet smile, encouraging me to go. I will never forget her face, and how she looked at me then and when I got back. She was firm but kind. I loved her dearly.

Bertha and Hazel Butterfield, early 20s

Hazel was the third sister of four. Lillian, Lalla (grandma), Hazel, and Bertha were the four daughters of Orah Myrtle Smith and Elmer Hunt Butterfield.

I’ve written about Hazel before, but I’ve never written a post solely about her, in honor of her, or because of her.

I don’t know if she knew how much she meant to me, how much I enjoyed spending time at her house, and just being with her. That she tolerated her nieces playing in her basement–mixing the contents of old salt and pepper shakers until the whole room reeked of pepper–was beyond imagination in my book. She was the best.

And, isn’t that the way? We only realize certain things late in the game. Why is it that children are self-centered enough that sometimes people have to die before we realize what they meant? Did she ever know?

Hazel was every bit or more important to my father as she was to me. Dad, being the only child of the four sisters, was kind of like everyone’s child. He was the only, and being the only, was the center of attention among all the adults (that shifted a bit when my sister and I came along).

The house below is the first house my father lived in–he was born in 1929–but which was later purchased from grandma by Hazel and her husband. Here are pictures of the “remodel.”

House on Park_remodel photos_late 30s early 40sAbout that purchase? When going through Hazel’s things I came across this record of the home purchase.

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It helps to remember people if I see where they lived, where they worked, and with whom they associated. Exactly none of those papers have been tossed. It feels like saying goodbye all over again.

House on Park_Tacoma_5815 address_Bert added this front porch_House was sold to H and B from Lalla
Back then, after the remodel, and…

Hazel on steps of house on Park_30s

House purchased by Hazel and B from Lalla_now 2017

Hazel began working at People’s Department Store in Tacoma in the late 20s. She worked her way up to head cashier and was well respected. You’ll recognize her below.

hazel and work buddies I believeAs mentioned, Hazel did not have children. The story goes that she was dropped as a baby resulting in an injury to her right hip; one leg remained shorter than the other. Whether from stigma or fear or both, Hazel did not want to risk having children born with the same affliction. Notice below that her right foot rests higher than her left. She would have made a fabulous parent.

Hazel and Lalla_July 1917_Point Defiance Park
Lalla and Hazel, 1917

Regardless, Hazel welcomed my sister and I with open arms, always. She loved my father and mother as her own, and it showed.

There were no holidays celebrated without her; each time we visited our grandparents, we saw Hazel.

Hazel and her husband were eventually able to buy a larger home, also in Tacoma, within a few blocks of grandma. Her husband added the garage, and they had a dog and raised chickens in the back for a while. They lived in this second home when I knew her.

Below is that new house when first purchased, and at bottom, you’ll recognize two little girls who gave their father a run for his money.

She may not have given birth, but Hazel did, in fact, have children. She had all of us. Dad did right by her. The journalist and “stickler for details” man he was, he kept records of all phone calls, all conversations, why and when. I have those, too. If something seemed off, he called and recorded the outcome. He followed up on anything amiss until it was clear. He did it all from out of state. He was POA for the youngest sister, Bertha, too.

Mom grandma and Hazel with us at Hazels house_Tacoma
Front yard of Hazel’s house, Tacoma

It’s difficult to throw away those papers, the recordings of her life. It’s proof that she was here. Seeing her beautiful, showy handwriting again made me smile. She and I wrote letters when I was young. The direction of her sentences often took various turns such that she wrote upside down, along the side, or my favorite, in circles. She’d jump to the next, non-sequential page, conveniently leaving off page numbers. It was up to me to figure out where she was going next. It was sheer joy reading Hazel’s letters.

In the later years Hazel developed a form of dementia, particularly painful to me on one specific visit. Dad, Hazel and I had gone out for lunch, and while in the restaurant, she looked at me and said, “Are you Lynne or Karen?” It crushed me that she could not distinguish me from my sister, but I could see in her eyes that she honestly didn’t know. It broke my heart. I cannot recall how well I hid my hurt, whether or not she knew how her question affected me. I simply said, “I’m Karen,” and smiled. She smiled back and my heart swelled and broke all over again. It was my first introduction to dementia.

Her decline was also evident in her changing signature.

