My grandmother Jeannette was the oldest child in her family and had the majority of the family mementoes and pictures to hold onto. After she died, my grandfather moved in with us and he brought along all the boxes, pictures and envelopes containing all the family history.
I was lucky to have generations of documents at my fingertips.
You can read about our genealogy beginnings here. One afternoon I was going through family files and turned out an unassuming envelope to empty its contents onto the table before me.
The first thing to come from the envelope was a browned scrap of paper. The paper had the most precious poem written on it. I have yet to forget it and have taken the words to heart. The rest of the contents in the envelope were a few pictures, an obituary clipping, and a death certificate for my young first cousin, twice removed, Walter Housman, Jr.
Walter Jr was the only child of Walter and Mary Hallie Housman (nee Gamache), my great-great paternal aunt. This sweet child died at the young age of six from the Spanish flu, or influenza, outbreak that claimed many lives worldwide between 1918 and 1920.
St. Louis, Missouri was battered by several influenza surges. Walter Jr fell victim in Missouri’s third wave.
He developed pneumonia where he was unable to recover.
In the image above, Walter Jr is wearing typical fashion for young boys at the time. He is wearing white collared knickers, blooming short pants, high socks and dress shoes. He looks to be leaning against a faux or folding chair. His unimpressed expression is adorable.
Walter Jr. died in his home just after his sixth birthday. He is shown above wearing a sailor outfit that was popularized after the Royal Navy began using a standard uniform for their crew. This look was trendy in boys’ style in the 1840s after a young Prince of Wales was photographed in navy attire. In the years after it became easy for families to purchase the outfit because it was mass produced and shipped overseas. By the 1910s the sailor suit was popular in St. Louis for boys and girls to wear.
Walter was old enough at the time of his death to be attending school. How heartbroken this family was and how much they loved and missed him was evident.
I won’t pretend to understand what his parents went through after his death.
They were sure he was with God and waiting for them in heaven. I can only hope this brought them some comfort. I took this poem to heart after discovering it and implemented it into my life in the way that I see my children.
How fortunate I am to get to see my children grow.
His life was thwarted by a deadly virus and all that was left behind was in an envelope for safekeeping. His life meant so much more than the two pictures and pieces of paper in an envelope. He filled a place in my heart.
Maybe this poem posted in 1920 on the first anniversary of his death will change your heart a little bit too.
A loving first cousin, twice removed,
Have you ever discovered a family member from contents in an envelope?