Family History from my great grandmother’s pen

Family history - Genealogy research

My great grandmother Mary Ellen Williams (Marshall)

Blogging about transcribing a document in last Saturday’s post reminded me of an essay my great-grandmother wrote. So I dug it out of my pile of papers. I assume she was a student and this was one of her weekly compositions. There wasn’t a date on it but since she was born in 1871 I’d guess it was written in the mid to late 1880s.

As a family history buff some of the contents are eye-popping and I’ll talk about them after you read it.

So here is a transcription of a hand written essay by Mary Ellen Williams


                                                                Rainy Days

For my part, I like rainy days, to be sure, one can’t go away from home and is not very liable to receive visits, yet there are many pleasant things which may be done on a rainy day, while if it were sunshiny, one might never think of them. In the first place, if I can get a good book to read I don’t care how it may storm outside for I am oblivious to all around me. But if I can’t get a book my next greatest pleasure is to go up to the attic and rummage among the old things there. I wish you could see some of the queer and ancient things I find. There is a spinning wheel two hundred years old which I don’t doubt has many a time buzzed in the presence of Washington for great-grandmother Williams knew him well. I’ve tried several times to spin with it and such work as I’ve made!! But it’s fun.

Then there is an old-fashioned bureau in one corner which used to belong to grandma and it is full of her clothes, even to a lovely silver brocade which was her wedding dress. There are other beautiful dresses, too, made up into the fashion of over seventy years ago, and have old laces and even some jewelry. One little drawer is full of love letters and a locket with a picture of a handsome officer in it. I can only view these things from a distance now, but mama says the day I am eighteen the bureau and its contents shall belong to me, and then I shall learn the sad history of those letters, and why grandma died when only twenty two and on the second anniversary of her wedding day.

Family History - Genealogy Research

Victorian Dresser

Something else I like to do is to answer all the letters I owe, and to write my composition for the next week for then that’s off my mind and when the time comes I have it ready without being obliged to hurry through it. Besides I have my scrape book in which to paste all the scrapes I have collected since the last rainy day. If I have any odd sewing to do or a piece of fancywork to finish I take this time to do it in, then when the sunshine comes again my mind being free I can enjoy it without thinking of tasks undone at home.

Then it is often real fun to sit at the window and watch the passersby seeing them hurry along under their umbrellas trying to get as little as possible. Once in a driving storm I saw two men speeding along in opposite directions with their umbrella pull down so tight over their heads that it was impossible to see where they were going as might be expected they collided and each umbrella got a hole punch through it. It made me laugh to see how mad those two men looked, though I was sorry their umbrellas were spoiled. I think too a rainy day is a good time to practice up your neglected music or to try your skill at painting if you are fond of it. Oh there are so many pleasant ways for passing your time that the day is fairly over before you know it. There is no need of complaining about what can’t be helped and indeed; I often wish there were more rainy days than there are.


Wow! As you just read I’ve got love, heartbreak, romance and George Washington in my family history! That is if what Mary Ellen wrote is true! So I took a closer look at her essay.

Mary Ellen’s great-grandmother Williams was born Sarah James in 1768 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She married Abel Williams, a Revolutionary War veteran in 1788. It is possible her great-grandmother Williams knew Washington well? Now the probability is remote but it is possible. Right?

“Then there is an old fashioned bureau, full of clothes, even a wedding dress”. I have a Victorian dresser that has come down through this family line. As you can see in the photo it has a couple great little drawers for love letters and a locket! Yet I’ll bet my dresser (then with a mirror) was in her parents bedroom while Mary Ellen was writing this composition.

As for “grandma died when only twenty two and on the second anniversary of her wedding day”, well that’s just not true in my family history. Mary Ellen’s Grandma Williams was married 20 years and died when she was 40 years old. Her Grandma Holmes was married 62 years and died at the age of 88!!

So I guess I’ll just look at this essay as Mary Ellen’s “composition for the next week”, but I’m still keeping the hope alive that my 4x great grandmother knew George Washington so well she didn’t feel the need to get up from her spinning wheel to greet him!

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9 thoughts on “Family History from my great grandmother’s pen

  1. mmmhhh… what a fascinating story, especially the matter of her grandmother Williams dying at the age of 22. (?) What a treasure trove of memorabilia Mary Ellen had to fossick through and her talk of a “scrape book” made me wonder if it is like the “scrap books” I filled with “scraps” as a child? Thanks for a great story.

  2. Your great-grandmother wrote very well, and had a lively and optimistic spirit. She was born at about the same date as my grandmother (born in 1872). What I notice the most is how much she likes to rummage “among the old things” in the attic. Aha, she had that genealogical fervor — which you obviously have inherited. : )) Do you really have her same Victorian dresser? That’s astounding. It must be really well made.

    • Thanks Steph for stopping by and commenting. I forgot about this essay until I was going through some papers. I agree it is a treasure! Makes me wonder if anything I have/write right now may become a treasure to one of my descendants! Funny thought isn’t it! :-)

  3. What a wonderful essay! How blessed you are to have it! Looks like the joy of “old things” runs in the family! Thank you for sharing. It makes me wonder how my ancestors spent their rainy days.

    • Cheri ~ Thank you for your comment! I am blessed to have this essay and some other family heirlooms! Sometimes I forget that! I’m more concerned about what I don’t have than being thankful for what I do have! A thought I need to remember! :-) Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Pingback: Mary Ellen Williams Marshall is the Culprit! #52Ancestors | Genealogy Circle – Genealogy Family History Research Civil War

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