I’ve never met anyone like Hazel. I doubt I ever will. She was part of my life from the very beginning, even though she lived out of state. Below: Mom, me, and Hazel.

Karen walking with mom and Hazel_backyard of 228 South 59th_Tacoma_May 1960

So, why all the fuss for my father’s aunt? Today is a very special day.

I wish I could make her a great big chocolate cake.

I wish I could scoop some ice cream on top and celebrate for days.

I wish she were here so I could say, “Happy Birthday!”

Born on this day in 1902, she would have been 115.

❤ Wherever you are, Thank you sweet lady, and know you will not be forgotten. ❤

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Hazel de Helen Butterfield Kasae

May 1, 1902- June 16, 1982

Hazel_birthday cake at bottom_not sure of the year_likely 60s

Those papers? They are still in the box….

Hazel or Lillian? There Is No One To Ask

The cover peels back like a piece of warm taffy. It is well-used, well-loved, and continues to serve its purpose. I’m guessing my great grandma Orah put it together.

And, it is a goldmine. It is filled with faces, but very few dates or places are labelled. My father went through it before he died, added labels, best he could recall. Still, more questions remain. As the last Geier in our line, when dad died, so did the knowledge. The guesswork begins.

April 2016_photo album
Butterfield family album~1900s

Most of the pages inside look like this:

April 2016_page in album
About 1918 or 1919

Dad labelled those he knew, but what of the hundreds of loose photos? Bertha Butterfield (below center, and youngest of the four daughters) was a dead ringer for her mother, Orah (below, second from right). Regarding Bertha, it is hard to mess up that one.

Grandma and Hazel, the bookends, looked more like Elmer, their father, below.

April 2016_PIX_Butterfield_Elmer

I have few clues about the two pictures below. They were taken in Tacoma, WA, and I am certain the second little girl is Bertha. I am also assuming they were taken the same day, the same year (same photographer, same frame and format).

My question is: who is this first little girl? Is this Hazel or Lillian Butterfield? Bear with me, there were four daughters born in the following order: Lillian, Lalla, Hazel, and Bertha.

April 2016_young Hazel_

April 2-16_young Bertha

Here’s how I think I have figured out this one, tiny mystery. Hazel was born in 1902, in Minneapolis. Sometime thereafter, the family moved to Tacoma, WA, close to 1904 or 1905. Bertha was born in 1908, in Tacoma, and census records verify the family lived in Tacoma by 1910.

Here’s the catch. Look at this photo a bit closer:

April 2016_Elmer and girls on swing
Elmer and daughters Lalla (left), Hazel (center), Lillian (right)~ 1905, Minneapolis

Hazel, center, appears to be about three here. If that is true, grandma Lalla would be about seven, and Lillian would be 11. So far, so good.  Looking again at the photo of Bertha, I would say she was about four or five.

April 2-16_young Bertha
Bertha, about four or five, 1912 or 1913
April 2016_Lillian in rocking chair
Lillian~circa 1911 or 1912

If Bertha was four or five, and the year was 1911 or 1912, Lillian would have been gravely ill or close to passing away. She died in August of 1912 of tuberculosis at age 17. This is the last known photo of Lillian Butterfield.

My conclusion: the girl in the photo has to be Hazel. If the year was 1912 and Bertha was four, Hazel would have been eight. This girl looks to be about eight or nine.

April 2016_young Hazel_
Hazel Butterfield

Sometimes it’s hours and hours of perusing with no conclusions drawn. A particular challenge we face is that of the four girls, only my grandma had children. She only had one (my father). There is no one else to ask. My sister and I are the only remaining descendants.

Yet, I try to remain thankful for the photos themselves, try to gear up for this enormous challenge. The faces become more familiar the more I look. Heck, I was able to identify one woman by her teeth (those years in dentistry may yet pay off).

I’d love to know what you think. How do you identify people in your old photos?

Now, who’s got some good wine?

Letter #4: May 15, 1889


I think he wanted me to know. Why else would I find this exact tidbit of information among the piles of documentation, 127 years later?  Sometimes, you gotta shake your head.

While researching my great grandma Orah, the subject of my series The Malevolent Matriarch, I discovered letters written in the 1880s by her father, my great, great grandfather, Alfred Josiah Smith. He wrote from Ironwood, Michigan, and in all, I have 14 letters spanning from January 1889 to mid-1892. I’ve been (thankfully) overwhelmed.

