Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An Ancestor is Calling to Me

Yesterday, as the nation celebrated the 235th anniversary of our country's declaration of independence, I made it a point to remind myself of one of my ancestors whose life for several months was devoid of independence.

Isaac Green Mask, my 4th-great-grandfather, was a Confederate political prisoner from October 17, 1861 to January 10, 1862. Charged with treason, he ultimately ended up at Fort Warren on Georges Island, in the harbor just outside of the city of Boston. He was treated well there, but until January 1862, he did not know what his fate would be. A death sentence? Imprisonment until the war was over? A transfer to another prison? Or a release back into society and with his family?

Two years ago, I had visited Fort Warren for the first time to get a sense of where my ancestor was imprisoned. What was his life possibly like? It was a fascinating trip, and it sparked all kinds of questions in my mind. I began a search to find out what brought about his arrest and how he had come to be ultimately released. It's a personal journey still in the works, but I know much more than I did in July 2009.

On my second trip, just yesterday, I was enthusiastic about seeing the new Visitor's Center, which had just been built on the island in the summer of 2010. In 2009, I had e-mailed scanned copies of letters that Isaac wrote from Fort Warren to his family (and following his release, letters he received from an acquaintance still imprisoned there), to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. It was my hope they would choose to utilize those letters for their Visitor's Center, as I would liked to have seen Isaac's letters made available to the public - in essence, making him much more famous than he ever would have imagined. Alas, his letters were not used for the Visitor's Center exhibits.

But I gained further knowledge at the Visitor's Center about the daily lives of the political prisoners. And on one of the informational plaques in the center, I saw an image that captivated me - an image of a page taken from a "yearbook" style photo album of Confederate prisoners. Credit for the image pointed to the Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives. Last night, I sent an e-mail to the DCR and asked if that photo album is available for viewing. I look forward to the response and hope I can take a look at that album.

What if Isaac Green Mask's photograph is in that album? This would be monumental, as I have no images of him. None. I don't even have a clear idea of what he looked like. Perhaps I will, though.

Regardless, I am now determined, more than ever, to write a book about Isaac. His political imprisonment is just one significant event in his life of which I have knowledge. What a story he has to tell - and if not from him or anyone else - it must be told through me. Isaac is calling to me, and I aspire to pass forth his story to the world one day. I have much to research, and it starts with a desire to find a photograph of him.

I can only hope.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

This is the Face of Genealogy

In reference to LA Weekly article about a genealogy conference that showed a very poorly chosen photo, a wonderful blog post by Thomas MacEntee encourages genealogists to post their own favorite ancestor photo to create a "win situation for the genealogy community."

I choose (of course), my great-grandfather John Tyler Fairall from whom we share the same middle name.  He was a pilot during World War I.

John Tyler Fairall, circa 1917-1918, Paris, France

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (9) January 5, 1918

In J.T. Fairall's ninth letter written during WWI, he expressed his joy over the deliciousness of a fruit cake his mother sent him (back when fruit cakes weren't the jokes of desserts).  He celebrated the fruit cake with some champagne that he and some other fellow pilots shared.  He got over his recent cold that he had and was sleeping well with a new comforter that he needed due to the bitter-cold temperatures of the French winter. The closest town was apparently about nine miles away, so the isolation must have made the winter feel all the more chilly.  The small things, like a tobacco pipe he had just received along with the fruit cake, seem to make a big difference for him.

On the last page of his letter, an F.J. Lloyd, 1st Lieutenant, scribbled his name down, presumably someone who was assigned to ensure letters contained no sensitive or confidential details that could be used by the enemy. 


Dear Mother

I received your box last night and had a party at once.  We had two quarts of champagne that we were saving for some unexpected occasion and they surely went fine with the fruit cake.  I don't believe I ever tasted any fruit cake that tasted better.  I invited three other fellows who have bunks in my alley to join me and we were all hunting for the stray crumbs.  I surely did need everything that the box contained and I want to thank all.

At the time that I wrote my last letter I had a little cold but I stayed indoors for a day or two and soon got over it.  It has been very cold here for the last couple weeks and of course going from about 35˚ to 7˚  below is bound to give you a little cold.  When the cold snap started Ottis Williamson to get me a comforter in town and I have been sleeping like a log since.  The town is about 9 mi. away and is nothing more than a village the size of Shepherdstown^ so I have only been in once since my arrival.

