Genealogy & Family History Community
When I volunteered to write a diary for GFHC, I had planned on writing about
family letters I have, that were written during the Civil War. They were written between my great great grandma Jennie B and her beau, later her husband Ira B Conine he served in the 118th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Company G. They were neighbors, as their parents farms were around the corner from each other. Since its women’s history month, I will just write about Jennie B and what I learned about her from the letters.
Her given name is Minerva Jane Bysel, born in Salt Creek Township, Holmes County, Ohio on April 1, 1841. Her father was Philip Bysel, born in PA and her mother is Mary Margaret Cary, born in OH. She had a brother George Bysel, who served in the Civil War. But Minerva Jane, was known as Jennie B by those closest to her.
In 1977 someone I worked with, set the fire in me, to start doing family research, and my Aunt told me about the letters. These letters, my Aunt had brought back to Florida from Ohio, in 1959, they had been kept in Jennie B's bureau, which had been stored in my grandparents attic. There are about 60 of them. They are really the center of all of my genealogy research. They are very difficult to read, due to the fancy handwriting of the day, and the fact that paper was scare and not very large in size, during the War, they had to use every inch of their paper.
Also, having spent over 100 years folded up in their envelopes, it has left them very fragile not to mention the brown spots and missing pieces. Reading them is like learning to read in another language.
It takes a long time to decipher what the fancy letters with curly-q's are and learn the spellings of words from yesteryear.
In 1998 I received a e-mail from a cousin, asking me, "did I know anything about the Conine papers" at The Center for Archival Collections for Northwest Ohio housed at Bowling Green State University.
"No, I know nothing about them I replied".
But thanks to the google of the day, I soon had some answers.
Seems some other relative at some point had taken another 80 of those Civil War letters. Whom it was we have never been able to ascertain.
They were bought by the University from dealer in Valley Stream,NY in 1992..
The mystery as to how they ended up in Valley Stream NY, from Ohio, I don’t think will be solved in this life.
I contacted the department, and told them of my 60 letters. That summer I took my letters there and allowed them to copy my letters I still have the original's and I love to read them, something about holding paper that my gg grandparent wrote on, put their thoughts and feeling in, that they touched, somehow connects me to them. The silent messenger of their day was their pen, today its the keyboard. In return, the university copied all of their letters for me, on archival paper, enlarging them so they are somewhat easier to read. But reading the copies, is not the same as having the originals in my hand.
Read them I did, in one night to 4 o'clock in the morning.
So now some of the blanks and lapses that were in my set letters were filled in. But it opened up other avenues with clues to other relatives. They contained names of family, if only Uncle John, cousin Sam, or Aunt Sally. Jennie B's were full of gossip from the neighborhood, to how the crops where doing, or mundane details of her life. Ira's were about his life in camp, on the march, hunting down a pig or cow for food, or looking over a field of hundred's of dead soldiers bodies. Somehow he managed to spend a lot of his time in the rear behind the fighting. They both contained the in's and out's of their relationship, such as it was, so far apart. Lover's quarrels and spats were just the same in the 1860's as they are today. I don't believe he got back to Ohio more than a couple of times from Sept 1862 to Sept of 1865.
Jennie B, taught in one room school houses around Hancock and Putnam counties in Ohio where she lived. She was paid $12 a month, and she boarded with someone in the area where she was teaching. Sometimes she liked the people, most times not so much. She taught at Simpson School house, Sharpsville School house, and Beechwood School house, and others which she did not name. She taught from 1862 to 1865, which was the span of years of the letters. Since I have been researching those letters for this diary, I have come to realize that now, all these years later, with better access to information, perhaps, I can track down the exact location of those schools.
What follows is her description of her school building and her students or scholars as she called them.
Beechwood School House, Nov 25, 1863
"I must tell you about my school house, Ira.
It is a beautiful house only been in use one winter painted white has green windows shutters..It has nine large maps a good black board and a very nice teachers desk.. The yard is fenced in a good well of water with a pump in it.. The wood is all put in the entry so that I do not have to go out of the house...everything is as convenient as it can be.
