Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sentimental Sunday: Miss Winifred Stetson, and the Diary of Frank Ricard Brown

In the fall of  1989, shortly after I moved into my current home, my mother's first cousin Winifred Stetson came to visit. She and my mother came up together to spend the afternoon with me.  I had never met Wini before;  all I knew about her was that she had never married and had a successful career teaching at a business school in California.  Little did I know that she would inspire in me a deep desire to know more about my family history that would become a passion for genealogy.

When Wini came to visit that day, she brought with her a copy of a hand-written letter by my great grandmother, MARY ETTA (KENNEDY) BROWN, which had been sent from Unga Island, Alaska, to MARY's sister SARAH ADELINE (KENNEDY) HAWTHORNE in Bodie, California.

Wini also brought with her a large, 1880s era ledger that had been used as diary by my great grandfather FRANK RICARD BROWN when he first went from Bodie, California to Unga Island in 1887.  

Wini was only staying in the area for a few days, but she allowed me to hold on to the diary and the copy of the letter for the weekend so that I could read and enjoy them.  What a thrill!  Unfortunately I was only able to transcribe the first few pages of the diary-- this was long before I had a computer or scanner.  I thought about taking the ledger somewhere to get copies made, but did not want to damage the original binding.  So I didn't. 

I cherished my transcriptions of the letter and the partial transcription of the diary. But then I also began working as an elementary school teacher, and my days became full.  I was preoccupied with the present, not the past. 

Winifred Stetson passed away in Nov 2002.  Shortly afterward, to my complete and utter astonishment, I received a parcel containing the 1880s ledger that was the hand-written diary of my great grandfather FRANK RICARD BROWN.

I made a full transcription of the diary, and after some soul searching, decided to put the diary and  a copy of my transcription on permanent loan to the Alaska State Library in Juneau, in what is now called the Winifred Stetson Collection--in honor of the person who left me such a wonderful gift.

Have a great day!



Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Oh, Betty, I can just imagine how honored (and probably, awe-struck) you must have felt when you received and opend that package! What a beautiful and sentimental post. :) For sure, you were "chosen" by your ancestors to discover and tell their stories.
Thanks for sharing. :)


Lisa Swanson Ellam said...

Wow, what a gift she left you. I love how you honored that gift by donating it to the library in her name. Thanks for sharing!

Ev LeFevre said...

What a WONDERFUL, loving person Wini was. She was my teacher, friend, second mother. I lived in her home for several years and we went on many trips together -- including Unga in 1985 I think it was. Stayed with the miners. I remember thumbing through the journal you referred to and listening while she contemplated what to do with it. She would be proud that you ultimately donated it to the library for all to enjoy. She was a great one for sharing.

Betty said...

Thanks, Ev, for the nice remembrance of Wini. I only wish I had known her better. And thanks to Lisa & Renate for the kind thoughts!