When Raynor comes out I wish that you would thank him for the tobacco and pipes.  I broke the one that I brought along so you can see how I needed it.  Tell Milton to write and tell me some of the happenings.  Hoping to hear from all soon.  

I am
Your loving son

J.T. Fairall
Aviation Section Signal Corps
% B.M.C.

[FJ Lloyd
1st Lt. ASSORC]

* Though J.T. wrote 1917, the context and known timeline would indicate that it was actually 1918.  Writing 1917 for the previous twelve months made this an understandable error.

^ Shepherdstown, West Virginia was the home of many Fairall relatives - and it was where J.T. went to college before the war.  To give meaning to J.T.'s reference to Shepherdstown's population, in 1920 the town had 1,063 residents [Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1920 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1921), 314, "Table 51, Population of Incorporated Places."].

Envelope (front)
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Monday, April 18, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (8) December 26, 1917

Jack and fellow pilots in a wintry photo
Christmas Day has just passed, and in J.T.'s eighth letter written during WWI, he describes the Christmas activities he and others have had in France.  One can picture many of these pilots staying warm in their decorated barracks with the two Christmas trees that would remind them so much of home.  Indeed, Jack recalls with a sense of nostalgia the holidays in Baltimore and the last-minute holiday shopping at the bustling Lexington Market at Lexington and Eutaw Streets (one of the largest markets in the U.S. at the time).

Jack describes the gifts provided by the Red Cross to the military, some of which might raise eyebrows nowadays, like cigarettes and tobacco.  They enjoyed a traditional holiday dinner and were treated to a white Christmas.  Of course, with the wintry weather, Jack also was met with an "inconvenient" cold. 

Jack's brother Campbell is also serving in the military, but the brothers haven't been able to keep in touch thus far.  Mail delivery has not been the best, and Jack mentions the curious delays his family appears to experience in receiving his letters from France.  Perhaps the delay is due to the need for the U.S. government to meticulously censor any military information in all of the soliders' letters, an act demonstrated in this particular letter from Jack with sections cut out from the second page.

This is the last letter that Jack wrote in 1917, but many more are written in the next year.     

 12/26 [1917]

My Dear Mother

As an Xmas preasant I received 2 letters from you.  The letters from home are always events.  We had a white Xmas one that would surely make the kids stay awake all night waiting for Santa.  We had two trees in our barracks one in each end.  We made a pool of 10 F each and had our stockings filled.  Beside this the Red Cross gave out a bag to each one containing 1 towel tooth brush 1 bar soap toothpaste 1 pr socks 1 handkerchief and cigarettes and tobacco.  This was very nice but when I pictured Lex and Eutaw Sts on Xmas Eve about 7 P.M. when all of late comers are pushing and shoving to finish their purchases.  Then look back a little further to the time when the family was younger.  How there was one grand rush for Xmas presants.  This all comes into my mind.  How lucky we have always been.

I was sorry to hear that Bernice had taken the baby down to Mrs. Howards for Xmas instead of staying with you.  It surely would have made up at bit for Campbell's and my absence.  I often wonder where Camie is at various times.  I hope that he was at least be able to be ashore in the U.S. for shipboard wouldn't be any idea of a wonderful time for Xmas.

Our dinner was very good turkey cranberries fried potatoes, and coffee with nuts and figs on the side.  That is doing pretty well when you consider the number of men in the Army on this side and it is a pretty safe bet that they all fared alike.

In your last letter dated about Dec. 3 you say that you haven't received any mail from me.  This is rather peculiar as I mailed a letter at [censored] just before the boat left also one just before getting off of the [censored].  Both of these letters should have arrived before Dec. 3.  There are of course others that could not have arrived.  You say that Marguerite hasn't heard from her Jack.  She should have heard from him if he has written for he left about 1 mo before I did.

The weather has been pretty cold and snowy and I have managed to catch a slight cold of course.  I could hardly go through a winter without something of the kind.  It doesn't amount to much but is surely inconvenient.

I suppose that you often wonder why I don't describe the country over here.  Well I have been in France more than a month and have only been to one city the rest of the time I have been cooped up on camp.  So you can see that [missing words] very little about anything on this side.

