I have learned the lesson in family history research that sometimes you find out about people in the unlikeliest of places – like postcards. A postcard appeared among the ephemera passed down from my great-grandmother (Cornelia May Flansburg Nelson). The front contains a photograph (seen at the top of this post) of a brick building noted in handwriting as Chase’s Store in West Henrietta, New York. This twentieth century landmark sat across the street from Gramma Nelson’s house. The opposite side, with pre-printed notations for the divided back, has faded curly-Q handwriting, a one cent postage stamp, and an impression indicating the postcard went through the West Henrietta, NY, post office the morning of Nov 30, 1907. The postcard was mailed to Miss Lucy Flansburg at Monroe County Hospital in Rochester, NY. Lucy is my great, great-grandaunt, sister to my direct ancestor, Charles Flansburg (Cornelia’s father). Lucy worked as a house matron or nurse of sorts within the county hospital and outlying wards of Rochester. Historically interesting? Yes, but who was the postcard from?
I found the correspondence difficult to read as the ink had faded over the years. With the help of intense lighting, a magnifying glass and tempered patience, I finally distinguished the following (recognizing the lack of punctuation makes reading this a bit challenging):
11.30.07. My Dear Daughter. I will come home tomorrow. If Charlie had come to the city this morning I was coming with him but he is not coming so will come in the morning. With love from your Mother.
Whoa, wait. If this was from Lucy’s mother, then this is also from Charles’ mother – my great, great, great-grandmother, Chloe Almira Hovey Flansburg. The message makes sense. Chloe, by then a widow, would have lived with Lucy in the “big city” of Rochester where Lucy worked. Chloe was visiting her son Charles and his family in West Henrietta, a quick 20 minute drive with today’s car, but a much longer journey in their horse and buggy. Obviously something waylaid Charles so that he was unable to bring his mother home that day from her travels. Chloe used a postcard to send Lucy a simple “text”: see you tomorrow.
The postcard is the only personal item I have of Chloe’s – and outside of a well-documented family history for the Flansburg line, it is the only evidence that she even existed. This postcard is equally important in helping to build the story around my ancestor. Evidently she was a literate woman who remained close to her children well into her later life as she died the following year in 1908. She came from a long line of early Americans; in fact, further research will likely confirm that her grandfather from Massachusetts fought in the American Revolution. Like many others, she used a postcard to send a simple communique – and unintentionally left a precious genealogical souvenir along the way.
Interestingly, postcards didn’t start out as mere souvenirs. They were first developed in England in the 1840s as a way for people to send quick messages: postcards served as early forms of texting. Government issued postcards became popular in the United States in the late 1800s, and over the next several years, private companies received authorization to produce postcards requiring a one cent stamp. Eventually, the front of the postcard became more decorative while the backside was divided for message space on the left and the recipient’s address to the right. According to the Smithsonian Institute, the divided back period (1907-1915) became known as the “Golden Age of Postcards” due to their vast popularity during this time. The postcard craze was known to be particularly popular among rural and small-town women in northern US. Who knew?
The following was written by Melanie Nelson about her ancestors who lived in Henrietta. She is the 5th great-granddaughter of Henry Chapman, builder of the first hotel in the West Hamlet of Henrietta.