In our extensive collection of family documents, I recently ran across the following letter:
2300 Washington Blvd
[illegible] March 23 - 39
Your dear letter received need not tell you how happy I was to hear from you.
Well dear, I am feeling well, up to date. I am very glad you like your new apartment every thing new makes it very nice with spring coming you will feel like living. It is just beautiful here todae (Temp - 55) it will not be long before everything will be nice and green. I feel much better in the Spring. I guess everyone does.
I am glad Patricia had a nice vacation & Xmass. I sure would like to see her.
Well dear I hope this letter finds you well and Happy. Besure and write I look forward to your letters so much. Love to you Both. I remain
P.S. I forgot to mention Patricia's Picture is just beautifull and I thank you very much for the $1.00.
This is not a terribly curious letter in and of itself. It was written to my great-grandmother, Mildred. Patricia was her daughter, my grandmother. What makes it curious is the circumstances around this family letter.
My maternal grandmother, Patricia, was born in 1921 in Chicago, IL to Warren and Mildred (Scott) Hill. My great-grandfather, Warren Francis Hill, had married Mildred in 1917, just before he left for France to fight in the First World War. When Patricia was seven years old, her father died. Patricia and her mother moved to New Jersey to live with Mildred's unmarried sister, Eva Scott. Subsequently, Mildred moved to Washington, DC, leaving Patricia in the care of her sister, Eva, who ended up raising Patricia to adulthood.
|Warren, Mildred & Pat Hill|
My mother recalls my grandmother telling her that no one ever talked about her father when she was growing up. My grandmother, Patricia, wasn't ever sure why this was. When she and my mother were cleaning out Mildred's papers after Mildred's death, however, my grandmother came across a death certificate for her father. Listed in the cause of death was "chronic myocarditis"with secondary causes "chronic aortitis" and "tabes dorsalis". Tests done included a physical exam, electrocardiogram, positive wasserman, and autopsy. A "positive wasserman" test may mean little to most people now, but then it was readily recognizable as a positive test for syphilis. My grandmother threw out the death certificate, and she and my mother didn't discuss it again. My grandmother died in 1990.
When I decided to go looking for more information on this line of the family, this was about all I had to go on. My first step was to request a copy of Warren's death certificate -- the same one that my grandmother had thrown away many years before. This document, as well as a copy of the marriage certificate, helped to identify Warren's parents as Peter and Johanna (Carmody) Hill, both born in Chicago. From there, I was able to track the family in Chicago, using a variety of records.
I learned that Warren Hill was born in Chicago. He was a "wrecking inspector" at the time of his death. He also worked as a clerk at an ordinance plant, as a salesman, and as a bartender. He lived with his mother and brother above his maternal uncle's saloon for several years as a young man. Prior to that, he had lived with his mother at his grandfather's house.
|Warren & Pat Hill|
Warren enlisted in the army in May of 1917 in Detroit, MI as a private in Co. A, 16th Engineers. When he enlisted, he was 20 and ten twelfths of a year old. He was described as dark haired, with a medium complexion and 5 feet 4 and one half inches tall. He was engaged in the Lya defensive (army troops) in April 1918 and the Meuse Argonne Offensive (army troops) in England and France from April 1917- April 1919. He was honorably discharged in May 1919 and awarded a Bronze Victory button.
Warren had two brothers, Walter (1884-1906) and Arthur P. (1886-1915). Both of Warren's brothers died of tuberculosis. Walter died before marrying or having children. Arthur was married to Sophia Bourgoyne and had at least one child, but I can't determine what happened to the family after Arthur's early death. I was astonished to realize that my grandmother had at least one cousin of whom we know nothing! This individual may even still be living.
Of Warren's parents, I learned that his father, Peter Hill, either died or left the family when Warren was quite young, as he has disappeared by the 1900 census (when Warren was 12). Peter was born in April 1858 in Chicago, IL, likely to Patrick and Ann Hill, and was probably a printer. He and Johanna Carmody were married at the Holy Family Church in Chicago in 1882. Peter was alive in 1888, since he registered to vote in that year (and also fathered Warren), but as mentioned, he has disappeared by 1900. No death records have been located for him, so I am still unsure what happened to him.