As with Orah’s letters, I’d rather read and share than tuck them away, again. Some of you may recall the fuel for my fire when I started the Malevolent series; we are in the possession of hundreds of letters Orah wrote in the 40s and 50s in Tacoma. Gotta share.

I’ve written Josiah’s letters here as he wrote them, with spaces between ideas due to run-on sentences. I’ve highlighted in red new or interesting pieces of our puzzle which I discuss below. Each paragraph corresponds with a page. Enjoy!

“Josiah     May 15    /89

answered                   Ironwood Mich              May 15 1889

Dear Father and Mother    I wrote you about a month ago but have not heard a word from you     we have had letters taken out of the office here      there is another man here with the same name as my self  A. J. Smith    after this write my name J. A. and I will be more sure to get them(1)     I am going to get me a box and then I will have the number of Box put on    we are all well at present    I have been at work most all the spring    I was sick one week so I did not

try to do anything    work here is good this spring or has been good   I am going to work on a new theatre building in Hurley(2) in the morning     it is to be 113 feet long by 50 feet wide     there is a good deal of building in H this season and also here    the mines here are working heavier this season than ever before    they are putting in very expensive machinery in all the mines     I am building an addition to our house  12 by 18   that will make my house one part 16 by 24 and the other part 18 by 24     we have a front room 14 by 15 inside    a bedroom 10 by 12    a closet 4 by 10    in the wing we have a dining room 11 by 12(3)  a kitchen the same    2

bedrooms and a bullery (?)    so you see we will have room enough     I wrote you about sending me some fruit(4)  I think it has got so late now that I won’t try to put out any thing till this fall    I will set us out a strawberry bed in Sept so they will get soaked this fall    they do well here   I have got some garden in and it looks like well.    got peas    are up about 2 inches high   we have lettuce potatoes radish turnips and cucumber up    we had a nice snow storm here last night and part of today   but it is all off tonight   it snowed about 2 inches.  Lew’s folks are usualy well    charley

was under the weather last Sunday but he is all right now    I think he was over here yesterday    Truman Sears from Pine River(5) stayed with us last night    He is up here at Kimballs mill(5) at work   he is talking about coming here and going to wok at carpenters work    he will work with us(5)    well it is most 10 oclock and I must close    Ida’s baby weighed 19 lbs at 3 months(6) old     love to all”   


1. Yeah, he wanted me to know, since this one piece of information IS HUGE in research. That Alfred Josiah changed his name to Josiah Alfred makes perfect sense, the reason, though, something I had missed. Since another man with the same name lived in the area, their mail was mixed up or lost. When I search, I pull up information for both Alfred Josiah and Josiah Alfred. It’s been baffling why he was listed both ways. Yet, if not for this one letter….

2. Josiah was a carpenter having worked on many structures, including improving upon his own home. Historical accounts of most structures I’ve researched name owners, managers, and architects, but usually not builders. Still, I like to think my ancestor helped build the following, given his mention of this “new theatre building in Hurley” (built in 1889):

April 2016_Tainter theater_Hurley_ WI_mableold
Mabel Tainter theater, Hurley, WI

The dimensions Josiah wrote don’t seem to match with the photos I found; however, it may have been added to through the years. I found no other theater in Hurley built that year.

April 2016_Mabel Tainter Memorial Theater_Hurley WIMore of a close up of the theater, one can see the amount of work involved in this enormous project. If you look closely, above and to the right of the arched entry, you can see the year: ’89.

3. At the time of these letters, Josiah and Helen had three children; still, the size of the rooms caught my attention. When our three children were young and we were in the process of moving, we rented a small house for a short time. The bedrooms in the rental were the same size as Josiah’s, 10 by 12. I could hardly breathe with barely walking room around the beds. Although 127 years later, I’m amazed how people, expectations, and generally how life is perceived has changed.

4. “…sending me some fruit” once again indicates Josiah’s parents may have lived fairly close. My gut tells me this may take a good deal of digging before I locate his parents’ home during this time.

5. Josiah mentions a Truman Sears from Pine River–age 56 at this writing–and, while then working at Kimball’s Mill, was to join Josiah’s team as a carpenter. I did indeed find a Truman Sears from Pine River.