I [missing words] for this time.  Hoping that all enjoyed their Xmas and that all have a prosperous New Year.  I am

Your affectionate son

Address J.T. Fairall
Aviation Sec. Sig. Corps
American Exp Forces
American Air Service
% B.M.C.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

NERGC 2011: Thoughts and Future Paths

I just returned last night from my second New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2011 in Springfield, Mass., the theme of which was "Exploring New Paths to Your Roots."  I enjoyed seeing my two Northeimer cousins as well as eight of my classmates from "the 4th BU regiment" Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate program.  I felt right at home among the 800 or so fellow genealogists, and I'm now feeling re-invigorated and ready to pursue some new (and renewed) personal genealogical goals. 

I've put together a few thoughts on future potential paths I could take, and I've referenced some of the excellent presenters at the conference.  Maybe one of these ideas would work well for you, too!

1. Explore university libraries special collections and archives.  Previously, I only pursued academic transcripts and yearbooks in my genealogical research.  But I never considered searching special collections and archives of university libraries.  Laura Prescott presented a wide range of materials available in university libraries.  If you know an ancestor attended a particular institution of higher education, chances are alumni records might shine a light on that individual.  It makes sense when you consider that alumni tend to brag about their accomplishments and family developments via their alma mater's publications.  And if an ancestor happened to work at a university, their research or involvement might also be in their records.  Why did I not think about this considering I've worked at three universities over the last ten years?  You might even be surprised to find a family portrait as part of a university collection; for example, if you search "family" at Miami University's Digital Archive, you'll find many family photographs and interviews. 

This is a perfect time to give a shout-out to my alma mater, Radford University, for their treasure chest in their Archives and Special Collections.  They've digitized so much history, and they even have recent yearbooks on-line, where you could find me in 2001, for instance).

2. Look at school district records.  This is another academic area, but I hadn't considered checking these out before.  These might be harder to find, but the information potentially contained within school district records includes: student enumeration lists, tax payer records, teacher term reports, school district meeting minutes (to name a few).  Pam Stone EaglesonCG did a wonderful presentation on this.  I have at least a couple of ancestors who I know were teachers; perhaps I can find out more about them through school district records.

3. Utilize Twitter to connect with other genealogists.  Admittedly, I have not completely warmed to Twitter; I use it sparingly to promote my blogs, but I haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet.  But I know Twitter can be used to get to know and connect with others.  D. Joshua Taylor, who I was surprised to learn was born in 1985 yet is already nationally known and respected in the genealogy community (and with celebrities through NBC's Who Do You Think You Are television series), briefly mentioned in his introductory keynote speech that he finds great use for Twitter.  So, alright, perhaps it is time for me to really push myself into the so-called "Twitter-verse."  After all, the younger generations of genealogists (like myself) tend to be more social media savvy.

4. Start recording personal histories of family members.  I should really start collecting personal memories of family members, like my mother for instance!  I'm always telling her, "Mom, you should write such and such story down!"  But she's a busy person and understandably finds writing all those stories down an overwhelming prospect.  I picked up a book called "Legacy: A step-by-step guide to writing personal history" by Linda Spence in the exhibitor hall, and it has hundreds of questions you can ask yourself or others in order to compile a personal history.  So my idea is I'll e-mail my mother one question each week and hope that she responds back with some details.  This way she won't be overwhelmed but over time I'll get plenty of tidbits.

5. Write a book.  What a wish I've got here.  My BU classmates continue to encourage me to write a book about my 4th-great grandfather Isaac Green Mask (see my previous blog post on him), due to the fact that I have a collection of twenty original letters written to and from this man from 1854-1871.  He and some of his close relatives had lives definitely worth writing about.  One of my classmates is about to publish her own book this year, which I think is so exciting (I'll be certain to mention her book on my blog when it's published).  I really should consider writing a book -- I know I can do it; I just need to get started. 

6. Become actively involved with NERGC or other genealogical societies.  At both NERGC conferences, I have been a volunteer; volunteering helps make the conference flow smoothly, plus it's just a great experience.  I feel as though I could contribute a lot more by serving on a committee for NERGC or another genealogical organization.  As I'm now 31, I expect I have many years ahead of me where I could help make a difference and also gain experience professionally in the process through this sort of involvement.