Warren's mother, Johanna Carmody Hill, was from an Irish Catholic family and her parents immigrated sometime in the early 1850s. Johanna was born in Chicago, IL on December 29, 1857 to John and Johanna (Heatherman) Carmody. Johanna had several brothers and sisters, and it was above her brother Jeremiah's saloon that her small family lived in 1909.
In the most interesting development, however, I learned that Johanna Carmody Hill was in fact alive until 1943 -- until my grandmother was 22! It was she who had written the letter to Mildred (her daughter-in-law) that we uncovered. And yet it would seem that my grandmother never had contact with her, and that her mother and mother's family discouraged all mention of her father's family (despite the fact that Mildred was obviously still corresponding with Johanna Hill). I'm not even sure if my grandmother was aware that her grandmother was still living.
Johanna Hill died on July 5, 1943 at 2:30 PM from coronary thrombosis due to arterio sclerosis. The death certificate shows that she died at 2358 Sheffield Ave, a Catholic Home for the Aged, in Chicago, IL where she had lived for just over 2 years. Prior to her death, she worked as a housekeeper in a private home She was buried with her sons at Calvary Cemetery in Chicago, IL. Her sister is the only survivor noted in the obituary I found.
|Mildred Scott Hill|
In general, I know that Mildred's family felt that she had made a mistake in marrying Warren Hill. My great-grandmother came from a small farming community in New York State and married Warren at the age of nineteen in her first major foray into the world. He was headed off to war imminently, having enlisted two months prior to the date of their marriage. It was probably a rash decision, and it is unclear if she came to regret the decision later in life. Perhaps this is why Warren and his family were never mentioned by my grandmother's maternal family.
Certainly Mildred's sister, Eva, disapproved of the match from the earliest days. Eva had taken a lead role in raising Mildred after the death of their mother when Mildred was only three years old. She was also the one who raised my grandmother when Mildred moved to Washington, D.C. I recently received correspondence from Eva to her beau, Ross Baker, whose papers can be found at the Cornell Library. Among other letters was the following, written on August 29, 1917 (about a month after the wedding) showing exactly what Eva's feelings about the situation were:
I wonder if you do known how hard it has been to bear -- what I have experienced in the last three weeks.
Mildred has been my special charge since she was three years old -- and, Oh! the torture of the thought of possibly not having fully discharged my duty toward her! Perhaps I couldn't and shouldn't have influenced her -- I don't know. I do know, however, that she is decidedly an individual.
The rest of the family are willing to assume that it is not necessarily a disaster, that she might live happily ever afterwards, and they think that I am unduly pessimistic over the situation -- as usual.
She is home now and apparently happy and my most difficult task is to not make her see the situation in the same light as I do. That certainly would be fatal to her happiness. Of all the possibilities of the present arrangement which have presented themselves to my mind during these nights when I should have been sleeping, you may have some idea. Worst of all the possibility, and it seems to me, the probability of her finally despising the man, since she is young, naturally very impulsive, and her ideas and ideals not fixed.
I have never seen the man, but judging from his photograph, his mother's photograph, and some of his letters which Mildred has shown me I think he can't be very bad. He is somewhat educated, having had two years in college. All the same I can't help hoping that a stray German bullet -- Am I awfully wicked? Am I violating the (?)the commandment? Maybe this is one of the instances where "the female of the species is," or would be, "more deadly than the male." Insane ravings, say you?
Does this seem to have been written by the woman you were with on the last Sunday night? You made me forget for a time. I wish you didn't have to know the one who is writing this letter.
I didn't quite meet your demands for the following week -- but almost.
I leave for the South sometime the first of next week. I think the monotony and grind of school [Eva was a kindergarten teacher] will be a relief just now.
I'm sorry I haven't been able to write you a different kind of letter during the past two weeks. Surely you won't want this for your collection (You see I pretend to believe that there is one). Please don't. How many times have I promised not to write you any more "bad" letters? I promise again.
It does help -- that you should know and possibly care because I care.
This is the end of the letter, and also my story. If you have any additional information on the family, please contact me!
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