April 2016_death record_Truman Baldwin Sears_Pine River WI_1907_co worker of Josiah

It was difficult to find this particular mill in Kimball; for one thing, there were many, and Josiah wasn’t specific which type of mill. I presume lumber, but cannot be certain. Josiah mentions several times the rate of building in Ironwood and Hurley at this time. I am happy to know demands of the time provided work for his growing family.

6. It looks like baby Faith, Ida and Lew’s daughter, continued to pack on the pounds. As of this writing, she was now a whopping 19 pounds at five months old, having gained four pounds since March. There was no mention of Josiah’s baby daughter in this letter. Faith was the sixth child (of seven) of Ida and Lewis Seeber (family chart is in Letter #2).

While learning the reason for Josiah’s name change, it helps and hinders. I know the reason, but with double the research hits, at times it’s more confusing. I may also never know which exact buildings Josiah worked on, I do know the area, and possibly some of the houses. I am grateful he wrote down some of the dimensions. That helps match possible sites.

Next: Letter #5–The remedy for “fearful sore hands,” adding roads and sidewalks, and…..did you say haunted?

Photo courtesy: mabel-tainter-memorial-theater_hurley-wi.png, and tainter-theater_hurley_-wi_mableold.gif

Letter #3: March 31, 1889


One of the utter frustrations of genealogy is slamming into that brick wall, again, and deciphering the scanty, often hard-to-read records. But we all know the delightful, gut-giggling joy when a puzzle piece fits. Or several.

This letter, #3 in my INTO IRONWOOD series, has done it all. This is a new, short series I started due to finding more letters hidden in a notebook (in my house). The series based on my great grandma, The Malevolent Matriarch, will continue once I’ve tackled these letters, written by Orah’s father, Alfred “Josiah” Smith.

In Josiah’s 14 letters (spanning from January 1889 to mid-1892), he wrote about several people. Until I found the family tree chart, I had no idea who he was referring to (although I wondered at the names of Ida and Lew’s children; Ida was Josiah’s sister. This chart is posted in Letter #2, and lists Charlie, Annie, Daisy, Faith, Louis, Warren and Myron as their children).

As with the previous letters, I’ve rewritten them as Josiah wrote them, but I’ve left spaces between ideas due to run-on sentences. Highlighted in red are new or interesting pieces of our puzzle discussed below, and each paragraph corresponds to one page.

“Josiah    Mar 31  /89 

answered       May 11 th                                    1889

                            Ironwood City–Mar 31

              Dear Father and Mother, You see that we are a city now     we have our first city election this week on Tuesday     we had our town election on the first Tuesday in March a month before you have yours(1)    it has been cold here for the past week and today it is cloudy and cold    Charley, Myron and Annie S(2) are here today and Lew and Ida and Lewie(2) were here last Sunday    you talk about a baby down then 3 months old weighing 15 lbs(3)    what of that     we have one up here only 7 weeks old(3) that weighs 14   we feed her…(4)

Iron ore(4) and it aint much of a place for babys either    We were glad to hear from you    we have tomato seed sown and this week I intend to sow my cabbage     I had to stop writing this yesterday after Lew and children came there was so much noise here    we are having nasty weather here   rain and snow most of the time for the last 2 days    I bought a Bhl (bushel) of apples(5) yesterday for 50 cents that were rotting    we got about a  bushel and a half at good ones   and the balance we got a lot of good out of   Helen is making up a lot of mince meat(5) out of them     Ida sent over to day and I bought a…

…Bhl (bushel) and sent over to her    It is kind of a lotery buying them but we done first rate out of it     come in and we will treat you to some(6)   School is out for a vacation this week so the children are at home    Charley is over to Idas today    he is going to stay with the boys to night    it seems lonesome here without him for he isn’t still a minute when he is awake     he is learning real fast    His standard in school was 10 in spelling    10 in numbers    9 in reading and 8 in writing    he ain’t went he hasn’t been to school half of the turn(7)  I think that is pretty good…

…Forest grows fine and is as noisy as usual but he is a good boy    Orah is doing well     she is improving fast in her music    She takes a good deal more interest in it as she grows older(8)  I will write you when the ground is fit to set out any thing here   potatoes here are retailing at 35 and 40 cents     they never were so cheap here before     we think your hens do finely (?)   I wish we had half a dozen    Have you any you can spare and what will you charge me for them   I want 6 hens and a rooster–but I must close (up top, he closes the letter upside down above the words Forest grows: for this time    with love to you both    Si and Helen Smith”

1. Ironwood became a city in March of 1889, but what peaked my interest was what he wrote next about “a month before you have yours” referring to the town election. This indicates his parents Charles E. Smith and Mariah Pollyann Smith probably lived in the US by this time.