7.  Use resources such as NUCMC.  NUCMC (I love how it's pronounced nuck-muck; it sounds like a strange creature a child might imagine) is the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections.  I heard it mentioned at least four times in different lectures and presentations at this conference, but beforehand it was completely unknown to me.  It's a useful finding aid for manuscripts, which are essentially hand-written or original copies of works, such as letters, diaries, and dissertations.  Just be sure to go to the OCLC WorldCat Search on its web site.

8. Get back to researching my genealogy!  I've completely neglected researching my genealogy.  Around April 2010, I took all of my family tree information down from my web site and Ancestry.com after completing the BU class, because a fair amount of my data was either uncited or taken from other researchers' family trees (both I had learned were a big no-no!).  However, I never really started the research again.  So much to do!  While I'm at it, I also really should update my family history web site.  It needs some love.

9. More and more, I'm thinking I'd love to move to the Baltimore area.  I've been searching for jobs lately, and I've had fleeting thoughts of moving to Baltimore, Maryland where many of my ancestors lived.  It also helps that the National Archives and Library of Congress are close by in Washington, D.C.  After attending a presentation by John Philip Colletta, Ph.D. about the resources available at the Library of Congress, I am really keen on putting down this idea of moving to Baltimore as a serious goal.

10. Take more photos.  I'm a little frustrated with myself for not taking pictures at the conference.  So a reminder to myself and others to visually document your adventures in the future!  There's a good photo out there somewhere of many of the BU graduates at the conference, though.  I'll try to get a hold of it!
Did you attend the NERGC 2011 or have some thoughts?  Feel free to comment on this post or e-mail me at michael@goodhartfamily.org.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (7) December 21, 1917

In the seventh letter written, Jack has finally received mail since leaving the U.S.  It took over a month for the mail to get to him at that time.  His satisfaction in receiving mail serves as a reminder for how important it is to all of those in the military overseas to hear from people at home.

John, age 8
Much of his letter focuses on individuals in the family and possibly neighors or friends of the family.  Unfortunately, I do not know who many of the people he references are, so the snippets of information Jack mentions don't tell a clear story since we're missing the other side of the conversations (only letters he sent are available).  However, there are a select few people that I have identified who are family members.  All of the letters he received must have provided him with updates on how people back home were doing.  One person in particular that he mentions is his Uncle Will; he recalled that he had a lot of fun with Will when he was younger (see the photo on right of Jack at a young age).

Jack's days are busy while in training.  He doesn't seem entirely happy with how he's doing, experiencing some difficulty keeping it all together.  Of course, we know based on future letters and his military record, he eventually did figure it out and serve as a reconnaissance pilot.

My Dear Mother

At last I have received some mail.  One from Mrs. Kelly one from Raynor, the one that he mailed to Dayton and 4 from you.  I tell you they made me feel 200% better.  I think that I have read them over at least a dozen times.

Your first letter written 11/4/17 arrived 12/20/17.  One mo. 16 da.  You mention the last Sunday morning breakfast.  I would certainly enjoy another such a one if I could drop in unexpectedly on Xmas morning.  If you remember this will only be the 2 Xmas I have ever been away.

I hope that Emmett* and Mr. Slocomb got together again.  There is a much better chance with an interest in a business than there is managing some other persons.

I am sorry to hear that the baby was sick and surely hope that she is well by now.  She is at the age where she must be watched over very carefully.  I suppose that when her Uncle Jack gets home again she will be quit grown up.  She could talk the last time.  She will be quit accomplished.

The supper that you had with Uncle Will and Aunt J^ and Raynor must have been very pleasant.  I am sure that it lasted 2 hrs.  I would liked to have been there.  Willie was as full of fun as ever or has he gotten over it by now.  Somehow I always enjoyed life more when Willie Raynor and I were together.  I wonder if we will have any of those times over again.  I am sorry that G-ma wasn't home when I left.  If I had known that she would come I would have sent her word.  Tell her to take good care of herself and she will be there when "Johnny comes marching home."  I bought $10,000.00 insurance and sent a signed copy of the application to you which you have received by this time.

Your description of the US club is very interesting.  There will be more than one poor sucker get homesick for such treatment when he gets over on this side especially the infantry men.  They are the boys that have the nasty work.

