Friday, March 8, 2013

Fearless Females: Is there a diary?

Lisa Alzo at The Accidental Genealogist launched a series of 31 blogging prompts for celebrating and honoring the "fearless females" in our family trees in March, 2010.  This year the series is being revisited in honor of National Women’s History Month and the purpose is to focus on the women in our lives and to make sure their stories are told.  I’ll participate as I can, even though I’m a week behind. 

Today’s prompt: Did one of your female ancestors leave a diary, journal, or collection of letters? Share an entry or excerpt.

My paternal grandmother, Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer, has left me a boatload of information and I’ve recently been concentrating on blogging about the scrapbook she kept as a young woman.  But she, along with her beau and my grandfather, spent nearly three years apart and actually ‘courted’ through letters.  They weren’t that far apart geographically (he in Fresno, she in either Monterey or Oakland) so they were able to see each other occasionally but the letters flowed in the days they weren’t able to be together.  And after nearly 100 years in either a basement or storage unit, I have the honor of transcribing these letters which are in absolutely amazing condition.  At the rate I’m going, though, I’ll be hard pressed to complete the project in my lifetime but I’ll give it a try.

Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer
Mildred Loraine Gunzendorfer
20 Jan 1896 - 8 May 1982

Several of the letters hold special significance so I’ll share some excerpts here:

January 7, 1918
Monday eve

My very own Sweetheart,
We are a house of mourning here at 1933 tonight, my Grandmother passed away at 15 minutes to six tonight, poor soul, she is much better off, but, of course, we all shall miss her terribly. She is to be buried Wednesday. 

Enough about sorrow, sweetheart. You can see how much I think of you to be writing tonight, all the folks are in the front room and I am in the dining room trying to collect my thoughts for you only.

Loraine lived with her her grandmother’s brother, Samuel Steen, and his wife, Rachel Letter Steen, at 1933 Harrison in Oakland, hence the reference to 1933.  Her grandmother was Rebecca Steen Schwartz, someone I’ve written about before. 

Rebecca Steen
Rebecca Steen Schwartz
8 Feb 1848 - 7 Jan 1918

Not even two months later, another tragedy struck the couple – my great grandfather, Herman Levy, died. 

March 6, 1918 – 10 pm 
Wednesday night 

My own sweetheart  

If there are tear drops mingled with the ink in this letter tonight forgive me, as I am thinking so much of you that the tears won’t stay away. Ever since I heard your voice I have wanted you so badly, the message was all too short though. Why didn’t you let me talk longer, dear? I wanted to talk to you so badly but was afraid that it might be disturbing. I hope it wasn’t.  

You surely have all my sympathy in your bereavement, sweetheart, and if I could only have been with you now when you really need to one who loves you and whom you love, I would be happy. Instead, though, I’ll be with you in spirit every minute to help you overcome your sorrow. You and your family probably realize that it is all for the best but knowing your temperament like I do, I know how badly your father’s passing will affect you. But make the best of it all, sweetheart, and remember that you still have me and I’ll never fail you, if I can help it.

Please, sweetheart, extend my condolence to your family and I do hope your mother will hold up all right after the severe strain that she has been under.
Oh, yes, when I found your telegram today, before I opened it I said, as usual, “now what is the matter”. I rather had an idea that it was pertaining to your father, though, knowing that he was so ill.  

Just talked to Aunt Charlotte, told her that I phoned to you. She felt badly to hear of your sorrow. She surely is an admirer of yours, dearest.  

As much as I want to hear from you Friday I don’t want you to write to me tomorrow if it will inconvenience you. At this time all your time should be for your family and not for me even though I am one of your family.  

It is fine that your business will be so nicely taken care of. You’ll probably be worn out, though, by the time you are finished reorganizing. Don’t forget that we still have our lives to live and you must take care of yourself. The above sentence reminds me of you – always wanting me to be so careful, but never thinking of yourself.  

I’m not going to take up any more of your time this time so I’ll stop now.  My very own, please don’t forget for a moment that all my love is for you and these next few days you’ll, doubtless, not be out of my thoughts a minute.

I truly love you with all my heart and tonight of all nights I feel that we are very close to each other, even though miles separate us. I realize what a poor letter of sympathy this has been – I’m not a composer so in my few words I’ve merely tried to tellk you how much I love you and long to be with you to comfort.  

All the love possible, my love, to you tonight. Thanks for the kisses, I’ll have to imagine them.  

Your very own Loraine

Herman Levy Obit with photo

It is so wonderful to be able to know the “real” words that were spoken (or written) in response to something I’ve otherwise only known through records, obituaries, etc.  Sadly, Loraine never met the father of her future husband.  