I think I shall hire a boy to make fires when it gets cold. I have a very short quarter a of a mile to my boarding place. Taking it all in all I don't think I could have got a school any place else
that was as nice for me to teach as this one. My school numbers thirty five scholars at the present there are a great many that are not through husking corn yet.
In two or three weeks my school will number near forty five scholars...It is very confining too. Its as much as I can do to keep them strait..I get up at 4 four o'clock n the morning stay up till 10 at night.. I go the the school house in the morning at seven o'clock..Dont get home until five. I don't get much time for exercise I have been sewing for the lady that I am boarding with..I could pay for my boarding that way all winter, but I don't think I shall.
I hope this is the last school I shall have. It will be won't it Ira? if the war closes in the spring."
In another letter dated Beechwood School House, Jan 14th, 1864, after a back and forth over the fact she did not get home much, so she did not get his letters for a few weeks as he was sending them to her parents address and not that of the school.. It was very hard for them to stay up to date with where each other was living. A lot of times mail did not get through to the soliders as the Rebels burned their mail if they could intercept it.
She wanted to go visit his Uncle John, who lives near her school:
I haven't been over there this winter but I want to go before my school is out which will be in four weeks--they want me to teach four months but I hardly think I will I am almost tired to death now I have had from thirty five to forty scholars every day this week. I never found teaching as hard as I have this winter---Mrs Barnhigher says I don't look like I did when I commenced teaching I think I shall quit at the end of the three months and go to Findlay to school and teach in Hancock Co this summer.She would describe the loneliness and feeling of homesickness, especially if she was in very rural area. Jennie B, would then feel sorry for herself. She, homesick only a few miles from her home, but then she would think of all the solider boys so very far from home and quit feeling sorry for her plight. She loved to teach, she just got homesick being away from friends and family. When her brother was home, he would come and get her on the weekends and bring her home. But he was in and out of the war several times, he also did a stint as a brakeman on the railroad. Today the distance is not far by car, but back then she had no means of transportation, except for her feet.
Children would normally go to school in the summer and winter months. School would be closed for harvesting and farming season. It seems she worked 3-4 months at a time, and was offered schools by the those who lead her district. Being a new teacher she did not get the plum schools closer to home.
I have no photo of her, she mentions many times in the letters of having her photograph taken and sending it to him. But at least I have somewhat of description of her, she is said to have jet black hair, and a good sense of humor. I also, get a sense of her from reading the letters.
She belonged to the Ladies Aid Society. She held and attended "Spellings", which took me a long to figure out what they were. They were spelling bees for the adults, usually they had a turkey or oyster supper and a spelling, at the local church. Jennie B loved to read magazines of the day and good novels, sometimes she read them under the covers, a candle for illumination.
Jennie B, married her beau on September 26th of 1865 the day he arrived at long last, home, from the the war. They had 6 children, Wallace B, my great grandfather, Mary Gail, William H, Cloyce, Ina Pearl and Dallas. But she died in 1878 at the age of 37 of "congestive chills" not sure what that is, but I am guessing a summer pneumonia or flu of some type as she died in July.
Jennie B always wanted that he send her letters back to Ohio, so she could keep their letters together, and he complied as much as he could, sending them home with family who came to visit where he was encamped, or with other soldiers from the neighborhood who were returning home.
The University uses these letters for studies, Ira's for Civil War Studies, and Jennie B' are used for women's studies He was a teacher also before the war, so it is fitting that their words are still used for teaching, 140 years after they were written. They would be pleased. And I am glad I could reunite their letters, after at least 80 years apart.
Footnotes: (You can click on the letters and the photo and they will open up in larger form. The photo of the interior of the school room, was taken this past summer in Nevada City, Montana, it is the oldest standing school in the state. Someone has put together old buildings from around Montana, they did a great job of saving those old buildings. Every weekend in the summer people dress in period clothes and are in the buildings, and develop their own personas of people of the era. The letters are scans of the originals not necessarily of the letters quoted above. I wanted to show one of Ira's letter from camp, and one of Jennie B's letter with the school listed in the heading.)