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Social Media Decodes Long Lost Family Letters

Do you have treasured family letters you have not read in a while? I do, several actually. I was fortunate enough to come into possession of two collections of family letters. The first collection was the correspondence between my father and his family when he lived in France while serving as a missionary. This collection of letters back and forth helped me to gain a better understanding of the family dynamics of my paternal side. I did not have the chance to meet my grandfather and did not know my grandmother very well as she was quiet and shy. I treasure those letters as a way to know them and should read them more often.

The second collection of letters was given to me by a very distant cousin. Rebecca had done some family research in the 1980s that included writing letters to a common distant cousin of ours, Birdie Dean. Birdie was still living in the old home place and was one of the oldest living members of my mother’s side of the family. The collection of letters had been lovingly placed in page protectors and put in a binder. The recipient’s family were not interested in them, so my cousin sent the letters on to me. I still look over the scrolling words and find new hints to our family history. They are a special part of my archives.

But what happens when you have old family letters that are written in a language you do not know? This was the case when Debbie Tate of Miami County, Ohio hit a brick wall while attempting to find her father’s Hungarian family roots.

At that time, Debbie only knew that her father’s parents were Joe and Lillie (Eldridge) Nimety of Lee County, Virginia.  She had been told that Joe had a family before marring Lillie and there were other children.  She hoped to connect with these children and introduce her father to his half siblings.

With my help, we searched for genealogical data in census records, birth and death records, marriage records, and naturalization papers. After a lengthy process, we were able to determine that Joe Nimety had come to this country as Josef Nimeth.[1] He was the son of Josef Nimeth Sr. and Rosa who had first settled in Lorain County, Ohio.[2]

Joe Jr. had first been married to Mary Super.[3] They had likely married within the United States (probably Ohio) and had at least two children.[4] It was surprising to learn that the first wife and children had lived in America. Family tradition had said the first wife and children were from Hungary and had supposedly been left there.

Once we hit a dead end locating the children of Joe’s first marriage, Debbie said to me, “It’s a shame we do not know anyone that can translate these Hungarian letters I have into English.” WHAT? What Hungarian letters!? She had not told me because she believed I would not know anyone that could do a translation. She was wrong.

Did you know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, send out their young people to serve as missionaries to all parts of the world? And did you know that many are happy as can be to use the language skills they once learned to help others?

I have said it a million times and I will say it again, social media is a family history miracle tool! I uploaded the Hungarian letters to Facebook and put “Attention all Mormon returned missionaries.” I asked that anyone who knew Hungarian, or knew someone who did, please translate these old letters.

SocialMediaDecodesLongLostLetters_2

In three days, I received a message from a friend of a friend. He would be happy to do the translation of the letters. A week or so later, the letters came back to us translated into English. I think I cried. I was so amazed at the family story they told.

The letters were written to Joe Jr. from two of his then grown children from his first marriage. They were indeed living in Hungary and the time was just after World War II. They had lost one sister in a bombing and were letting their father know. The letters also introduced Joe Jr. to their spouses and children. Lastly, they mentioned a third daughter Vilma and her family.[5]

Son Jozsef and daughter Iren, both pleaded with their father for help. War had left them in a desperate situation. They wanted to bring their families back to America, but could not because they did not have their American birth records. The letters contained their dates of birth and locations so that Joe Jr. could find the records quickly and send them back.

These two letters had been left in a box for over 60 years. Now, with the help of a social media tool and the kind returned Hungarian missionary, the lost family story had been found.

Conclusion

Do you have unread family letters? Perhaps it is just a matter of reading through them again, or perhaps you need to seek help in translation. Either way, decoding the words of family letters will bring insight and clues to your family history. I encourage you to reach out to others that are happy to help. The questions to your biggest family mysteries may be gathering dust so pull out those old letters and start reading today!


ARTICLE REFERENCES


[1] “U.S. Naturalization Records – Original Documents, 1795-1972,” digital images online, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 September 2015), entry for Joe Nimeth, 1927; citing Naturalization Petitions of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (Abingdon), 1914-1929; NARA microfilm M1645, roll 2 and “Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945,” digital images online, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 September 2015), Josef Nimeth, arrived 28 October 1903, S.S. Switzerland, page 6, line 18.

[2] “Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945,” digital images online, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 September 2015), Josef Nimeth and Roza [sic] Nimeth, arrived 28 October 1903, S.S. Switzerland, page 6, lines 17 and 18; this passenger list recorded their destination as Lorain [County], Ohio to meet his Josef Nimeth, husband of Roza and father of Josef. Also, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Sheffield Twp., Lorain County, Ohio, population schedule, ED 96, page 30 A (penned), dwelling 1536, family 310, Joseph Nemet [sic] and Rosa Nemet [sic]; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 July 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1205.

[3] “U.S. Naturalization Records – Original Documents, 1795-1972,” digital images online, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 September 2015), entry for Joe Nimeth, 1927; citing Naturalization Petitions of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (Abingdon), 1914-1929; NARA microfilm M1645, roll 2. Joe’s Declaration of Intention was dated 18 Dec 1920 and the wife listed on that record is Mary Super of Kormend, Hungary.

[4] “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images online, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 September 2015); card for Joe Nimeth, Wise County, Virginia. Card indicates Joe has a wife and two children.

[5] Iren, last name not given, Hungary, no other address given, letter, 25 June 1947, translation provided by Stephen Loveless, 15 April 2012; original letter held by Debbie Tate, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Piqua, Ohio. Also, Jozsef Joska, Grof Tisza Istvan utca 4, Arpadfold, Pest [sic] county, Hungary, letter, 8 March 1946, translation provided by Stephen Loveless, 15 April 2012; original letter held by Debbie Tate.

Amie Bowser Tennant Amie Bowser Tennant

Amie Bowser Tennant has served as a volunteer at her local Family History Center for more than 10 years. She was awarded the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course Scholarship in American Genealogy in 2011. She also enjoyed the position as newsletter editor for Miami Meanderings, a local county genealogical publication, for two years. Now, she is a research genealogist, speaker, and writer.


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