This entry will focus on the content of this almost-complete book, and its contribution to my understanding of 20th Century history.

Letters can cover a lot of territory.  Most letters between family members report what's going on in the life of the writer - births and deaths and marriages in the family, travels, small daily items like the price of butter.  Half a century, a century later, these events take on a larger significance than they might have at the time, and a greater interest to the reader, especially if that reader has a kin connection to the writer.

One of the groupings of letters will be the focus of this report - those from the Sturge-Artiss family in Birmingham.  A very early letter to the Ranch was to my father Bob Hinde from his uncle-by-marriage Edward Sturge.  It had been written from a train;  Edward was travelling into Devonshire to look into a matter of a property there.  His comments about the passing scene included the impact the war had had on what he was seeing - World War I, 1915, almost a century ago now.  It is a VERY different matter to read about the war or see movies or documentaries about it, and to read the thoughts of a person who was living it.

This applies also to letters written to the Ranch by Edward Sturge's wife, my grandmother's sister Annie, and their daughter Mary, in the thirties and during World War II.  A different matter indeed.  They lived in Britain's industrial midlands, and their city, Birmingham, was bombed  heavily during the war.  Mary Sturge Artiss described living in the midst of a balloon barrage, and the impact it had on her four children.  One of the balloons was tethered in their garden, brought down each morning to be recharged, and then sent aloft again to forestall low-flying bombers.  She commented that this may have been counterproductive because it meant the bombers had to fly much higher, consequently were much less accurate in targeting factories and munitions plants, instead dropping their bombs on residential areas.  But the children regarded that barrage balloon as their personal airborne dinosaur and gave it an affectionate name.

One of her sons brought home the story from school that he felt left out because most of the other children had pieces of shrapnel to show, or bomb damage to describe;  through the entire war the whole family and their residence were undamaged.  

And then for a time the bombing ceased.  Mary Artiss's letter then said it was because the bombers had all gone to the Russian front.  I had the sense of the sweep of history, with these people, my FAMILY (Mary Artiss would be my first cousin once removed) being in the midst of what I had only read about.

Food was a huge issue. Not long after the war began, the family at Valley Springs Ranch began sending food parcels to the family in Birmingham.  Rationing was severe in England,  and continued for many years after the war.  Canada was food-rich.  Those food parcels - lard, raisins, sugar - were much appreciated.  The restrictions were never mentioned as a complaint, rather, with an air of "We're coping," and joyful descriptions of the culinary delights created by the gifts from across the sea.

Letters  teach history in a way other reading cannot.  Letters have an immediacy, and an ability to capture something of the character of the writer within the context of a time and place.  From my work with the letters of my kin, I thought that if I were ever to write of my life, it would probably be through letters.  Then I recalled that for the first half century of my life I wrote scarcely any letters.  Nor did I keep a diary or a journal.  So my life, if ever it is written of, might have memories but not the  immediacy of letters and journals.

Status of Letters to the Ranch:  Final editing/proofing, although I have said that before and been proven wrong.  I am determined to finish it in 2008.  Copies will go to each branch of cousins and second cousins on my father's side.

I started to write a summary of the process of putting the letters together but instead, I lifted the introduction I wrote for Letters to the Ranch, which appears below.  Something about the process of assembling the book will become 6c.

INTRODUCTION TO "LETTERS TO THE RANCH"

In 1912, my grandparents Joseph and Martha (Patty) Wake Hinde emigrated with their family from Birmingham to Central Saskatchewan, settling east of the village of Borden.   In time, the family formed Valley Springs Ranch, and lived there and worked the Ranch until after many decades the last of the family retired from active ranching.

Following the death of Henry Wake (Harry) Hinde in 1981, his widow Mary Needler Hinde and his sister Elsie Hinde Ingram made the decision to donate the documents, letters and photographs that had accumulated over the years at Valley Springs Ranch, to the Saskatchewan Archives Board.    Subsequently Mary Hinde Crane and Roberta Hinde Rivett, granddaughters of Joseph and Martha Hinde, arranged for copies of much of this material to be made, largely  sent from family members living elsewhere to the family at the Ranch.  From those letters, this volume has been compiled.

