Sepia Saturday – Puzzling Penmanship

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs.

Today’s prompt suggests men and youths, sports, hats, men in shorts and socks or men in suits, and politics. The photo is of Irish Revolutionary Leader, Michael Collins, at the Senior Hurling Championship match against Dublin on September 12, 1921. He’s talking to the Kilkenny hurlers at Croke Park in Dublin.

I have selected a photograph with a man in a hat, youths, and a building in the background.

Thomas F. and Sarah Hoskins Home

The building is the home of the Thomas Franklin Hoskins family. The perspective makes the people seem small and what was surely a small house seem large. That’s Tom (in the hat) with three of his children. My grandfather, Thomas Hoskins, is on the right. On the far left is Ethel and the girl in the middle is Edna. They lived in Mystic, Iowa.

Sarah Stokes

You may remember Sarah Stokes from my post last week. That 11th child she gave birth to (Sarah Elizabeth Bryan), grew up and married Thomas Franklin Hoskins. Pictured here are three of Sarah Stokes’ grandchildren and son-in-law. 

Too bad the two Sarahs aren’t in the picture!


But it is the undecipherable handwriting on the side of the prompt picture that led me to choose my photograph today. This is what’s on the back of my photograph:

Believe me when I say it took me a while to decipher this. Here is my solution to this puzzle:

April 2 1913

Well I got hear all to Ottumwa I sayed with Rance last night I found him lots
better he looks bad the Ottumwa doctor said he had got passaned some how he give him medicine that helped him write away well i got home to day the rest of the folks wa all write with love sis Hoskins

Then the postcard was turned upside down and reads:
This is our house an tom an tommy an Edna an Ethel 

The postcard is addressed to
Frank Storms
IO  (Iowa)
route 3 

Thank goodness for the legible printing along the side to identify the people in the photograph!

Frank Storms was the nephew of Sarah E. and Thomas F. Hoskins. Frank’s mother, Joanna (Ann) Hoskins Storms, was living with him in Montrose. Lewis Storms, Ann’s husband, was deceased at the time. Although Sarah didn’t sign her name, she is the obvious author.

It seems that Sarah and Tom’s older son, Rance, had been sick and Sarah had gone to Ottumwa (Iowa) to stay with him. The doctor thought Rance had been poisoned. (Food poisoning?)  Although Rance did not look well, the medicine worked and Rance was feeling better.

Google maps estimates the trip from Mystic to Ottumwa takes an hour by car today. I don’t know Sarah’s mode of transportation or how long it took her to get to her destination. I wonder if she took a train?

Here’s a portion of Galbraith’s railway mail service map of Iowa from 1897 so that we can imagine Sarah’s route from Mystic, in Appanoose County, northeast to Ottumwa, in Wapello County.

I love this map! The illustrator had quite a sense of humor. For the full version, look here.

“One of eight large-scale pictorial maps of midwestern states showing routes and post offices of the Railway Mail Service. Designed by Chicago railway mail clerk Frank H. Galbraith to help employees of the Railway Mail Service quickly locate counties and post offices. The maps were rented for practicing or prospective workers who numbered over 6,000 and traveled over a million miles a year on the rails sorting mail. A printed title cartouche accompanied by a list of counties for each of the states by McEwen Map Company of Chicago is pasted on the maps.”

Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division; Reference: LC Railroad maps, 220

Now hurl yourself on over to the Sepia Saturday blog and see what others have puzzled together this week.


25 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday – Puzzling Penmanship

  1. Even on a picture such as the first above, the photographer managed to cut of all the feet. But apart from that, it is a nice, well focused photo. And I believe you when you said the deciphering took you “a while”. But it is beautiful handwriting in its own right!

    • The perspective makes it seem as though the house sits on a hill with the photographer below. He (or she) must have wanted the whole house in the picture but wasn’t concerned with feet, I guess.

  2. It’s amazing to me that when you first look at the handwriting, you can’t figure out much — but if you read it phonetically, it all makes perfect sense! And it’s a fabulous photo!

    • Yes, once you get past the spelling and grammar it all makes sense. I imagine she didn’t have many years of schooling. My grandfather would have been about 15 in this picture and was probably already working in the coal mine.

    • It took me a little thinking to get to poisoned. You are good to get it right off the bat! I was touched by her signature. Once you married into a family, you became a brother or a sister to your spouses siblings.

  3. Sometimes not knowing the real story behind these people, but the thinking about them is just so interesting. Very cool post, thanks!

    • Thanks, Karen. That is one of the fun things about Sepia Saturday… looking into pictures and the lives of people we don’t know and creating or learning a story.

  4. It looks like the house was just settled down after a tornado. Don’t you love those scraps of handwriting that give you a peek into the lives of people. The map is just great.

    • I know what you mean. It looks like it’s just sitting on a high piece of barren ground. When I first saw this picture I thought the house looked maybe old or run-down. But as I was working on this, it appeared to me that the wood looks pretty fresh and not very weathered. Perhaps it was recently completed and that’s why it looks a bit barren around it.

  5. I’m sure that wasn’t a fine house, but it’s a very interesting house, quite different from homes built in the Tidewater area of Virginia about the same time. I’m glad you transcribed the back of the photo. I think we get a sense of people’s accents through their attempts to spell what they hear.

  6. Wonderful picture, and you did well with the deciphering. Sadly I couldn’t open the link to the map but the tantalising glimpse I had showed that the cartographer was something of a cartoonist.

    • I don’t know why the link won’t work. I guess it’s temporary…. I found it and then clicked on Transportation and Communication, the Railroad Maps, then Geographic Location, then Iowa on the map, then 1897;1898. Whew! I was trying to save you all that trouble! It is a delightful map. Too bad. Thanks for your comments!

  7. That’s an interesting map. I see all kind of places I’d never heard from before, like Brazil and Floris. Floris is the name of a medieval Dutch knight (played by Rutger Hauer in a 1960s tv adaptation) so that’s a peculiar name for a settlement.

    • I hadn’t noticed the village of Floris before and was unaware of the background. There were immigrants from many countries in the area – farmers at first and then the coal mines opened and flourished for a time.

  8. That really is a cool map! And the photo is quite the treasure too. I can see what’s looks like a tree stump in the photo to the left. I wonder what the occasion was for taking the photograph.

    • I noticed something on the left and I think you are right about it being a tree stump. I wonder why the picture was taken too. I don’t know much about photography at the time, so I don’t know if an itinerant photographer happened by that day or if there was an occasion they were marking.

  9. I always find it fascinating to read old letters where phonetic spelling is used. If you think about the level of education most people had I’d say, even considering the handwriting, they were doing pretty good.

  10. I’m coming late to the party this week, but I have to say, I think “passaned” must be “poisoned”. It’s always a challenge (but fun) to try and decipher an ancestor’s handwriting, isn’t it?

    • Yes, Kat – I think poisoned is what she meant. Don’t know how he was poisoned, though. Maybe a bad case of food poisoning? Always a mystery….

    • Sorry about the link. It seems that it only lasts temporarily. In a previous reply I gave a rundown of how I got there – should you be interested…. Nice to hear you’ve taken a liking to my 2nd great grandmother, Ticklebear!

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