Mary fingered the small square of black cloth. The sprig of clover and the river stone had long since disappeared from their envelopes. But Emma had honored A.P.'s request to save his most treasured keepsake. When she moved away from Pennsylvania, she packed a leather trunk with her most precious possessions inside, including the scrap of cloth and the bundle of letters from her brother.

Perhaps the letters were made more precious by the fact that A.P. died at an early age. The last three notes in the shoe box give a few fleeting clues to what became of A.P. after the War. They reveal that Augustus returned to Pennsylvania briefly, then moved to Iowa, where he carried out his plan of becoming a schoolteacher. In one letter, however, A.P. mentioned that his weight had dropped to 135 lbs. and he had been forced to cancel school for a week because of ailing health.

The last letter in the box, dated March of 1869, is a sympathy note, consoling Emma for the loss of her "dear brother." Unfortunately, it remains unclear whether A.P. died from the same illness that plagued him throughout the War or some other unexpected cause.

After her brother's death, Emma apparently struck up a correspondence with one of A.P.'s bachelor-friends named Henry Brink who was a farmer in Clarence, Iowa. Before long Henry had set out for Pennsylvania to ask for Emma's hand in marriage. He brought her back to Iowa, where they settled on his farm and raised four children.

When Emma died, her brother's letters moved from one family member to another, and even came close to being destroyed. Among her mother's papers, Helen discovered another note that reveals how the value of relics can sometimes fade through the years. In 1956, one of Emma's descendants had written to a relative: "I have been looking over some of the old Civil War letters . . . . You said that you did not care for the letters but just the envelopes, but I was talking with a lady that is interested in such things and she said 'by all means' leave the letters in the envelope. . . ."

Fortunately, Mary's relatives heeded this advice, and A.P.'s letters have once again found a treasured spot in her family history. You may have questions about your own family's past. Remember, the next time you're exploring and come across a stack of dusty boxes, a battered trunk, or a bundle of faded letters, take a closer look.

Ask your grandparents about their grandparents. The story of your ancestors could be just a few questions away. . . waiting to be discovered.

Dear Sister Emma | A Principle of Duty | Sickness and Suffering | Please Write Soon
I hope some day to return | Take good care of it...

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Last updated:
October 14, 2003

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