The family at Valley Springs Ranch kept in close correspondence with members who had moved away, and with members who had remained in England.  Several sequences of letters have emerged from examination of the Hinde Collection at the Saskatchewan Archives Board.  Letters from Leonard Hinde, the oldest son, and Winifred Hinde Chamness, the second daughter, represent two groupings; these were children of Joseph and Martha who lived at a distance from the Ranch after their marriages.  Letters from others of the immediate family are infrequent as usually their absences from the near environs of the Ranch were of limited duration. Another grouping is the letters from England.  Woven into the letters from England are the very few letters that other members of the Hinde family wrote to each other during their rare absences from Valley Springs Ranch.  All the letters donated to the Saskatchewan Archives Board have been transcribed to form this volume along with a few others kept by Bob and Susie Hinde.

All  the letters from members of the Hinde family and of the Wake family in England and from others, are presented in the order of their date.   Occasionally missing pages or omitted dates require guesses as to the date, but to the extent possible all are in chronological order.

From the available material it appears that letters were exchanged about every two months between the Sturge-Artiss family in England and the Hinde family in Canada.  It is assumed that this began with their separation in 1912 and ended only with the death of Mary Artiss in the 1980s.   Most of the letters which were preserved are from the period of World War II, and even with these the sequence is incomplete.  Many factors may serve to explain these gaps.  The preservation of letters is not a common or consistent practice generally, and it appears to be the case with this family as well.  During the war, many letters clearly were lost in transit.  There is a hint that some might have fallen prey to wartime censorship.  In addition there is indication that letters were shared among family members near or distant, with no expectation of return.

The Hinde Letters present a similar picture, with the added note that many of them make reference to the financial difficulties that were a major reason for the family's emigration, and which followed them to their new life.

The available letters represent a treasure-trove of family history.  It is a very different experience to know of wartime Britain through   the letters of kinfolk during both World Wars and to know it through television documentaries, movies or books.  The Sturge-Artiss letters date from 1914 to 1953. Although it is known that Mary Artiss continued to write to Susanna Hinde well after her husband Bob Hinde's death in 1978, these letters have not been preserved.

The Hinde letters begin in 1910, two years before the family emigrated, and continue until the death of Joseph Hinde in 1955, with one sad missive received following his death. The pre-emigration letter is shown here because of the foundation it provides for later letters relating to Joseph Hinde's financial situation.

The letters which became available through the Saskatchewan Archives Board have been footnoted to provide the reader with as much information as is known about the people named.   Where nothing is known, it is assumed friends were named rather than kin.  In some instances the nature of the connection is clear in the letters, in others it cannot, perhaps, be known now.   In writing footnotes the editor had in mind her grandchildren, and what they might need to understand the content of the letters.

J. Denys Hinde of Cumbria provided the footnotes for the Hinde letters and he also provided much of the information in the Hinde family tree, Appendix I.

In 1958, Mary Hinde (later Crane) visited in England with many of the people mentioned in the letters.  It is her knowledge that makes the connections for the English members of the family, in the footnotes of these letters.

Patty, or Pattie, is Martha Wake Hinde.  Her sister, Annie Wake Sturge, and her niece Mary Sturge Artiss, are the writers of many of the letters.  Martha's husband is Joseph Hinde, and Annie's, Edward Sturge.  Mary's husband is Tom Artiss, and their children are Ruth, Christine, Joseph and David.  Mary was the only child of Annie and Edward Sturge.  Amy Sturge is the sister of Edward Sturge.

Uncle Joe is Joseph Hinde; Robert who signs the early letters is Joseph Hinde's brother. The later Robert is Joseph Hinde's nephew, son of the earlier Robert.

Mary Sadler is Joseph Hinde's sister.    Maria Sadler is her daughter and Joseph's niece.  Elsie Hinde is another niece of Joseph's, daughter of   his brother Robert.

At the time these letters were written, all the writers and most of their kin and friends were members of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers.

Letters from Winifred and Leonard

Winifred left Valley Springs Ranch to live in West Branch, Iowa when she married.  The context of her available letters indicates that she wrote to the Ranch weekly;  if this is so, the vast majority of her letters was not preserved.  Those which remain cluster around the late 1940s and early  1950s.  