2. BINGO! This is what I’d been looking for: names of family members. Based on the family tree, Josiah’s sentence “Charley, Myron and Annie S are here today and Lew and Ida and Lewie” refers to Ida’s family. “S” has to stand for Seeber. Both Ida and Josiah named their firstborn sons after their own father, Charles.

3. Josiah wrote about Ida’s baby girl (Faith Merel Fay Seeber) weighing 15 pounds at three months old, compared with his own seven week old daughter weighing 14 pounds. A seven week old baby indicates his daughter was born around the second week of February, maybe the 10th or 11th, in 1889. I find no evidence of a second baby girl born to Josiah and Helen, indicating this baby must have died shortly after Josiah wrote this letter. With the last name of Smith, this may never be found (and maybe was never recorded). Incidentally, according to the family tree chart in Letter #2, Faith died in the late 50s, the year I was born.

4. I love that Josiah joked about feeding his daughter iron ore. It’s incredibly difficult to get a sense of who the ancestors were; letters help enormously, with limits. Sadly, this is Josiah’s only reference to this baby.

5. That Helen made mince meat out of extra apples wasn’t a surprise, nor that they purchased by the bushel (and does a bushel equate with a tub?). That the tradition was passed down is a delight. I receive turned up noses at the mere mention; however, if mince meat is home made–store bought isn’t in the same league–it makes for one exquisitely fabulous pie. I found references to mince meat in great grandma Orah’s letters from the 40s and 50s (Josiah’s daughter), my grandma Lalla made it when I was a child (Orah’s daughter), and it was one of dad’s all time favorites. Both my husband and I love mince meat; thankfully none of our children do: we get the entire pie.

April 2016_baby Smith on tubs of crabapples_two men along sides
Denny Smith, the grandchild Josiah and Helen never met, atop tubs of crab apples.

6. This is another indication that Josiah’s parents lived close: “come in and we will treat you to some.”  We leave out the beef tongue–stew beef cooked to perfection is quite tasty–but it begs the question of how closely they followed the older recipes. All that work and the yield is only seven cups, barely two pies.

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7. The reference to Charley in school, the “standard in school,” and that he attended half the time makes me wonder why. Josiah was a carpenter, and this year Charley was  7. In the late 1880s did young boys stay home to help their mothers instead of attend school? 

8. Josiah mentions Orah improving with her music. When dad was a child he recalls his mother Lalla playing the piano, often, and anyone in the house joined in and sang along. The neighbors would hear the lively household and come over and join in. Both Orah and Lalla played when dad was a child; these were some of my father’s fondest memories of that time.

April 2016_baby Smith standing next to tubs of crabapples
Denny Smith ~ 1904

While it’s impossible to fully know how they lived on a daily basis, these letters give me a better idea. I am ever grateful I opened that notebook…

Next: Letter #4–The reason Josiah changed his name, the prominent structure in Hurley Josiah helped build, and how much weight Ida’s baby (Faith) gained.

Letter #2: February 10, 1889


I don’t know cold, or what it’s like to experience a truly, deep cold winter. I’ve been neatly tucked away somewhere in the Pacific Northwest most of my life. I haven’t experienced bitter, biting winters next to Lake Superior.

We are pretty spoiled in the garden department as well; what we plant grows by leaps and bounds–probably doesn’t hurt that I am married to a skilled nurseryman–and we enjoy a generous bounty most years.

I don’t know cold; seems, though, it was a way of life for Josiah and Helen. As mentioned in Letter #1, I will highlight in red interesting and/or new pieces of our puzzle, and discuss those below. Due to Josiah’s many run-on sentences, I’ve left spaces between ideas. What follows is what Josiah wrote; each paragraph corresponds to a page.


