One of my paternal great uncles was Gerald Gilbert Warner. Gerald never married and he died before I was born. All I remember hearing when I was growing up is that he had a farm in South Dakota. Who was he? What type of person was he? Why did he move to South Dakota from Long Island, New York? When did he move to South Dakota? What was his life like in South Dakota? These are just a few of the questions I have.
Gerald Gilbert Warner was the third child (and third son) born to Carrie Terry and John Benjamin Warner on the 15th of August 1894 in Baiting Hollow, Suffolk County, New York. Gerald’s maternal grandfather was named Gilbert (Terry), so, I guess that is where his middle name came from.
Thank goodness Carrie wrote all these letters over the span of 32 years to her sister Ella, who saved them, and I have them to refer to. (See post Carrie’s Letters-Bringing Ancestral Letters to Life) These letters give me glimpses into everyday life and tell me the little things that I would never know if the letters didn’t exist.
Luckily, I have scanned and transcribed the letters and indexed all the people mentioned in the letters. I wondered what I could learn about Gerald as a child from these letters?
- The first mention in his mother Carrie’s letters I find of Gerald is when he is 13 months old (1895) and she states “Gerald was sick all last week.” Over the years Carrie talks to her sister Ella Terry Billard about making the clothes for her sons and Ella helping with that until she herself married and had three sons of her own.
- When Gerald is two years old (1896) Carrie states, “Gerald bothers me so I can not write.” In another letter she talks about her seven year old son Wesley writing a letter to his maternal grandfather and how “Gerald got it and put his mark on, much against Wesley’s feelings.” I can so picture the two year old Gerald doing this just like any other two year old might.
- In a letter dated 31 January 1897 when Gerald was about two and half years old Carrie states, “Gerald is beginning to talk at last, says almost everything though not very plain yet.”
- Later on 19 April 1897 we learn that “Terry (oldest child and nine years old) and Gerald get along quite peaceably but put Wesley (second child and seven years old) between them and they both have somebody to pick on.”
- About a month later on 18 May 1897, 11 days after the birth of the fourth child, yet another boy, named Hollis, Carrie talks about still feeling ill and glad that Wesley is off visiting his maternal grandparents and aunt. “Gerald (age three) is an awful trial and if Wesley was here too believe they would set me crazy. Gerald don’t want any one to do any thing for him but John or I.” Sounds pretty typical between brothers even today.
- The last mention I find of Gerald is in a letter dated Monday, 25 December 1905 when Carrie tells her sister “Hollis (eight years old) and Gerald (eleven years old) were getting up soon after eleven Sunday night. I had just been up with the baby (my grandfather Olin) so heard them and sent them to bed again.” At this time there were now 5 children, all boys. Guess they were excited about finding their Christmas gifts?
From these letters, and only looking for the mentions about Gerald, I can begin to see Gerald, the child. Gerald seems like a very typical child growing up. In a family of 6 boys I wonder if he maintained the closeness he seemed to have early on with his older brother Terry?
Gerald’s mother would die suddenly and tragically on 2 June 1910, just 2 months before his 16th birthday, and leave her husband and six sons to go on without her.
But what can I now learn about the man Gerald became and of his life in South Dakota?
If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,
NOTE: When I am researching my ancestors in a particular time period I enjoy learning about things like the furniture or clothing of the time. I wondered what a cradle would have looked like about the time Gerald was born. I found the cradle on the top of the post in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog with the following advertisement:
"A $2.50 Cradle for $1.40You would not think after seeing this cradle that it was possible to make it for the price, but the manufacturers are long on cradles and short on cash, and we are hence able to name our own figures. We give our customers the advantage of every squeeze in the market. We recommend this article as most desirable in every respect and quoted at an unheard of Price. This cradle is made of the best selected hard wood with bent wood work and finished in antique or dark finish, as desired. The size is 24 inches by 44 inches, and is shipped knocked down when taken apart, thus saving very largely on freight. It is very easily set up and put together with screws."