Leonard too left the Ranch, first to live in Saskatoon, and later, Ontario.  His available letters begin during  World War II and continue sporadically for a decade, after which several written by his wife Ruth were preserved.

These letters too are woven into the whole  in chronological order.

A few other letters found in the SAB collection are  included.

This will be in two parts; the first will provide background, the second, #6b, later, will describe the project.  

People write letters.  No, modify that:  some people write letters - and these days emails.  Some people save the letters they receive.  If they save the letters long enough, those letters become of great interest to their descendants,  because they capture the daily life of generations past.

My early years were spent at Valley Springs Ranch in the Great Bend Municipality of Saskatchewan, in the elbow of the North Saskatchewan River northwest of Saskatoon.  My father's people - English Quakers who arrived in 1912 - homesteaded there, and in time finding the riverbank and the stony plateau above the river unsuitable for grain-growing, raised cattle instead.  Five Quaker families came to the district in the early years of the last century, and while they were not kin then, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now all connected...

Each of those families, my grandparents' family  included, left close family behind them in England.  During the following fifty years, letters went back and forth regularly between England and Valley Springs Ranch, and also between my grandparents and those of their children who lived at a distance.

Some of those letters were saved at Valley Springs Ranch.  Why some and not others?  Because the letters were passed from hand to hand in the Quaker community, and there did not seem to be the expectation that they would always be returned.  

When the time came for the last of my grandparents' children to retire and leave Valley Springs Ranch, the decision was made to donate the letters, along with photographs, documents, diaries and memorabilia, to the Saskatchewan Archives Board. This was the early 1980s, and at that time no one in the younger generation - MY generation - had expressed an interest in this material, consequently it seemed to my aunts to be a good move to do this.

And a good move it was.  The Hinde Fond of the Saskatchewan Archives Board, now housed in the main SAB location in Regina, is set up to document, preserve and make accessible all archival material. We know this from visiting the SAB Saskatoon, and being required to get a researcher's pass, and they wear white gloves to handle the material...

Several years ago my sister and I started arranging for copies of pictures and paper materials to be copied.  Among these were the letters to the Ranch, and when they finally were given attention, they cried out to be made into a book.  That book, Letters to the Ranch, is close to being ready to print and bind, and it is hoped it will be dated 2008.

Status:  It's on the front burner.  Mary took the draft for final proofreading yesterday. 

This is a tough one.  My generation,  born in the Depression,  learned to define 'family' as what is now called the nuclear family:   father the breadwinner, mother the homemaker and 2.1 children.  In an episode of the Murphy Brown television series (1988 - 1998) a position was taken  that love is what defines families, rather than a rigid pattern intended for procreation.  A couple of decades ago the  Family Law Reform Act of Canada made alterations in the definition of family and its components so as to eliminate ___ in law -  the concepts of common-law marriage  and illegitimacy. More recently same-sex marriages became legal in many Canadian jurisdictions. What some saw in these legal changes as  erosion of family (the nuclear family of course) I saw as legal recognition that there is more than one way to be a family, and more than one way to be a parent.

I am interested in documenting families.   One way to do this is to develop family trees, and  for this I use a computer program.  There are many versions of genealogical software;  I use one appropriately called Brother's Keeper.   Brother's Keeper (or any other such program) allows the user to put together the skeleton of a family - the names, the dates, the relationships.  The bones need to be fleshed out , and that happens with the recording and making accessible of family stories, anecdotes, and  memorabilia and as well formal documents like birth, marriage and death records, census records, church records, cemetery records and a wide range   of other sources.  Since the day I first asked the question, "How many first cousins do I have?"  this is what I have been doing for my family lines and for  those of my husband, so as to provide as much information as possible about their forebears for our descendants.

Defining family becomes important when decisions need to be made about how people outside the old nuclear family concept will be documented.  This became clear to me recently, in reading the obituary of an uncle.  The obituary stated that he had three sons, and indeed he did, but none of them were his sons by birth: one was adopted and the others  fostered.  But for them to be defined as his sons, his FAMILY, in the obituary meant that the old definition was irrelevant.  I co-opted not only the foster sons as my first cousins, but also their spouses, and so I acquired connections to many more families.  MY family is inclusive, not exclusive.  MY family includes anyone who FEELS like family.