And then World War finally came to an end – I can’t imagine the excitement!

November 11, 1918 – 9 PM 
My dearest Boy

I was so overjoyed this morn at the wonderful news that I just had to telegraph you and hope you received my telegram O.K. At 4:20 A.M. I was awakened by whistles blowing and bells ringing out the joyous news of peace. They kept the racket up for two hours and started it again at nine this morn. Then at two this aft all the automobiles who could paraded and everyone was so happy. Everything was closed up so we went for a lovely ride around the 17 mile drive and just returned. 

My, but I was busy this afternoon down town receiving congratulations from friends I met, dear. It was rather hard to recognize people in their masks but I managed to. 

And to think that my boy is really flying. Received your letter this morn and was so happy to get it and to learn that your first flight was so successful and I hope the rest have been likewise. And now that the war is a thing of the past, love, am so anxious to know what they are going to do about discharging you. Guess now that you have had a start at flying you would like to continue but I’d rather have you safe on terra firma. And I hope my wishes will have some weight. But it must have been a wonderful sensation – flying 2000 ft and I am so proud to think of my boy being so brave and fearless. If conditions hadn’t changed you would have probably been driving alone in a very short time. I am wondering and wondering if they will still continue to train you. Hope not. So please, let me know, sweetheart, about it as soon as you can.  

Those were lovely letters from your cousins and I want to answer them but don’t know their last names or addresses. Please send them.  

Am so sorry that the food is miserable. Hope it improves. Want to send you something but don’t know what will keep for so long a journey as to Riverside. Will try to send a cake.

Oh, Wilt phoned at 8:30 this morn to rejoice with us. Said they got word at 1 A.M. and everyone dresses and paraded over the campus and there were several bands out to[sic]. I can just imagine how immense the noise was in S.F. 
I am sending you the clipping from the S.F. Chronicle. They didn’t put it in the way I gave it but we should worry.

My girl friend and I are going to see a young married couple for awhile tonight. Shall I try to get some pointers, love? I don’t think we need any, though.
Believe me, dearest, I am so happy tonight and am just bubbling over and how I’d like to see you so we could be happy together. Your love is so wonderful and I love you so very much and now we can really plan for the future and our hopes will be realisms quite soon.  

I hear the whistle of the evening train and I wonder if the train could be bringing me a letter from you. Possibly I won’t hear until tomorrow.  

All for tonight, love. Be the best boy in the world and be careful. All the love that my heart possesses for you dear and a whole lot of kisses from  

Your very own

Sig Levy, my grandfather, was a Flying Cadet stationed at March Field in Riverside, California on November 11, 1918.  Thankfully, he hadn’t been there long when the war was over and he never saw active combat.  Wilt Gunzendorfer was Loraine’s younger brother.

Sig Military
Sigmund Levy
31 Jul 1888 - 16 Aug 1968

As I transcribe the hundreds of letters I have, I often wonder what Grandma would think to know that her granddaughter was reading them 100 years later.  But somewhere in my gut I know that she saved them hoping that someone would one day read them and love them like she obviously did.  Thanks for thinking ahead, Grandma!


  1. Such a lovely post Debi! I love these letters. They are so sweet and tender and full of love.

    Loraines's letter about the end of WW1 is especially interesting. It's fascinating to get a glimpse into the history of those times through her eyes. I love how she described the parades and noise from the happy people celebrating the happy news that the war had ended.

    1. I've learned so much from the letters, not just about her life (and my ancestors) but history as well. What a treasure to have them and be able to document her thoughts forever.

    2. Debi,

      I just wanted to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

      Have a great weekend!

  2. What a perfect prompt for you. You have the mother-load of scrapbooks, for sure!

    1. Not just scrapbooks, but hundreds and hundreds of letters. I certainly hit the jackpot in that regard.

  3. Debi, I really enjoyed your grandmother's letter. I think she would have been overjoyed to know how much they mean to you. I wanted to suggest a website called: Online Ocr ("") which recognizes texts from scanned documents, PDFs, JPEG etc. I'm pretty sure it can read handwritten notes if they writing is clear and will convert them to a word document. It might speed up the process of transcribing your collection. I've been using it to transcribe my grandmother's scrapbook ("") and it's working amazingly well.

    1. Thanks for the infro, Smadar - I'll take a look at the website!

  4. I love your wonderful letters!

    1. I love them, too. And I can't wait to read all of the letters my grandfather wrote back to her!

  5. Fabulous Fabulous Fabulous...did I mention that I think these letters were fun to read too? Thanks so much for sharing them...and thanks Jana for directing me here for another look!
    Kassie aka "Mom" writer of
    Maybe someone should write that down...