Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Saturday's Sorting

On Saturday while I was meant to be straightening my craft room, I stumbled across a box, still packed from when we moved into this house four years ago.  It was a treasure chest of papers, letters, receipts, bills, and documents saved by Mike's Auntie Lib, after they came into her possession from other family members.  It seems that they'd all saved letters from the writers, and then, when the writers passed away, they would send them to survivors in the family, who handed them down to others in time. 

We are lucky enough to have an unfinished letter from his GrGrandmother, written to her sister,Margaret, on the day her last baby was born, June 16, 1881. That baby was Mike's grandfather, and GrGrandmother Martha, passed away that same afternoon at 5 pm. We have letters from many of the ancestors, some whom I've yet to connect to proper blood lines.  They are wonderful history! They are often difficult to read, the handwriting is often shaky, or small, but they are clues to life in days long before I was born.

On Saturday I sat on the front porch in the shade, while the sun beat down through the humid air, and I went through the stacks of things within that box.  GrGrandfather Thomas, was Martha's husband.  He'd emigrated from Ireland, alone, in 1840 and later, his family joined him. He'd come with little, and worked his way up from stacking firewood on the wharfs in St Louis, to becoming a  a riverboat Captain, with at least eight sidewheelers and multiple barges. Some of the information we had was confirmed by receipts, but as I thumbed through and read the receipts, I discovered new information: boat names, barge names, bills of laden, freight bills, purchases. There was a four-page hand-written contract for the building of a new riverboat in the year 1855. Later, in the same box, I found a two page list of people, Captain, Pilot, crew and roust-abouts, as well as an inventory of all goods aboard when the boat was taken into service of the US Government on Aug 23, 1864, during the Civil War. At least two of GrGrandfather's boats were used to transport troops and supplies up and down the rivers. We even found orders from the Quarter Master, telling him where the boat was to be and when.

There were tax bills which gave us addresses for at least five homes that GrGrandfather owned. I stumbled across a list of the tenants, the rents they paid, the months of the year they were there. I discovered records of employees who worked on the boats, or on the 260 some acres where GrGrandfather grew orchards of apples. The orchard property was across the Illinois River in Missouri, and the farm overlooked the river, from the bluffs.  He'd built a huge T-shaped, two- story farmhouse with front porches on both levels. There were paid bills for materials for the twelve-room home in St.Louis  which he was refurbishing a few years before his death. He changed the gas ceiling lights, repapered and replastered the walls. He had a new kitchen put in, as well as new plumbing and rain gutters. Over the years, he'd been an industrious business man, and become quite an affluent one. 

There were receipts for the tiny white casket, velvet -lined for his 3 month old baby, Maggie, and the charge for the rented buggy.  There was a dentist bill, listing platinum fillings, gold crowns, and other dental work.  There was a receipted bill for a brand new buggy, with a full leather top and rubber sides that rolled up and down which would protect from the weather. I also found a jewelers receipt for a ladies gold watch and chain, $125, which was bought prior to his wedding to Martha in February 1869.  She is wearing the watch in a photo we have of the family.

There is nothing like this box of treasures to give us a true glimpse into a person's life. With every bit of paper, I felt as if I ws getting to know Capt. Thomas L. Mortland in a more intimate way. I think I will organize these things to give me a cohesive look, and perhaps put together a biographical sketch of GrGrandfather and his family members. I wonder what he would think, if he were here.      


  1. The paperwork you have in your posession of your family is Priceless..I'm truely in awwe that they have survived to be handed down..
    Thanks for Sharing

  2. An amazing and awesome collection to be sure. I have the reciept for my Grandfathers new car (1924)and thought I was fortunate. You are blessed indeed.