This presents a difficulty when it comes to entering some of the people who feel like my family in the Brother's Keeper data base.  What about a friend who feels like a brother?  I would like to include him and his family, but that would mean giving my parents - or my husband's - a son they didn't know they had.  So this friend, as close as any brother, must,  due to the limitations of the software, remain outside my family tree.  

Another  difficulty:  the software doesn't allow for same-sex marriage and insists that married couples be of different genders.  For my beloved cousin who  legally married his partner, I cannot document them as spouses unless I change the gender of one of them.  The world has moved on, and the genealogy software has not kept up.

Googling "Definition of Family" produces remarkable collections of words, several millions of them.  At the top of the first screen, this:  A family is a social unit living together.  This definition doesn't identify the composition of the social unit, but limits itself to stating that the  component parts live together.

My family lives all over the world,  however, so this definition doesn't work for me.  While most of the components of my family are connected to me by blood or marriage, many are neither, and yet they are my family.   Millions of definitions do not alter what I FEEL my family to be.  I may feel greater or less kinship with one member or another, but regardless, they are my family.   I feel as close to a half first cousin once removed as I do to my blood sister, and as close to a fourth cousin as I do to my brothers.

The example of the three sons of my uncle - all of whom I regard as my cousins - places my personal definition  in personal terms:  my family is who I say my family is.

Couple of days ago I had a call from - let's see - a step-first-cousin once removed on the Rempel side of my Mennonite heritage.  We have been communicating by email for some time, sharing a passion for family history but with that passion taking different forms.  Abe Hamm is his name.  Last fall Abe and his brother George took the Mennonite Heritage Cruise  through the Ukraine and visited the villages and locales of their forebears - and indeed the forebears of most of us of Russian Mennonite descent.  Through the winter Abe assembled, narrated, researched, put background music to ten - soon to be eleven - DVDs, each about half an hour long, of his trip. He has generously let us have copies of the disks so we too have gone on that trip, virtually.  Coincidentally, one of my fourth cousins, Walter Giesbrecht, was also on that cruise, so there were pictures of him among the others, just as I remember him from his presentation and later conversation at the Niebuhr Reunion in Abbotsford in 2006.

But that's not MY family history project.  I hadn't thought of it as a family project at all, this one, but now I think it is.  Family Reunions.  The subject came up in Abe's recent phone call, wherein among other things he asked me about my experience in planning family reunions.  He said that he had a feeling he was going to be prevailed upon to plan one for his branch and he wanted some idea of what he might be getting himself into.

Smart move, Abe.

I certainly didn't know what I was getting into when I became involved in reunion planning committees, but I saw the value of reunions, and when crowds of people at one reunion did NOT leap to the head of the line with offers to take on planning the next, I figured since I thought they were worthwhile I should put my money where my mouth was.  I have now attended six reunions and have been involved in planning five of them, so I may be said to have some experience, which I am glad to share with Abe.  Or anyone else.  Just ask me.  I am happy to pass on what I have learned, including samples of documents, to anyone who inquires.  But I won't be participating in any more planning committees.  I am corresponding secretary for the upcoming Rempel cousins reunion in Borden, Saskatchewan in August, and I will be giving a presentation, but that's it.  I intend to devote my family history project time to printed efforts!

Family reunions ARE worthwhile.  I don't suppose I could include all the reasons I believe that is the case if I were to type for another hour. Take it as given, and if you are asked to participate in planning, deliver a presentation, sing a song or just ATTEND - DO IT!

My brother Barry and his family lived for several years on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean.  While there he wrote a great many letters home.  Barry is a natural raconteur and he could make a report on his trip by bicycle to get groceries into an epic journey of great hilarity.  I think the letters he sent to me must have been in the last box I unpacked after we moved to Victoria in 1993, because I didn't find them until about 1999, at which time they jumped out of the box, scolding me for neglect.  They demanded to become a book.

The rest of the family - our mother, brother David and sister Mary were asked for all letters from Reunion which they had saved, and I transcribed them  in date order into the computer, along with the content of Barry's notebook of that period of his life.    After a preliminary round of proofreading, I sent a printout of the draft to Barry for his consideration.

