Tag Archives: 1940s

A Letter From the Shipyards

Although Henry Joseph Adam was sixty years old when the United States entered World War II, he made the decision to apply his skills as a carpenter more than fifteen hundred miles from home at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon.1 This was one of several emergency shipyards established during wartime that oversaw the construction of numerous Liberty and Victory ships.2


Henry Adam (seated at center) at work, Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1930-40; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015.

Henry ventured to Oregon in 1942, although he was not there continuously; his wife of thirty-seven years, Melanie, remained at their home in Iowa.3 However, we know that Henry was in Portland in June of 1943 when he mailed the following letter:

Dear Mealane
red your letter last night and it seam funey to me to here of so many people dying sent i left. i just got back from supper i was out to cool and here it is quarty to eight so will send you my first check rent i got sick and it leave me purty short you ask me what i am doing well i send you the slip of the copany witch i am with and i is house prog work and i am in side setting up book case and kitchen cabinet and thresh hold and it is a snap so far. and the Boos pick me up right at the door so that make it fine i leave here at half past 7 and we get back about 5.75 and by the time i get to cool it is 6.00. well Mealane i will send you my driver licin so you get me a new one and i wish you would send me the last MWAR so i can go and play cribag with the man that live in the back room that old lady say you aught to be out here now to see the purty flowrs and so many it rain every day a little bit and the night are fine so i guest that about all i think of so good By and good luck
Henry xxxxxxxxxxxxX

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I don’t have the impression that Henry had occasion to write many letters in his lifetime. His spelling errors are numerous, and at times humorous – for one, his wife actually spelled her name Melanie, not Mealane! However, his apparent lack of practice in spelling and grammar is understandable for a hardworking tradesman of the era. After spending his early years in Massachusetts surrounded by so many relatives of French Canadian descent that he had no reason to speak English until he entered school, Henry moved to Iowa where he spent the remainder of his childhood on his father’s homestead. He did not attend school beyond eighth grade, at which point he likely entered the workforce.3 By the time he was thirty, he had settled on carpentry as a profession.4

A carpenter Henry remained until his death. On 28 March 1944, Henry suffered a fatal heart attack in Long Beach, California, where he had been a resident for less than a week.5 He had likely pursued work at the US Naval Dry Docks, later the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, as the United States was still in the throes of World War II. His letter, written less than a year prior to his death, documents this final chapter of his life.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Across Generations: The Power of a Snapshot

If you will be spending the holidays with family this year, consider snapping a few two, three, or even four generation photographs, should you have the opportunity.


Jacqueline (Cuzins) Hedeman, Roselyn (Thoma) Friend Cuzins Chaney Bohringer, and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma, ca. 1938-1947; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Why? This is one of only two photographs that I have of my third great grandmother, Matilda (Hammond) Thoma of Clayton County, Iowa. Matilda was born in 1859, and spent most of her life in the same county. She married and raised five children, four of whom survived to adulthood.1

Matilda is pictured here with her daughter, Roselyn, center, and her granddaughter, Jacqueline, left, who links arms with her mother. The occasion may not have seemed important at the time – only Jacqueline is facing the camera, and Roselyn and Matilda seem to have been caught unaware – but not only is this a rare photograph of Matilda, it’s also the only picture that I have of her with her daughter and granddaughter. This priceless three-generation photograph seems to have been a casual snapshot, likely taken by a family member.

After her husband’s death, Matilda lived with Roselyn in Texas,2 and later with Jacqueline in Wisconsin,3 suggesting that she had a close relationship with both women. This photograph was probably taken at some point after 1940, when Jacqueline would have turned twenty, or perhaps shortly before.4 Both Roselyn and Matilda passed away in 1947, Roselyn at age fifty-four,5 and Matilda at age eighty-eight.6

Seeing Matilda here with her daughter and granddaughter gives a glimpse into what she may have been like as a younger woman. Matilda wears a comfortable pinafore over a striped dress, her white hair fixed in a bun high on her head. Roselyn looks very much like her mother, right down to her nose and ears. She wears a short-sleeved eyelet dress. Jacqueline wears the bright lipstick of the era and a smart buttoned dress. Her sleeves are rolled up; it must have been a warm day. Jacqueline, too, resembles her mother, and, in turn, her grandmother.

I, for one, am very happy that someone just so happened to take this photograph. I’m even happier that this relatively flimsy print managed to survive seventy years. Even a snapshot can become a treasured family photograph.

1 1910 U.S. census, Clayton County, Iowa, population schedule, Guttenberg, enumeration district (ED) 209, sheet 4-B, p. 25 (penned), dwelling 76, family 77, Mathilda Thoma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 397.
2 1930 U.S. census, Harris County, Texas, population schedule, Houston, enumeration district (ED) 209, sheet 5-B, p. 7201 (penned), dwelling 82, family 107, Mathilda Thoma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T626, roll 2349.
3 1940 U.S. census, Grant County, Wisconsin, population schedule, Wyalusing, enumeration district (ED) 22-56, sheet 1-A, p. 7201 (penned), dwelling 82, family 107, Matilda Thomas; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T627, roll 4481.
4 “Iowa, County Births, 1880-1935,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 20 November 2013), Jacquelin Thoma Cuzins, 1920.
5 “Texas, Deaths, 1890-1976,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 20 November 2013), Roselyn Bohringer, 19 May 1947; citing certificate number 19651, State Registrar Office, Austin; FHL microfilm 2218598.
6 Wisconsin State Board of Health, death certificate, Matilda H. Thoma (1947), Vital Records Office, Madison.