Feb /89


Ironwood Mich   1889

Dear Father and Mother,

This is Sunday morning here    it is very pleasant today but for the last 3 days it has been quite stormy here   the last 3 or 4 days in last month and the fore part of this it was very warm here    the snow most all went off    we hant had only about 2 feet this winter and the thermometer only went to 37 this winter(1)    everything is very lively around the mines     this spring the prospect is for the largest out put gross/gain (?) this year we have ever had     the machinery at some of the mines her would surprise you    I never saw as nice    Ironwood stands ahead in the mining business     the Nora and the Ashland mines are only about 1/2 mile from where we live(2) and they are two of the best on the range….

I hope it will be so you and ma can make us a visit this next summer    I think we could surprise you about this country(3)    this is no wilderness     there are lots of buildings here and in Hurley     that don’t take a back seat in any city    by the way    I don’t know but this is a city    by this time we have 5,000 inhabitants here and the mater is before the legislator now(4)    Bessemer is a city now     that passed this winter    I am building a small house here now  16 X 24    the snow is only about a foot deep so it don’t bother much   I think there will be a good deal of building done here this season    Lew is at work at the mine in H yet    Ida hasn’t been very well since the baby was born(5)    she has a nice baby.    what are potatoes worth with you    they are worth 50 cents here at retail     some difference from last winter    they were worth 100 and 125 bush then…

everything is getting cheaper here than it was when we came here    as for potatoes we can raise as good here as anywhere I ever lived and most everything but corn     I mean to put in a garden this spring and I want some strawberry plants and raspberries courants slips this spring if you can spare them(6)   this be a good place for berries    I think for the lower part of my lot is always wet    no dry weather ever dries it up(7) and I am going to try and raise some tomatoes and let them ripe if I can            we raised lots of grown ones last year but none got ripe    what kind do you think I had better put in   what are the earliest and what kind of cabbage would you put in   have you got lots of tomato seed    if so please send me a few….(6)

we are all quite well now but Helen    she is feeling quite poorly    her stomach troubles her a good deal    she can’t eat a meal but what she has pains in her stomach(8)   the rest of us have some cold but nothing serious    we haven’t had to colds this winter compared with last    We are doing the most of our groceries trading at chicago now   we can save most half on most stuff on the prices we pay here and we get things by the quantity(9) and it goes a good deal farther    we send there and get Ashkosh matches(10) at a cent a box here they ask us 5C for 2 boxes.   Well my paper is full and I must close for this time    with love to you both     Josiah and Helen


1. I think Josiah was referring to a heat wave when he wrote that “the thermometer only went to 37 this winter.” I think he meant as a high reading, not a low, as he wrote “very warm here.” Odd since this 1911 image does not seem altogether abnormal for Ironwood (cowcard.com).

Boys in Skis, Winter Scene Ironwood, MI

2. This is one of the very best pieces of information I could hope for: a location. That the mines were close “the Nora and Ashland mines are only about 1/2 mile from where we live” is a juicy tidbit. I may be able to figure out within a few homes exactly where they lived.

I do not believe my direct ancestor Josiah worked in the mines; he was a carpenter; however, his brother-in-law, Louis Seeber or “Lew” (who was married to Josiah’s sister Ida), worked in the mines in Hurley, Wisc.

3. We know that Josiah’s father Charles E. Smith was born in England in about 1818 or 1819, and that he was a Reverend. We also know that Charles’s father Samuel Smith was a Methodist minister (and also born in England). I mention it now because I suspect this may have fanned the flames of the family feud. When Josiah wrote about this country, he may have been comparing Michigan to England vs. comparing Michigan to another part of the US.

4. Josiah wrote in this letter that Ironwood was soon to become a city. A search in the history of Ironwood corroborates his account; the year was 1889.

5. I’d been wondering about the family members of Ida and Lewis, if the names Josiah mentioned were part of Ida’s family. The chart tells me this and more. The children of Ida and Lew were: Charles, Myron, Anna, Louis, Daisy, Faith, and Warren. Ida’s baby was Faith Merel Fay Seeber.

April 2016_tree chart_family of Ida Smith and Lewis Seeber_7 children total

6. Josiah asked his father for some strawberry plants, if he could spare some. This indicates Charles and Maria live fairly close by, “so please send me a few.” It suggests that by this year, Charles and Maria lived in the U.S.

7. Gardening took real planning, and spaces were limited and often not overly suitable. Because part of the land was always wet, “the lower part of my lot is always wet    no dry weather ever dries it up,” food planning must have been a significant challenge. They used a cellar.