People have many styles of letter-writing (and email posting for that matter) with two major categories of content - the physical landscape and the mental landscape.  In addition, people select two different time frames for the content of their letters.  One time frame will be "What I wrote to you since I last wrote" in other words, catching you up with my life;  the other will be,  "What is going on in my physical environment and my mental landscape NOW, as I write."

Barry's letters included the content of both landscapes, but his time frame was NOT to catch up his addressee with what had been going on since he last wrote to that person, but rather the events and thoughts of TODAY.

In consequence, when he read my transcript of his collected letters, he saw enormous gaps in the overall STORY of his experience on Reunion.  The gaps would not exist if ALL of his letters had been preserved, but many, perhaps half, were sent to friends, hence not included in my transcript.

The transcript was sent to Barry several years before he retired.  He said he needed to write a narrative to fill in the gaps left by the exclusion of the letters to friends, and indeed of the letters to family which did not come into my hands.  But, he said, this task would have to wait until he retired.

Barry retired in 2004, and discovered what many retirees do, which is that he is busier than when he worked.  I'm still waiting.

I TRY to put deadlines on myself, I really do try!  It rarely works.  Yesterday I was entering newly received data into the genealogy program and found in the notes associated with the person I was entering data on that I had said in a cross-reference that a relevant book would be "privately printed in 2005."  It is 2008, and I hope that this book will get done this year.  Heavy sigh.

Sometimes, however, deadlines have more weight, and actually do help.  In less than six weeks' time there is a family reunion (of the grandchildren of Katharina and Jacob Rempel, Katharina being a daughter of Elizabeth Niebuhr of the Aron line) and for that reunion I must have ready copies of the Rempel Cousin Stories.  If I weren't having so much fun with this blog I would probably put in more work on that book.

The idea for the Rempel Cousins Stories came from an earlier book, Rempel Stories, 2002.  And THAT book demanded to be prepared when I found that several of the Rempel aunts and uncles, and indeed Grandmother Katharina herself, had written stories of their lives.  I collected and edited these stories and printed the book in two volumes.  I will write more about it in a later entry.  Meantime, the Rempel COUSINS book is on the boil and demanding to be fully cooked by the end of July.

Assembling stories already written by the cousins is one matter, and extracting stories from cousins who have not yet written is another matter entirely.  For several years I have been reminding my cousins in the twice-yearly letters-to-all about writing stories;  last November I gave them a deadline (April 30, 2008) for inclusion in the edition targeted for the reunion this summer.  The deadline evoked a spate of new stories - thank you, cousins! - but there remain several whose stories will be absent from the book.

At least - absent from THIS edition of the book -   that's the marvel of the computer.  I print up very few copies at a time and bind them myself, so if I want to make changes, it is no big matter to do so and print up more copies.

And why do I want to collect cousin stories?  a) they are interesting and worthwhile in themselves; b) everyone should be encouraged to write of their lives and the prospect of being published in a family book being published may constitute encouragement; and c) when I have found/acquired/been given stories written by older generations I have been moved, enthralled, in awe, and I have felt more closely CONNECTED to the writer.  

The underlying purpose of my entire retirement passion is to become more closely connected to my extended family, past, present and future.  Putting their words into books is one way of doing that.

I have two days off, starting tomorrow.  WHAT?  DAYS OFF?  I am supposed to be retired.  Yes, days off.  Days when I have no commitments away from home, no duties at home which will occupy significant parts of the day.  Those days are rare, and having two in a row is rarer still.  I shall use them to complete, print and bind copies of the Rempel Cousins Book.

#1  Family letter 16 June 2008.

#2  Letter-to-all.

History is not only the distant past, our ancestors.  We make history minute by minute, and as my  interest in family history diversified to include the present and indeed the future, I set out to capture the present and record it.  Several years ago  I started, in addition to the family letter another letter, sent twice a year to all the first cousins and the few remaining elders of the next generation on my mother's side. This letter-to-all reports the status of the family letter, provides information about the next reunion, reminds the cousins about submitting stories for the Rempel Cousins book, reports on the status of other family history books and reminds the cousins about the family data base and my interest in the details about changes in their family constellations. It may also include reports of the latest reunions which  many of the cousins may not have attended - such as the Niebuhr reunion in Abbotsford in 2006.  Sadly, it may also include obituaries.  And with it twice a year I send out the Master Contact List, which often prompts corrections in addresses, postal or email.

