This letter is perhaps the strangest letter in my collection. So strange, in fact, that I thought about ignoring it as some sort of prank. But now I’m beginning to think it might be the most significant letter that I have!
As background, the letter is addressed to “Uncle Ed”. Also mentioned is “Aunt Maggie”. So I presume the letter is written to Edward Frasier, my great-great-grandfather (as are most of the other letters in this collection). In December 1893, Edward is living near Ashland with his wife Ida and three children: Chester, Roscoe (my great-grandfather) and Nellie. Edward has two sisters, Maggie (Margarette) and Ella who also live in Nebraska.
The letter is sent from a 12-year-old girl, Mabel Miller, living in Bangor, Wisconsin (near La Crosse).
Dec 21st 1893
Dear Uncle Ede,
I will write a few lines to you. I suppose you wander who I am. I am you[r] brother’s John’s child and I am 12 years old.
We are going to have a Christmas tree here in the church. Aunt Maggie was here 2 days.
Uncle will you please give me $2.75 for a pair of fine shoes for Christmas. Pa won’t get get me any fine shoes. I have got to skat to the Christmas tree. If you send me any money please say in your letter that I will send $2.75 for you for Christmas. I will send your little girl a present next time I write. Please answere as soon as you read it because I want the shoes for next Monday night. When I come out there I will get your something to pay it back. Send it on time so it will be here on the one o’clock train. Now be sure to send it.
From your neice Mabel Miller
[in the margin:]
I will send my love to all. Please send it so it will be here on the one o’clock train Monday the 25.
Good by from Your niece
[on separate scrap of paper:]
Will you send it as a present?
Lizzie my sister started to write you address on this and you happened to make a mistake. I did not have any other so I ruled it out and tooked it from Mabel
Right off the bat something is weird – Edward does not have a brother John and if he did, his last name would be “Frasier” not “Miller”. What about Ida? Well, Ida has two sisters, but neither of them married a Miller. Further, Ida’s family comes from Indiana and doesn’t have any known connection to Wisconsin. Edward, of course, was born and raised in Wisconsin.
The letter seems very forward – bold, even. She says “I have got to skat[e] to the Christmas tree” – so maybe she is just desperate to get the right kind of shoes for attaching ice skates? I would guess the letter has been written behind her parents’ back and her sister Lizzie seems to be a co-conspirator. The note on the paper scrap hints that they had trouble getting the address right. I don’t know how fast the mail moved in those days, but it seems problematic to think that a letter written on December 21st would result in shoes arriving on the 25th – the kind of thing a 12-year-old might not understand.
Here’s where it gets really weird, though. I was looking at the 1850 census records for Edward’s mother Ann Campbell. In 1850 she is living with her parents in Buffalo Township in Marquette County, Wisconsin:
In addition to Duncan and Elizabeth Campbell, we have Ann herself, a brother James, a sister Margaret, another brother Josiah, and a two-year-old named John Miller.
Fast forward 10 years. Ann is still living in Buffalo Township but now she is married to Andrew Frasier and they have two children Edward and Margarette. Also living with them is an 11-year-old John Miller.
So I am concluding that Edward was indeed raised with a boy named John Miller. Was John really his brother, or were they just raised together? Why was John living with Ann’s parents first, and then apparently moving with Ann into Andrew Frasier’s household. Was John a child from a previous relationship or marriage? Or an orphan that the family took in? I will have to do some digging to see what kind of court records might be available back in Wisconsin, but I have my doubts that we we will be able to sort this out.
I did a little bit of snooping in the census records, looking for a MIller family in Bangor, Wisconsin. In 1880, I find a John Miller (age 32 – that would be about right) marred to wife Anna with a daughter Elizabeth (Lizzie?) and a son Henry. His occupation is “Gardener” and his birthplace is Wisconsin, both parents from Scotland.
In the 1900 census, I find Anna Miller (no John) with five daughters: Lizzie, Mable, Ella, Ada and Maud.
In the Frasier family photo collection we have an undated picture of the “Miller girls – Wiconsin”. The photo is of a mother with five daughters. They match no previously known relative in our family tree.
Continuing our search for John, we find a John Miller is 1910 in Baldwin Township, St. Croix County Wisconsin. His is 61 years old (sounds right) and living with his wife Ann, son Henry and daughter Maud. Then finally he shows up again in 1940 back in Bangor in La Crosse county. The head of the household is Elizabeth (Lizzie again?) living with her father John (now 93 – this is off a bit), a brother Henry and two nephews Ronald and Alvin Miller.
On Ancestry.com, I find a public tree that includes a Mabel Miller (born 1881 in Wisconsin) with parents John and Anna, four sisters (Elizabeth, Ella, Ada and Maud) and two brothers Henry and Charles. I have not yet attempted contact with the owner of the tree.
I would love to know what’s going on here!