8. While we do know the death year for Helen (1902), it appears she dealt with significant health issues as well “she can’t eat a meal but what she has pains in her stomach.” The family would move fairly soon since her death took place in Minneapolis, three years after Josiah wrote this letter. I do not know the reason the family moved.

9. It sounds like food trading was common, that they had a system similar to our current Costco where we “can save most half on most stuff on the prices we pay here and we get things by the quantity.”

10. I wasn’t sure what I was reading until I searched for matches. It wasn’t Ashkosk as Josiah’s letter reads, it was Oshkosh. Turns out, the plant was in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. At the trading place, they sold for “a cent a box    here they ask us 5 c for 2 boxes.They were mindful of prices, watched sales, and bought in quantity–down to the last match.

April 2016_photo of 1880-Oshkosh-matches


Next: Letter #3–Ironwood City, a seven week old baby, and mincemeat.

Letter #1: January 27, 1889


Some of you are familiar with my series about my great grandma, Orah Myrtle Butterfield (the link takes you to the first entry titled Cherry Season). I stared a series about her for several reasons. At first it was to preserve our family history, but also because her letters were shocking. Hundreds of letters, that is. Orah wrote and wrote, often more than once a day. Frankly, she was not kind, hence the series name The Malevolent Matriarch.

Orah and grandson, Rodney

I recall dad talking about her on many occasions, but it wasn’t until many years after he passed–and after I found and began to read Orah’s letters–that I started  to appreciate dad’s words.

That’s dad at right with Orah, his “grammy,” in about 1944. Dad was 15.

In the process of writing about and piecing together my father’s childhood–with “help” from the malevolent one–I started thinking more about Orah and her background. She was a piece of work, and my questions began to outnumber the answers.

Then, both the unthinkable and the fabulous occurred: we found more letters. Unbelievably, they are 127 years old, and written by none other than Orah’s father and mother, Josiah and Helen Smith. The recipients? Orah’s grandfather, Charles Smith and his wife, Maria Pollyann Smith, my great, great, great grandparents.

While I do not have photos of Charles and Maria, I start below with photos of Alfred and Helen*, followed by Orah and her daughter, Lalla. At bottom is my father with his two daughters.

Not only do we have letters written about my father’s childhood, we have letters about his grandmother’s childhood. My head began to spin.

There are 14 letters in this “new” collection, ranging from January of 1889 to mid 1892. I decided that rather than “ooh” and “ah” and put them away, I’d best share.

While I will continue with The Malevolent Matriarch–I will not abandon our “grammy”–I will first back up a step and try to plug in a few more pieces of the puzzle.

I’ve typed Josiah’s letters as he wrote them, but I’ve left spaces between ideas to help the reader follow along. There are many run-on sentences.

At the time of this writing, Orah was 13, and her brothers Charley and Forrest were 7 and 5, respectively. I’ve highlighted in red interesting or new pieces of our puzzle. They are discussed below, following the letter.

“answered Jan  31/89

Ironwood, Mich

Jan 27 1889

Dear Father and Mother,

I have been intending to write you for some time but I havt got any excuses to make only I am careless about it   I write so little that it is hard for me to set about it   this is the first letter I have written this year    Well we are all as well as usual and able to eat all we can get to eat.  We are having a nice winter here    snow here has not been over about 2 feet deep at the most and I don’t think it has been over 15 below zero here this winter    there is one thing peculiar here about the cold weather   it can be below zero and it…

…can work outdoors at my work and not feel it as much as I used to 15 down there.   I have been at work at my trade all winter so far with the exceptance of a few days   I am building a house now out on Sec 33 in Wis for a mining captain by the name of Webb(1) and expect  to build another for his son in law as soon as we complete this which we will do this week   the house we are at work on is 20 X 26 with a lean to 12 X 18  16 foot posts   I built one almost like it here in Ironwood for a lawyer here by the name of Basseth(2) only that was larger   it was 26 X 28 with a lean to 30 X 14  the main part    we put a square roof on the main building    I am working with one of my neighbors by the name of Monroe   an old man but a good carpenter and I don’t…

…claim to take a back seat to any thing around here   Charley is talking to me half the time   he says tell grandpa and grandma he is coming down when he is ten years old   he has been to school part of the time this winter and he learns very fast    Forest grows very fast and he and Charley can repeat a dozen or more pieces out of Orah reader   She is about as tall as Helen and she wears larger shoes than her mother   She has gone to Hurley today over to Idas   Ida(3) is miserable   had to have the doctor 3 or 4 times this last week   Lew still works at the mines in H.(3)  I go away from home on Monday morning and don’t get back till….