I haven't receive either the sweater or the box.  They will be along though.  The mail is so heavy that they have to haul it from [censored - maybe Paris?] in trucks a distance of about [censored].  I hope that the fruit cake doesn't go astray as fruit cake are going to be mighty scarce over here.  The tobacco and cigaretts are also needed very much.  I have exactly 4 pcks of 20 cigaretts ea left of the store that I brought along.

My flying is coming along slowly.  I will get it into my head some of these days.  I am in the best of health.  Outside of a little cold in my throat I have been O.K.

I will write to Issy Cath and G-ma in a day or two.  Tell them to write often as my days are all crowed from daylight to dark.  We have a lot to learn besides flying so we are rushed all the time.

If you see anything in the papers send it.  We don't get very much news from the states.  I would enjoy reading the register so you might mail one now and then or better still several together.

With love to all

J.T. Fairall
American Exp. Forces
% B.M.C.

*Emmett's full name is Emmett Mills Howard (b. 6 Apr 1890, d. unknown); he was the husband of John's sister, Bernice Fairall.
^Uncle Will is likely William Henry Kline, Jr., John's maternal uncle (b. 18 Aug 1880, d. unknown); Aunt J. was William's wife Virginia - possibly going by Jennie (maiden name presently unknown).
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (6) December 13, 1917

One of the planes flown in WWI
In his sixth letter home to his mother, Jack covers two topics: flying and food.

For the past ten days, Jack and others have been training in "scout machines" which presumably were for reconnaissance missions.  If someone wasn't fit for flying the scouts, they'd instead fly bombing machines.  Jack shows an obvious preference for the faster scout machine, which is what he ended up flying throughout the war.

The dominant topic of his letter was about food, though!  He eats well and there is a variety of hot food, though this shouldn't be a surprise since he wasn't that close to the war front yet.  I personally take an interest in Jack's use of the words dinner and supper.  Many people, like myself, use the two words interchangeably.  But often in other cultures, dinner is a late afternoon meal while supper is a late evening meal.  The latter perspective is how Jack views these meals.  Also, he mentions Karo syrup which I've never heard of before, but their web site shows they have a wide presence in the U.S. today and have been around 1902.

On a side note, Jack may have written this letter in a hurry, due to some spelling mistakes and missing or repetitive words.  That is generally not the norm for his letters.  Perhaps training was taking up more of his time.  He also was getting anxious to receive more mail from his family, as he wasn't really getting any letters at the time.


My Dear Mother

No mail but still have hopes.  We have been here since 12/3 and have started our training for the scout machines which are the fastest machines.  If we break a machine we will be sent to another field and put on a bombing machine which is much slower.  Of course we don't care for this although there have been quite a number apply for these machines of their own accord.

This camp is much more comfortable than other that we have been to.  We have very warm barrack heated by the large coal heater which do except when some fresh air friend opens the windows.  Our food is very good.  We had turkey one day since our arrival this doesn't happen often but every day it is good.  For breakfast we have oatmeal with milk and sugar or molasses which goes very good try it some time.  Don't put any milk on the oats but use a little Karo syrup.  We always have bacon or some other meat and coffee along with this.  For dinner we potatoes and tomatoes or beans also coffee and meat.  I forgot mention that we quite frequently have hot biscuits or hot cakes for breakfast.  Supper is usually about the same as dinner.  From the above you can see that I am far from starvation.  I am really in fine health.  I haven't ever had a cold this winter, which is out of the ordinary.

The next time you write I wish you would tell me weather Raynor has ever sold the oboe and the amount so I can send the balance to him.  I would like get that matter out of the way.  Tell Peck* I would like to hear from him also.

For this time I am
Your affect. son

John T. Fairall
American Exp. Forces
American Air Service
Via B M C

*Peck is the nickname of Jack's younger brother Milton Lee Fairall.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (5) December 1 & 4, 1917

Tours, France - Jack is on the far left smoking a cigarette!
A month long journey from the States lands J.T. Fairall in Tours, France at the 2nd Aviation Instruction Center for the beginning of his military training with the French.  In his fifth letter, Jack writes to his mother.  The short but rough boat trip across the channel from England to France brought about seasickness for many; apparently, it was worse than the trek across the Atlantic.

