Family History from my great grandmother’s pen

Family history - Genealogy research

My great grandmother Mary Ellen Williams (Marshall)

Do you have some family history documents that need transcribed? I do. You know I’ve transcribed several but have a few yet to do. One of my favorites is an essay my great-grandmother wrote. I assume she was a student when this was written and was one of her weekly English compositions. There wasn’t a date on it but since she was born in 1871 I’d guess it was written in the mid to late 1880s.

As a family historian some of the contents are amazing and I’ll talk about them after you read it.

So here is a transcription of a hand written essay by Mary Ellen Williams


Rainy Days

For my part, I like rainy days, to be sure, one can’t go away from home and is not very liable to receive visits, yet there are many pleasant things which may be done on a rainy day, while if it were sunshiny, one might never think of them. In the first place, if I can get a good book to read I don’t care how it may storm outside for I am oblivious to all around me. But if I can’t get a book my next greatest pleasure is to go up to the attic and rummage among the old things there. I wish you could see some of the queer and ancient things I find. There is a spinning wheel two hundred years old which I don’t doubt has many a time buzzed in the presence of Washington for great-grandmother Williams knew him well. I’ve tried several times to spin with it and such work as I’ve made!! But it’s fun.

Then there is an old-fashioned bureau in one corner which used to belong to grandma and it is full of her clothes, even to a lovely silver brocade which was her wedding dress. There are other beautiful dresses, too, made up into the fashion of over seventy years ago, and have old laces and even some jewelry. One little drawer is full of love letters and a locket with a picture of a handsome officer in it. I can only view these things from a distance now, but mama says the day I am eighteen the bureau and its contents shall belong to me, and then I shall learn the sad history of those letters, and why grandma died when only twenty two and on the second anniversary of her wedding day.

Family History - Genealogy Research

Victorian Dresser

Something else I like to do is to answer all the letters I owe, and to write my composition for the next week for then that’s off my mind and when the time comes I have it ready without being obliged to hurry through it. Besides I have my scrape book in which to paste all the scrapes I have collected since the last rainy day. If I have any odd sewing to do or a piece of fancywork to finish I take this time to do it in, then when the sunshine comes again my mind being free I can enjoy it without thinking of tasks undone at home.

Then it is often real fun to sit at the window and watch the passersby seeing them hurry along under their umbrellas trying to get as little as possible. Once in a driving storm I saw two men speeding along in opposite directions with their umbrella pull down so tight over their heads that it was impossible to see where they were going as might be expected they collided and each umbrella got a hole punch through it. It made me laugh to see how mad those two men looked, though I was sorry their umbrellas were spoiled. I think too a rainy day is a good time to practice up your neglected music or to try your skill at painting if you are fond of it. Oh there are so many pleasant ways for passing your time that the day is fairly over before you know it. There is no need of complaining about what can’t be helped and indeed; I often wish there were more rainy days than there are.


Wow! As you just read I’ve got love, heartbreak, romance and George Washington in my family history! That is if what Mary Ellen wrote is true! So I took a closer look at her essay.

Mary Ellen’s great-grandmother Williams was born Sarah James in 1768 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She married Abel Williams, a Revolutionary War veteran in 1788. It is possible her great-grandmother Williams knew Washington well? Now the probability is remote but it is possible. Right?

“Then there is an old fashioned bureau, full of clothes, even a wedding dress”. I have a Victorian dresser that has come down through this family line. As you can see in the photo it has a couple great little drawers for love letters and a locket! I’ll bet my dresser (then with a mirror and kerosene lamp holders) was in her parents bedroom while Mary Ellen was writing this composition.

As for “grandma died when only twenty two and on the second anniversary of her wedding day”, well that’s just not true in my family history. Mary Ellen’s Grandma Williams was married 20 years and died when she was 40 years old. Her Grandma Holmes was married 62 years and died at the age of 88!!

So I guess I’ll just look at this essay as Mary Ellen’s “composition for the next week”, but I’m still keeping the hope alive that my 4x great grandmother knew George Washington so well she didn’t feel the need to get up from her spinning wheel to greet him!


  1. How fun to read your great-grandmother’s essay! It’s fascinating to hear about life in the 1880’s. You are truly blessed to have this wonderful family history treasure. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. kendra schmidt says:

    What an appealing story! I loved reading it and picturing the scene. You have a treasure.

    • CindyFreed says:

      Thanks Kendra! I agree it is a treasure! Isn’t it a wonderful peek into her life and thoughts! I love rereading it. Thank you for stopping by and your comment.

  3. Carol McKee says:

    I hope she received a good mark on her composition – It was well written!

    • CindyFreed says:

      Carol – I hope so too! Seems like she put a lot of thought into it. I think she had a lot of imagination and I’m so thankful to have a look into her world! Thanks for your comment!

  4. Cindy,

    I want to let you know that your post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    • CindyFreed says:

      Thank you Jana! It means a lot that you would share my great grandmother’s composition. She is remembered!

  5. How awesome is this! I appreciate her love for rainy days…I love them too! So neat to read!

    • CindyFreed says:

      Thank you Jennifer! Isn’t it amazing? I estimate it was written about 130 years ago. A fabulous family treasure! I appreciate you stopping by and your comment!!

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