My Grandmother’s Letters

Pearl Reed (later Cleage) about 1904.

During the past month I have been working on the forty letters I recently found written from 1903 to 1905 by my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage to her friend Homer Jarrett. Homer was a cousin of her sister Minnie’s husband, James Mullins.

After reading through the letters, I transcribed them. It wasn’t always easy because her hand writting seems hurried and is hard to read. There were a few words I couldn’t make out at first but after going back, I have figured out most of them.

Next, I looked in newspapers of the day to find out about the temperatures when she said it was hot or cold. I looked for announcements about concerts, church events and people that she mentioned. I googled the books she wrote about.  I looked for how much money a black laboring man made during those years. It wasn’t much. I’ve wondered about their Christmas and Thanksgiving menus.

Now I am trying to reconstruct the house she lived in with her older brothers and mother. I found the house in the Sanborn and Bast Atlas maps. At first I was happy with that, then I wanted to know what the house looked like. For several days I’ve been looking at pictures online of historic houses in Indianapolis, Indiana and at drawings of possible layouts. Now I’m wondering about furniture.

The letters themselves gave me a window into the life my grandmother was living back in the early 1900s. The other information helps me to light up the rooms I’m looking into. Eventually I will be ready to put it all together.

8 thoughts on “My Grandmother’s Letters

  1. Could you potentially go knock on the door of the current owner and explain to them the research you are doing? Maybe they would let you look inside? Or maybe one of the government offices would have more information on the house plans? Like a map of the area where the house was and how much land was owned. Just a thought. I’ve seen some interior house plans on the web for old houses, so you could also look there.

    It sounds like you are doing an awesome job on the research and learning a lot about your grandmother in the process! I’m not sure what your end goal is but I hope you are able to get there! 🙂

    1. Unfortunately, when I was in Indianapolis twelve years ago doing research and driving around looking for all the family homes, the house was now a parking lot. So knocking on the door is out. I have looked at the Sanborn fire maps which shows the footprint of the house – the size relative to the lot, surrounding homes, how many stories etc. And I have looked at historic homes still standing in Indianapolis and then looked on the Sanborn map to find them so that I have both a photograph of the house and the footprint. Now I am trying to match my grandmother’s house with those I have found, and then I will figure that I have a reasonable closeness to what my grandmother’s house looked like. Yesterday I spent looking at house layouts for houses similar to hers. I will post what I come up with as soon as I make some decisions.

      Thank you for your suggestions.

  2. So fascinating. I have my grandmother’s letters to my aunt, written after she moved from Jamaica to New York in 1949. My grandmother was a wonderful writer, she had a beautiful and unusual way of turning a phrase.

    1. It gives you a glimpse into a whole different side of them. At least that is what it is doing for me with my grandmother.

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