The Letter

Our local paper published a story about a woman who had found a WWII era letter in a book she purchased at a used book sale. She was asking if anyone had lost the letter or could help her locate the owner of the letter so she could return it. Since I love looking into this sort of thing I contacted her and asked her for any information she had from the letter.

I did a search with the information she provided which was the writer’s name, the location the letter was mailed to and the date it was mailed. I found the soldier, John D. O’Reilly, by his burial record in the cemetery at the US Military Academy.  Census records showed me that he grew up in the area where he had sent the letter, in NY state. Being fairly certain that his wife, to whom he wrote the letter, would also be dead, I needed to find a living relative.

When I found his obituary it named two children, a boy and a girl. I always start with the son if possible since their surname does not change. Unfortunately I discovered his son was deceased and emails to family members remained unanswered. I had no choice but to start looking for information on their daughter. After a lot of searching I finally found a document that revealed John’s wife remarried that gave me her new surname. From that I found her obituary and it named her now married daughter. My copy was blurry and hard to read but thankfully she had an unusual married name and it wasn’t Smith or Jones.

Another search yielded a wedding announcement that gave me her husband’s first name and from that I was finally able to track the couple back to an address in our local area. When I gave the name and address to the woman who had the letter she was surprised to learn that the daughter lived in her housing development and that they had actually gone out together with mutual friends. She contacted her and learned that after pulling out all her old letters to give to another family member she used one as a bookmark. Forgetting it was in the book she donated it to the library for the book sale. The letter had now made its way back to the original owner.

This search is a perfect example of the problems caused when a woman gives up her original surname and adopts her husband’s name. If not for the two name changes by females in this family my search would have taken half the time.


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