A unique reference is available for examination at the Franklin County Historical Society - Kittochtinny in Chambersburg. The book is titled My Dear Aunt Martha: A 19th Century American Epic from the Letters of those who lived it .
Many generations of Scots-Irish descendants in both Illinois and Pennsylvania preserved these letters, which have never-before-been published as a set. The author became caretaker of the Illinois collection, and in 2006, the last Pennsylvania caretaker gave her the complementary set of Pennsylvania documents with the directive: "Write the book."
Because the nearly 80 documents require professional preservation for future generations, they are to be deposited in the archives of Western Illinois University (Macomb, Illinois) on September 30, 2011. Without this book as accompaniment, these documents would be little more than brittle correspondence to strangers, from strangers, about strangers. However, a lifelong interest in family and American history, made it possible for this established author/journalist to identify most of the individuals and the circumstances of these letters.
The 456-page content is particularly significant to the people of the Path Valley region of present Franklin County, Pennsylvania.
A lengthy history serves to introduce the families and circumstances of the letters. This history traces the resettlement of these families in America and records their frontier, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 involvements in Franklin County. When new lands opened in the Illinois Territory to veterans of that War of 1812, the Reverend Amos McGinley was hard-pressed to keep up with the demand for letters of transfer. Almost 1/3rd of his flock at the Lower Path Valley Presbyterian Church in Fannettsburg moved on. The earliest letters were exchanged between those who immigrated to Hancock County, Illinois and relatives who remained behind in Pennsylvania. In fact, the title character was Mrs. Martha McConnell Walker (1801-1871) of Fannettsburg. She was wife of Capt. Samuel Walker Junior (1794-1834) and aunt to relatives on both McConnell and Walker sides who planted new roots in Hancock County, Illinois.
The combined collection spans the years 1811-1893, providing unique first-person perspectives upon events in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and throughout the growing nation, that we know only from dry entries in history books. The letters are transcribed in sequence with historical annotations and generous photography. These letter-writers tell their own stories of their times in their own words, and many end with the admonition: "Don't tell anybody!"
One-hundred-forty pages of biographical index follow the letter transcripts. Biographies and source notations are provided for the people who were named in these letters or were associated with their history. Pennsylvania surnames involving biographies include: Abraham, Barr, Blair, Boone (yes, that one), Buchanan, Callihan, Campbell, Craighead, Culbertson, Denny, Duffy, Dunn, Elder, Elliott, Fitzsimmons, Ford, Franklin (yes, that one), Geddes/Geddis/Gettys, Glass Greenland, Huston, Jones, Latherow/Latheraux, Lincoln (yes, that one), MacLay, Marshall, McAllen, McConnell, McCullough, McGinley, McGuire, Menhold, Miller, Montague, Noble, Oakman, Orr, Penn (yes, that one), Ramsery, Sample, Sherrard, Skinner, Spangler/Spengler, Swigert, Thompson, Typer, Walker, Widney, Witherow, Witherspoon, Woods.
Details of My Dear Aunt Martha can be viewed at the author's blog at www.writetotheheart.wordpress.com where inquiries are also welcomed.
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