About 7 years ago I had an amazing find - over a hundred letters that my paternal Great-Grandmother Carrie Terry Warner wrote. Carrie wrote these letters from 1880-1910. They were mainly written to her sister Ella Terry Billard who was 11 years younger. As I have scanned, transcribed, edited and researched the letters these last 7 years I have often wondered about Ella. I have a photo of Carrie but always wondered what Ella looked like. Ella died in 1966 and I may have met her growing up as she only lived about 15 miles away from where I grew up but if I did, I don’t remember.
I have put the letters into a book format so they would be easier to read. I have researched people and events that Carrie talked about in order to help bring the letters to life and make them much easier to read and understand. They tell quite a story of everyday life in rural Long Island during this time period. As I complete some editing and an Index of people mentioned in the book I have always felt the book wouldn’t be complete without a photo of Ella but how to find one…..
First, I began to research Ella’s life after marriage.
- I knew Ella had married from reading Carrie’s letters and her husband was George Billard.
- I learned that after Ella married George Billard she had 3 sons; Russell, Irving and Ellis Billard.
- As I continued my search I found out that Irving never married and died in 1989.
- I found out that Russell married but had no children and died in 1979.
- Ellis I found out married Natalie and they had one daughter Eleanor. Ellis passed away in 1982 and Natalie died in
I decided to start with County Probate records and looked for a Will for Ella’s. Success! I found a will for Ella and in it she mentions her Granddaughter Eleanor, her husband and 2 children. YEA, now I have a married name for Eleanor and I know she had 2 children. I also know where they were living at the time of the will which is about 10 miles from where I grew up.
Next, I decided to start searching the local phone book. I was not able to find a listing for Eleanor but maybe found her husband. I tried calling with no luck. I tried looking for the daughter with no luck. I also tried looking for the male son. I found one possibility and tried calling. I had to leave a message and thought how crazy I must have sounded, “Hi, you don’t know me but…..if your great grand-mother was Ella Terry Billard we’re related and I’d like to ask you some questions.” No response. I tried mailing a letter to the address listed but the letter was returned because in that town mail is delivered to a PO Box and I didn’t know that…..ugh….dead end.
Then, I decided to try the Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library. A woman, over many years, had collected newspaper clippings and glued them on copy paper by family surname. Most were marriage, obituary, death notices, birth notices. Maybe I would find an obituary for Ella and there would be a picture???? No such luck. Ugh…
Then I decided to look on Ancestry Public Member Trees for a tree that might have Ella listed…..and…..I found one! I sent an email to the owner of the tree and got a response!! I found out that the owner of the tree was a cousin of Ella’s great granddaughter on her father’s side. YEA, a mini celebration! I told her who I was and why I was looking for her cousin and asked if she cold pass my information along. Through several email messages she let her cousin know and let me know that her cousin was very busy but had some photos and would get back to me when she could. I sent a follow-up to her letting her know I would be in the area for the Holidays and would love to even just talk to her cousin if she had time.
Monday night, a week ago, I received a phone call from Ella’s great-granddaughter totally out of the blue. We talked for about 45 minutes and made plans to meet next week. Big celebration time! She grew up so close to me in distance, is a year older, our High School teams played each other and for several summers in college we worked at the same job (Summer work in the Tax Office at the County Treasurer’s Office) and probably even met each other. We are sure our paths have crossed before this. She told me Ella was doing genealogy way back when and yes, she has pictures!! How exciting and oh, did I say… she has ‘boxes of stuff’ for us to look at. How unbelievably exciting to be able to meet her-my third cousin! I just kept saying that I felt like the circle is complete-we were meant to know each other! Our great-grandmother’s were sisters and now we will have the opportunity to get to know each other.
This journey has taken about 2 years of my searching but just under 140 years from Carrie’s first letter, while at college, to her sister Ella. I am so VERY grateful to Ella for saving Carrie’s letters and for her great-granddaughter’s willingness to pick up the phone and agree to meet and share information. What an amazing gift I have been given and continue to receive as a result of Carrie’s letters. Now I feel that I can complete the book of Carrie’s Letters complete with a picture of Ella for the book.
I will be sure to let you know what we find in those ‘boxes’ and about our meeting.
If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,