…Saturday night   Helen tends to every thing and does better I guess than I do when I am at home    no one could do better   Her father was with us all the fore part of the winter but he has gone to Dacota now and I don’t suppose he will ever be out here again     they have always been discontented since they sold out at Pine River(4)   The children have got some scrap books we got them on Christmas and they wanted me to ask grandpa if he old catalogues with colord pictures of flowers or vegetables    they would like it if he would send them some   (above and to the side: vegetables more especially for they want a vegetable page)   Well I must close with love to you both for it is bed time     Helen joins me in this hoping to hear from you sometime   I know we don’t deserve an answer immediately.   Your son and daughter   Josiah and Helen

This is a very welcome find and a fascinating read. It adds to my confusion by raising more questions, but it answers others. If nothing, it gives me a sense of time and place.

  1. I am building a house now out on Sec 33 in Wis for a mining captain by the name of Webb(1) This is fascinating. I may not be able to find the actual home Alfred built, but I found a listing for the mining captain S H Webb in the Hurley directory:

March 2016_1888 directory transcribed_Hurley Wisc_mining capt S H Webb


       2. I built one almost like it here in Ironwood for a lawyer here by the name of Basseth(2)

From the 1888 Ironwood classified business directory:

Bassett, J A … Suffolk st
Hammond, A A … Suffolk st
Hanscom, C A … Suffolk st
Jones, C W … Suffolk st
Monroe, Jas S … Suffolk st

And, from the 1892 directory:

Basset, I A … lawyer, office over Bank of Ironwood,

res w s Mansfield between E Aurora & E Vaughn




The X on the map shows roughly where my great great grandfather lived, and the W shows the neighborhood on Mansfield where he built lawyer Bassett’s home. The photo shows Aurora Street three years earlier, in 1886.

From Alfred’s description of the size of the homes, and what I found using Google Earth, one of these may very well be a home my ancestor built. Notice the narrow size that correspond with Alfred’s notes: “it was 26 X 28 with a lean to 30 X 14.”

The homes below are on the west side of Mansfield (and between Aurora and Vaughn). Note from the listing that Bassett’s home was on the west side. Not sure about you, but this gives me the chills (and I can’t stop smiling).

March 2016_E Mansfield St Ironwood MI_street where Josiah built house for lawyer J A Bassett_Untitled

3. Ida(3) is miserable   had to have the doctor 3 or 4 times this last week   Lew still works at the mines in H.(3)

It wasn’t until I found Alfred’s parents in computer data bases did I realize the size of the Smith family. Alfred’s siblings in order of birth were: Henry, Alfred, Albert, Alice, Ida, Mary, Sylvia, Sarah, Nellie, and Annie.

Ida must be Alfred’s sister, and Lew her husband. I was able to verify that Ida married a Louis Edwin Seeber (and later a John Humphrey). H must refer to Hurley, Wisconsin, just across the state line from Michigan.

4. Her father was with us all the fore part of the winter but he has gone to Dacota now and I don’t suppose he will ever be out here again     they have always been discontented since they sold out at Pine River(4)

Sadly, this is THE branch of the family with the least amount of information. I have come to a screeching halt with Helen–Orah’s mother–and Helen’s parents. Alfred’s letter provides several pieces of information, however. That Helen’s father stayed with them indicates maybe by 1889, Helen’s mother had passed away. It also tells me if I learn the names of her parents, I may be able to search the Dakotas and Pine River, Wisconsin (where Alfred and  Helen were married). The discontent about selling out in Pine River may also fill in a few questions. They indicates more than one person sold out; but if her father visited for a few months alone, this begs another question.

 Next: Letter #2–Proximity to the “Nora” and Ashland mines, and the price of Oshkosh matches (and more).

 *One of our many unsolved mysteries is why this photo was labelled by my grandmother as “Charley, my grandma Smith, my mother’s mother” when we know Orah’s mother was Helen. More on this later.