Jack's initial impressions of the French are very positive.  His thoughts on the available "rank" cigarettes are a different matter.  But he seems so happy to be flying again.  The 2nd Aviation Instruction Center is fairly new, and the airfield is still being completed.  Jack and his fellow aviators are finally preparing for the war on the front.

Supplementing Jack's letter, check out this film clip found at Criticalpast.com showing some excellent footage of the aviation center in 1918.

France 12/1/17

Dear Mother

I have been on the go since my last letter at Southhampton.  The worst part of the trip was that across the channel.  I don't believe that there was a person on board that didn't get sick.  I had to sleep standing in a corner to keep me from rolling around the floor.  We came over on a small fast steamer that bobed around like a cork.  We didn't see any submarines 

[section of page missing]

the remains of the fire - Revolutionary times.  The people of France are exceedingly polite and will often forget themselves out to help you.  The other night we were having dinner in a cafe down town and one of our fellows took too much wine.  He was making a fool of himself by trying to talk to every one in the place.  He didn't know any French but was using one of the French-English phrase books.  All of the Frenchmen were doing their best to help him but had he been in the U.S. he would surely have been arrested as a nuisance.

[section of page missing]

war isn't nearly over and the people of the U.S. will have to get that idea out of their heads and go at the proposition in a more business like manner.  I think that our government will be a big factor in settling the matter but the people will have to do a lot more towards helping out in the matter, than they are doing at present.


I was interrupted the other day and I have been unable to write more until today.

I am now located at the training school and hope to get busy flying very shortly.  This field like all of the rest is new and a little unsettled but the work is going on with good speed and will soon be as complete field as there is in the world. The flying is great. You can see the same tactics here that are used on the front.

I believe that I have caught up with all of the fellows that went ahead except Bob Kelly. He will turn up sooner or later they all do.

I am sending a carbon copy of my insurance. If I were you I would file it in case of any mixup. There is no telling. Of the 47 R.M.A.*, about 9 have gotten their commissions and the rest of us are waiting. If by any chance mine is sent home please forward at once. For I anticipate some little trouble from this mixup.

When you get this I wish that you would mail me some American cigarettes.  The ones that we get here are rank.  Be sure and pack them well.

Tell everyone to write but not to wait for an answer.  The mail is very slow in finding us.  I expect to be reading letters for a week when it does come in.

Goodby for this time.

* R.M.A. is an abbreviation for Reserve Military Aviator.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (4) November 22, 1917

Winchester Cathedral, a few miles
north of Southampton
In the fourth letter written by J.T. Fairall during WWI, Jack has finally made it back on land.  Currently in Southampton (southern coast of England), he is taking in the scenery and the people of the United Kingdom.  The British accent is a bit challenging for Jack to understand, particularly of those in Liverpool where he had just come from, and anyone from a Scottish or Irish descent.  

Jack relates to his mother a comparison of prices of goods between the States and England.  It gives the reader an idea of the currency exchange rate - in 1917, an American got a better deal in England; while in 2011, the opposite is generally true.  

Jack seems relaxed, appreciating the holly trees and parks, as well as the local restaurants and cafes.  He also believes he came across a familiar name to the family, a K.E. Rockey.  None of Jack's letters confirms whether it was indeed the Keller Rockey he thought.  Jack's letter (among several others to follow) is written on a YMCA paper, printed especially for the U.S. military.  The YMCA played a major supporting role for the military during World War I.      


Dear Mother

We are now in Southampton waiting to be sent across.  We have quarters in an English rest camp just at the edge of town in what was evidently a park, a very pretty location.  It is filled with trees, some of the prettiest holly trees I ever saw much prettier than the holly that we have at home.

This is a very small world.  I don't believe I ever went anyplace that I didn't meet someone that I know.  The first name that I saw when I landed in camp was Capt. K.E. Rockey on a headquarters door of the American marines.  I inquired of some of the marines and I am sure that he is Keller Rockey that we know.

Southampton is a very pretty town.  It is very neat and clean with several parks scattered around.  The dwelling houses are very quaint.  There are some that are set back in yards but most of them set on the sidewalks with no porches.  The majority have [illegible - four words?].