While no reply to this mass mailing is expected, often there are references to it in personal letters and emails from the cousins.  I know it meets a need for me;  I think it may also meet a need, or at least an interest,  for others of the cousins.

My sister Mary Crane assists with the preparation and mailing of this letter-to-all.  This is one of the many family history projects on which we work together.

Status:  ongoing.

After working on family history projects for several years and being casual and unorganized, I believe it is time to MAKE A LIST.  I propose to record each of the projects I have undertaken, and identify their present status.

The order of these entries will be the order they occur to me, that is to say, random.  It's the way my mind seems to work.

I hope that once I have them all written down, some element of organization will suggest itself and I will be able to make swift progress thereafter.  The only organizational theme I know about at this point came from a fellow enthusiast, who undertakes one (and one only) family history project at a time, completing it before starting another.  This strategy while effective in her case is of no use to me as I have MANY projects already started, and  a few actually finished.

So here goes.

1.  Family Letter. In the 1930s and 1940s my mother and her siblings had a circulating letter among themselves.  Using that model I checked for interest among my first cousins on my mother's side, and then started one up. The first round began in January 1997.  The fifth round is now en route.  With 25 cousins on the route and an average of two years per round, each holds the letter for an average of about a month.  Doesn't work out that way, of course;  the range of time has been from one day to six months.  The "letter" when it comes around is a substantial package, containing the letters from each, along with pictures and memorabilia.  Each cousin adds his or her new letter and pictures, and removed the old one when sending it onward.

This being established, I repeated the process with the first cousins on my father's side.  The rounds have been slower with this group, with the letter being "lost" for more than two years with one cousin, and with four countries being involved, not just Canada.

Status:  ongoing.

    Why do we delve into family history, family connections, family stories?  Perhaps everyone would have different reasons, and for some the question will never come up due to utter lack of interest.  For me, it happened on a specific date shortly after I  retired, when a cousin on my Niebuhr side visited.  My sister Mary who also lives in Victoria joined us and as it had been some time since we had been together, the conversation was on our shared extended family.  While the three of us chatted about family connections, the menfolks in another room chatted about whatever it is men talk about when they have an utter lack of interest in family history.

    In the course of that afternoon we three women tried to identify all of our first cousins - all of the grandchildren of Jacob and Katharina Thiessen Rempel, Katharina's  mother being Elizabeth  Niebuhr of the Aron line.

    Tried - and failed.  Between us we could not name all of our first cousins!  We were surprised and a little dismayed, because our Rempel parents had been close as siblings, and had had a family letter making its rounds among them for decades.  That was the moment I decided to track down my first cousins, a moment when had no idea at all that I was standing on the event horizon of a black hole.  In the ensuing years, I fell into that black hole and have lived there ever since, with my life being  consumed by everything FAMILY.  In the fifteen years since my retirement, I have produced nine - or is it ten? - books of family history, participated in the planning of half a dozen family reunions,  visited graveyards and archives, explored (early stages) the resources of the Internet, established correspondence with several score of kin close and distant, found kindred spirits who are also blood kin and generally had a wonderful time.  And while age is creeping on and memory is becoming undependable, I think I have a few more books and a few more reunions in me!

    I have not yet been able to define WHY this family-oriented effort is is important to me.  It just IS. Trying to puzzle this out is fruitless; I know only that it is a MAJOR change from my pre-retirement perspective on family, which was strictly limited to immediate family.  Then, I wrote perhaps ten letters a year.  Now I write (including emails) about ten a day, almost all to kin of one degree or another.

    The writer Carolyn Heilbrun (AKA Amanda Cross) said in her book "The Last Gift of Time" that everyone should develop a passion in their retirement, one which is challenging, requires new learning and has enough depth to become fully absorbing.  Perhaps I have merely been complying with the recommendation of a favourite author, but FAMILY HISTORY has been all that for me.

This blog will be updated regularly, with posts about the Niebuhr clan, the Niebuhrgathering site and genealogy.

As of this post, only Roberta Rivett and Jeff Rivett will be posting here, but anyone can comment on posts.  Roberta will write about family and genealogy while Jeff (that's me) will provide updates on the ongoing development of the Niebuhrgathering site.