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November 4, 2012

GENEALOGY: Postcards are more than just pretty pictures

TERRE HAUTE — I recently came upon a collection of old picture postcards, possibly saved more for the pictures on the front than the messages on the back. But being a genealogist, I immediately wanted to discover clues about the family who wrote and received these cards.

First I determined that the cards were sent between 1903 and 1922, with the majority being dated 1908 through 1913. This grouping would provide an intimate snapshot of a family during several years of their lives. I read the cards and noted that most of the messages were between young children and their parents; the children saying they were having fun, were coming home soon, and missed their Papa or Mommie. All of these cards were postmarked Dana, Indiana, and mailed to the same parents at several different addresses in Terre Haute. A few more cards were mailed from Dana by other people and addressed to the parents or children back in Terre Haute.

I established a timeline for the addresses. From 1903 to the summer of 1909 the family lived at 729 N. 4th St. By September of 1909 they had moved down the block to 735 N. 4th St., and lived there until the summer of 1911. By August 1911 they were living at 908 N. 4th St., and lived there until 1913 and maybe beyond that date because this trail of postcards ended in 1913. A couple of later cards, dated 1922, showed the family, or part of it, lived in the 600 block of Elm Street. I concluded that this family rented rather than owned a home, at least during this period of time. For further research, a genealogist could go to the Terre Haute City Directories to trace the family’s movement from home to home.

The next step I took was to make a list of people writing the cards or mentioned on the cards. I got the names of five children: Margaret/Maggie, Mary, Edward/Ed, Lawrence/Larry, and Jesse (once referred to as Little Teddy). The parents were usually listed as Mr. L.J. (sometimes Lawrence) Monaghan and Mrs. L.J. Monaghan, but one card addressed to the Mrs. called her “Aunt Sally,” so now I had her first name. Following up on the census revealed that these people started out living in Dana and then later moved to Terre Haute.

There might have been something wrong with the child Edward because in one card he refers to his “brace.” (This makes sense because I learned from a relative of this family that he had contracted polio as a child.)

Four of the cards were addressed to people named Peer from Dana. One card addressed to Mrs. J.L. Peer from one of the children who called her “grandma.” Another was addressed to Mrs. Keziah Peer, so now I had her first name. The census revealed a Jesse Peer in Dana with a wife of that name. These were Sally’s parents. I collected other names of people in Dana, such as “Nell,” who didn’t sign their last names, but my working hypothesis is that they were cousins. It appears that the five Monaghan children, at least during the years of these postcards, frequently went up to visit their grandparents and other relatives in Dana.

One man, Frank Peer (often signing FOP), seemed to be a brother of Sally and in 1922 had gone to Casper, Wyo., to work for Standard Oil. Another cousin, Myrtle Conn, sent a card postmarked Winfield, Conn.

The final card, a “gold mine” for the genealogist, was from the Department of the Interior and referred to the pension application of Emily Mohnahan, former widow of James Daily, Indiana Co. H, for service in the War with Mexico, 1846-8. That definitely bears further research.

All of this information came from an innocuous pile of picture postcards sent by children missing their parents. Don’t just look at the pretty pictures.

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