The people here are much easier to understand than in Liverpool.  The night before we left L[iverpool] we had leave several of us went sightseeing.  We had dinner in a cafe and I left a cap.  I was lucky when I remembered it.  It was about 11 P.M.  I just got back in time to the waitresses going home.  The manageress a very pretty little woman opened up and got my cap.  I talked with her for a while but surely had a time [illegible - three words?] for everyone here talks very fast especially the people of Scotch or Irish decent.

I have been very interested in the store windows.  About 80% of the mndse here is much cheaper than at home shoes that we would pay $10.00 for sell at about $7.00 all other stuff is as cheap a suit of cloths that we would pay $35.00 for sells at $25.00.  The people here cannot complain of the high cost of living.

As it is dinner time I will close as ever

Your affectionate son 

address J.T. Fairall R.M.A.
Aviation Section Sig Corps
American Expeditionary Forces
via New York

* 19 is date stamped on the top of the page, but the year is not further specified.  Based on the known timeline, the letter was likely written in 1917.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (3) November 18, 1917

A photo of a typical plane that J.T. flew - after two weeks of
no flying, Jack was anxious to get back in the air.
With just a day left of his voyage across the ocean to Europe, J.T. Fairall writes his third of fifty-two letters during World War I.  He's getting impatient with the "monotony" of life on the sea, especially considering he recently had been actively flying every day while training for his responsibilities in the war.  And two weeks of relative inactivity have resulted in Jack gaining some weight.  So in addition to looking forward to flying again, he's also anxious to get back into shape.

You'll notice in this letter that a word or two has been erased possibly by a censor.  You can see this in the scanned image of the first page of the letter far below.  It is not the first time something has been censored in Jack's letters. Since this letter was written in pencil, it would have been easy for either Jack or a censor to erase information that could be of use to the Germans.

Finally, on a side note, I aim to include a relevant photo with each of these letters.  After the war, Jack put together a small photograph album of pictures he took.  I think these photos will add a layer of depth and interest to Jack's letters.

Jack's third letter:    

Dear Mother,

We will be in port tomorrow, can see both Scotland and Ireland now.  The trip has been very tiresome and only saw 2 ships and several schools of fish to break the monotony of seeing nothing but water.  It has been nothing but eat sleep and rest.  After flying every day for 2 or 3 mo., this inactivity is surely tiring.  We had a stopover in Halifax but were not allowed to go ashore.

Yesterday our fleet was met by a fleet of [erased - censored?] Destroyers.  They are very speedy and it helps some to watch them run around our scows*.  For the last 2 days we have had to lug a life preserver around with us all the time even to our meals.  The weather was a little rough mostly all the way over but none of the fellows got very sick.  The salt air affected me as it always does.  I have eaten so much that I am about to the butchering stage.  It will take a good bit of work to get down to normal again.

Our orders read to France but we are liable to land in Egypt before we are settled.  I sent a letter from Halifax.  Hoping that this finds all well.  I am

Your affectionate son Jack

Address J.T. Fairall R.M.A.
Aviation Section Signal Corps
American Expeditionary Force
Via New York

* A scow in the literal sense is a flat-bottomed boat with a blunt bow, similar to a barge.  In this case, Jack was possibly making fun of the slowness of their ships compared to the speed of the Destroyers.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The J.T. Fairall Letters: (2) November 17, 1917

In J.T. Fairall's second of fifty-two letters written during World War I, he is two weeks into the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.  He wrote this letter to his mother's brother Issy with an apology for not being able to meet up in New York before his ship went to sea.  His ship recently stopped in Halifax of Nova Scotia.  Interestingly, only a few days later on December 6, 1917, the largest explosion in world history at the time occurred at that same Halifax port, when two ships - one of them carrying munitions - had collided, resulting in more than 1,900 deaths.  Thankfully, Jack was already in France by that time. 

His letter reveals that there is a love for playing musical instruments in the family including the oboe and the cello.   Jack also mentions his desire to get a Lorey - it's unclear what instrument or brand he is referring to here, though there is a well-known company called Lowrey that makes pianos and organs.  In the photo below (taken after the war), Jack can be seen playing the violin while his wife Catherine plays the piano.

So here's Jack's second letter, in his own words:

Shipboard 11/17/17

Dear Issy*,

I am very sorry that I was unable to see you in New York.  I received your telegram just about an hour before we fell in to go to the ship.  I hope that you didn't come without my reply.  I am also sorry that I missed you while in Balto.  I would have phoned but didn't know your number nor your new address.

