in 1958, 38 year old Roger Williams, the youngest son of Mary Williams,
asked each of his Jones relatives to write a letter to the family and send
it to him for publication. Thus began the forty-three year old tradition
of the Jones Family Christmas Book. Every Christmas since it has brought
us together to share our year, the good and bad, happy and sad. The book
stands as Roger's testament to, and the love he has for his Welsh family.
His generation was the last to be raised geographically close to his second
and third cousins and through these pages he has given each of us the opportunity
to be just as close - even with family spread out over the world as it
is today. Our book allows annual visits with cousins, aunts and uncles
we would never have known except for these pages.
Something to Look Forward to Other Than the Arrival of Santa
In the Williams
household, the Christmas season was filled with shopping, baking, decorating
and anxiously waiting to see how many "Jones letters" (as they are called)
would arrive. Depending on the outcome, Roger would declare it to be a
success (over 35 letters) or a disappointment (which he was certain would
be corrected the next year). He, with the help of his wife Marie and two
pre-teen daughters, duplicated the letters and compiled them into a book,
which he sent to each person who wrote. It was a family project filled
with love, fun and creativity.
If At First You Don't Succeed
Ye Olde Editor,
as he dubbed himself, was very clever when it came to designing the format
of the book. Dividers were made for each of the eight offspring of John
and Ann to distinguish where each cousin's letter belonged. In the earliest
publishing years the duplication process was very crude. It involved a
jelly-like substance in a metal pan, about 8" x 11". A stencil of the letter
was typed, put face down on the jelly, and then paper was pressed over
it to make a copy. After the first couple of years, Roger realized this
method was just not doing a good job and it took too much time. He was
always looking for ways to improve his methods and eventually bought a
mimeograph machine---now this was progress! It took fluid in the center
drum and had a hand crank that turned out the copies cut on a stencil.
The cranking speed had to be just right or the copy was too light or too
dark. Still, it was much better than the previous method. Inside was a
map of North America with a dot to indicate where each Jones resided. That
first book in 1958 contained a marvelous narrative by 73-year-old Maggie
Closs detailing how John and Ann came from Wales, traveled to Pennsylvania,
and then on to Nebraska making some of the trip in a covered wagon.
Ok, Who Spilled the Glitter on the Carpet?
cover was always a chore because the Williams family was, self admittedly,
artistically challenged. The first cover was a red folder with eight green
metallic stars across the top, one for each family branch, and the name
"Jones" written in glue and covered with green glitter. It was magnificent,
a work of art, and dearly treasured by all who have a copy. Roger would
often haul the cover making supplies all around the country with him while
he traveled and many lonely hours of hotel time were passed making the
covers and dividers for his family labor of love. The Williams daughters
usually began working on the covers in the summer while they were out of
school. By the time publication day arrived the family would be so sick
of making the covers that they would make just enough for everyone else
and keep plain ones for themselves. Roger's youngest daughter, Kim Ellis
remembers "For the 1970 book, we wrote "Jones" in glue and then stuck shiny
twine to the glue. The twine unraveled badly at every cut. It was very
pretty, but maddening. As I look at it, I notice my 1970 book is a plain
cover, so we must have had a big turn out that year!" In 1976, Terry Townsend,
husband of Rob descendant, Gertrude, was asked to design a permanent cover
that is still in use today. His marvelous design using the Welsh flag has
made the job much easier and stands as a wonderful tribute to one of our
most beloved "outlaws."
hand was, and always will be, a challenge. In the earliest years Roger
and his family lived in St. Louis and the "print shop" was in the basement.
They put the letters and dividers in piles that went around and around
the basement from table to couch to table to chair to workbench to saw
to washer to dryer to folding table and around again. Around and around
and around. Even in later years, in different houses, with new family members,
the system remained the same. Roger's granddaughters, now in their 30s,
remember collating from an early age, and even bringing in neighborhood
children to help.
Some New Blood and Ideas
In the late 70s,
Roger, approaching retirement years and longing to spend the winters away
from cold weather turned the editing duties over to his daughter, Kim.
After a few years, his niece, Marilyn Holze took over. Upon Marilyn's sudden
death, Betty Jean Pierson of the Sarah branch stepped into the role. Mark
Townsend, great-grandson of Rob, edited from 1984 until 1986. In 1987,
Roger's eldest grandchild, and the current editor, Stephanie Estwanick,
began her tenure.
Thank you Mr. Gates
have seen modernization and technology applied to the production process.
Letters now are received via fax and email; the method of binding has been
Family Tree Maker software is utilized
to create our family trees and maintain our database; and now we even have
this website. Of course this site could never take the place of our beloved
Jones Book, but it does help us continue to share our lives with each other.
Which was Roger's intention all those many years ago.
The Editor Emeritus Speaks Up
In 1999, at 84 and suffering through an autumn of failing health, Roger dictated his Jones letter to his daughter Kim. She typed his words and sent them in an email to her daughter Stephanie who formatted his text into a letter, printed a hard copy and inserted it into the book. Upon learning that his words had been successfully sent 300+ miles in 6 seconds and subsequently "made" into a letter with a click of a button, rather unimpressed, he said "yeah, that's nice, but you still have to collate 'em!"
And he's right.
Because even with all our modern technologies, and new modes of communication,
the Jones Book is still something that's homemade from scratch, every year
and for the most part, prepared the old fashioned way… just like it began
in 1958. The way it should be.