A little over twenty-six years ago (December 12, 1993) I wrote a letter to my great-aunt Anelia (Shearer) Hayes asking her what she knew about her father Ray Shearer’s family history. Anelia was my grandfather Vernon’s sister. My grandfather was old enough to remember his father Ray Shearer leaving their family, and he went to lengths to distance himself from his birth father, including unofficially but permanently changing his last name to that of his mother’s second husband, Frank Black.
Vernon’s sister Anna Cornelia (she preferred “Anelia”) was born around or just after when her father left the family. Unlike her brother, she kept her father’s surname and she went on to develop a deep interest in family history. Anelia was the one who compiled the “Edell Family History” in 1991 and hosted the Edel/Edell family reunion.
Today’s post is about the response Anelia sent to my letter of twenty-six years ago. When I received her response, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new fascinating information she provided to me. To this day, the letter she wrote is still the sole source for many pieces of Shearer family history that might otherwise have been lost forever.
When I received her response, I wasn’t as thorough with my documentation nor as precise with my filing as I am today. I read her letter perhaps 10–20 times and memorized as much as I could, and then set it aside in a stack of Very Important Papers. That stack then apparently got merged with others into a tall pile, and then I packed up all of my belongings into boxes for a cross-country move for graduate school. Throughout graduate school, I moved relatively frequently and lived in apartments too small to allow me to unpack all of my boxes. When I returned to the West Coast and got a job after graduate school, the staggering cost of real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area continued to force us to leave far too many boxes packed away in closets and our back room. It wasn’t until we moved to our current home that we had the luxury of being able to finally unpack all of our boxes. Then my father died and I found myself unwilling to blindly throw away the vast amounts of papers that he and his parents accumulated over decades. They were all enthusiastic accumulators, and I am grateful for that, but it meant I was now saddled with about 200 additional bankers boxes worth of papers of potential value to my family history research.
And now, almost four years after my father’s death, I’m only about half-way through unpacking, evaluating, and filing all these boxes of papers.
This week, I unpacked yet another box and finally rediscovered Anelia’s letter to me from February 1994. I found that while I had indeed memorized many of the anecdotes she retold in her letter, I had completely forgotten about others (or more likely, never memorized them in the first place). One of these anecdotes, embarrassingly, was a mention of Ray Shearer’s garage burning down that I just independently rediscovered a couple of weeks ago and wrote about in this post. And in a curious coincidence I found a copy of parts of this very same letter that Anelia sent to my father the day after she wrote to me.
All of this, combined with my having recently heard from two new Shearer cousins made me realize that I should share Anelia’s letter more broadly so that others can read it and learn from it as well.
A quick warning before I do, though—Anelia made many small but important errors in this letter, so take care in accepting all of the dates, places, and even names at face value. I hope to write a follow-up post in which I can annotate an update her letter with the benefit of over two decades of additional research.
Without further ado, here is Anelia’s response to my 1993 letter (I’m including my letter as well, since she sent it back to me with handwritten annotations in answer to some of my questions):
I’d be interested to know if you received a copy of this letter, or if this is the first time you’ve seen this. I’d also be interested to hear if you’ve received such goldmines of family history information from Anelia or other family history researchers. Do let me know in the comments below.