Letters found in Alabama home have 19th century Putnam County connection
A woman from Alabama drove more than 500 miles last week to donate boxes of letters from people that have been laid to rest in Forest Hill Cemetery for several decades.
Trish Robart hand-delivered more than a half dozen boxes of old letters, diaries and scrapbooks dating back to the early 1800s to the Putnam County Library Saturday on behalf of the Anniston, Ala., Salvation Army.
Robart and PCPL Head of Local History and Genealogy Anthony Barger met Saturday morning to go through the items for donation. She credited Bert and Cristi Lind, who are in charge at the Salvation Army where she works, for allowing her to go through the documents and ultimately make the donation.
Robart said she came across the old documents while going through an estate sale after Sylicaga, Ala., resident Joyce Albin passed away. She left her entire estate to the Salvation Army after her passing. While sorting through the belongings, Robart noticed some old letters that she wanted to read.
The old letters belonged to the late Richard Albin, Joyce's husband who passed away about 40 years ago. Robart said despite his passing just a year and a half into their marriage, Joyce kept the old documents for decades.
"There were stacks and stacks of letters tied together, but I didn't realize the genealogy aspect of it, and it's basically three generations writing to each other," Robart said.
From what she gathered from the letters, the Albin family was originally from the Putnam County area and moved to Alabama for farming opportunities. The initial connection was made when she found old Greencastle Daily Banner newspapers.
"Felix (Albin) -- the oldest (letter writer) from the Civil War -- he would write on one side and his wife, Joan, would write on the other side to their son. It's neat seeing the different way they would write to their children," Robart said.
She felt a connection with the author of the majority of the letters, Deloss Farrow Albin, son of Felix.
Deloss was born May 30, 1876 and died August 1, 1957, according to a genealogical time line included with the family mementos. He married Ruby "Gertrude" Short in 1910 in Putnam County. Deloss served in the Spanish-American War. A scrapbook from the war was included in the documents.
"I think because we have the most information about him, Deloss is the one I feel the most connected with. I think he struggled with anxiety and maybe depression in a way. There are little hints of it in the letters. I don't think they understood it in the same way we do now. His mother would say, 'You're getting the blues like your father does'," Robart said.
"He would feel sad about things. He was the most interesting because I read letters from when he was young until he was an older man. He spent so much time worrying -- that's what his focus was."
Robart said it amazed her that despite their lives in the 1800s being so different than our lives now, the way they loved each other was the same.
"It's 150 years ago and they feel the same about their kids as I feel about mine," Robart said.
She recalled a letter between Deloss and his son, James, which she said made a huge impact even in her personal life.
"When he (Deloss) becomes an old man, he realizes that it was useless to worry about everything because you can't change it. My favorite thing from him was that he told his son, 'Let it go like it will.' I did all this research on it and I can't find it anywhere so I have given him credit for it," Robart said.
"One of my favorite letters from him, he says to his son, and I'm paraphrasing, he's spent all these years worrying -- about work and life -- and he could have done much more in his life if the worry hadn't held him back. It sounded like his son was worrying in the same way."
The letters ranged from weekly discussions about every day life to sharing of news about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln to the death of family members. One such letter was from Deloss to James about the passing of Gertrude unexpectedly during a visit to Greencastle.
Robart said she found a letter to James saying Gertrude was having a "nervous breakdown" and the next letting was sharing the news that she had passed away. She found Gertrude's obituary, and it said she had died from health complications stemming from a heart attack followed by pneumonia.
"We are so naive. We think that our time and our days are the most important in history, and that's not the case. We think someone never felt that way or someone never went through that," Robart said.
Robart stressed that a lot of thought went into bringing the documents she had been reading for three months to PCPL. The library had offered to pay the expenses to have the documents shipped to Indiana, but she was adamant about bringing the information herself.
"I wanted to drive it up here. This was something I could do for them, and for selfish reasons to see where they lived and the places they were talking about. I can pay my respects," Robart said. "There was a diary I hadn't finish and last night (Friday) I sat in the square here in Greencastle and finished that one."
The oldest dated document among the boxes was a letter from 1816, sealed with wax.
Barger said this donation is the largest to the History and Genealogy Department at PCPL. Going forward, he will be assessing the documents and eventually digitizing the letters and photos. The donation will soon join the other documents in the library that dictate Putnam County history.
"This really adds to the understanding of Putnam County history. This is huge ... Putnam County has more farmers, more just regular people and that's what I'm interested in is the normal people and how they lived their lives. A huge piece of this puzzle has been added," Barger said.
He encourages people to visit the library and look through the old letters to get a feel for the way life used to be.
"It's not like these are the Lincoln's letters ... I want people to touch them, read them and feel it all," Barger stressed.