We stopped over at Halifax for a week but no one went ashore.  You cannot realize how tiresome it is to stay on board with land so close especially when it looks as though you could get most anything with a good rifle and shot gun and a good partner.  We will have to make the trip someday if nothing interferes.

The trip has been very uneventful, sighted two ships going opposite direction and a few odd fish.  For the last two days every one has been required to carry a life preserver around with them even to their meals.  I am continually leaving mine and having to trot back for it.  "great dope" also good exercise.  We surely haven't had very much of any other exercise.  Every morning we get out for fifteen minutes calisthentics, rather strenuous 15 min., every time the ship rolls you take a dive for the railing.  The mental exercise that we have is poker, blackjack, craps, chess, checkers, etc.  The rest of the time is spent wearing out your shoes on the deck or your trousers on a deck chair.  Some life!

We are now one or two days out and are surely glad that the trip is about over.  Two weeks on board ship is just beyond the point of enjoyment, especially when there are 4 in a stateroom and no ventilation.

Have you been able to do anything with the oboe?  Tell me in your next letter.  If I can get one reasonable I am going to get a Lorey.  It will be something to pass the time.  Do you still want me to look out for a cello.  If so let me know in your next letter. # For this time,

Address J.T. Fairall R.M.A.
Aviation Section Signal Corps
American Expeditionary Force
via New York

* Issy is short for Isadore Raynor Kline - Jack's maternal uncle.

Envelope (front)

Envelope (back)

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Monday, February 21, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (1) November 5, 1917

I'm grateful and honored that among my family history collection are fifty-two letters that my great-grandfather John "Jack" Tyler Fairall (b. 8 Apr 1892, d. 7 July 1972) wrote during World War I as a reconnaissance pilot in the 88th Aero Squadron.  I'm pleased to share with you not only my transcriptions of the letters, but also the scanned digitized copies of the letters and envelopes.  I have transcribed the letters word-for-word as they were written.  I will also follow up each transcription with any additional insights or interpretations I can provide based upon my research.

Firstly, a bit of an introduction to Jack Fairall's first letter, which was written while aboard a ship heading across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States.  He started out as a private rank in the Enlisted Reserve Corps on June 5, 1917.  He then attended the School of Military Aeronautics in Columbus, Ohio at The Ohio State University on June 11.  On the first of July, he was promoted to the rank of private first class.  About a month later, he then trained at the Aviation School at Wilbur Wright Field of Ohio on August 6.  Three months following that training on November 2, he was sent to Tours, France to begin his next steps of training at the 2nd Aviation Instruction Center.1

So, we begin with his first letter as he journeys eastward upon the great Atlantic ocean:

Shipboard 11/5/17

Dear Mother*

I surely am glad for this opportunity of writing.  We have had an excellent time very good food, and as quite a number of the fellows play the piano we have quite a bit of music especially after dinner.  The weather has been cloudy and for the last day or two the water has been rather rough, so far all have made very good sailors.  We are out of regular lanes of travel we have seen no ships.  On the second day out we went through a school of porpoise.  This has been the only happening to break the monotony of the water.

I received your letter saying that the sweater had been mailed but did not receive it before leaving it will be forwarded but there is no telling where it will catch up with us.

I am sorry that I was unable to see Raynor^ in New York and I surely hope that he didn't make the trip without hearing from me but I didn't receive his telegram until we were forming to leave and there was no possible chance to answer it there.  I wish that you would call him up and explain as I will be unable to write to him at this time.

Tell Cousin Estelle to write and send her "piece."  Tell every one to write but not to expect interesting letters as both the incoming and outgoing mail are censored and we are not allowed to say anything that could be of use to the Germans and as there is no telling when they might get their hands on our mail we must say nothing.


Aviation Section Signal Corps
American Expeditionary Force
Via New York, NY

P.S. I haven't received my commission yet.  Please write to Mrs. Lamien and ask her to send it home if it comes.  Then forward.  J.  

*John's mother's name was Anna E. Rentch (nee Kline, married to Milton Lee Fairall then a partner of John Elmer Rentch).
^Raynor is John's maternal uncle - Isador Raynor Kline.

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Source Citations

1 "Maryland Military Men, 1917-18," database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 21 February 2011), entry for John Tyler Fairall.