A Mysterious Journal, a Magnifying Glass, and a Librarian
One of my first assignments as a newly appointed reference librarian was to organize a small room that contains materials of historical and regional significance to our area. While sorting through a shelf one day, I stumbled upon an old diary that contained poetry copied from various newspapers from 1860 through the late 1870s. Intrigued by this book, I decided to figure out to whom the journal belonged and why it was being housed in the overflow of vault materials.
The journal is old and not in the best condition. In addition, multiple names are handwritten on the inside cover making it difficult to determine ownership. I consulted my colleagues and we came up with a few answers. The person who wrote in this journal was educated and literate. This is indicated by the excellent handwriting and the interest in poetry. Furthermore, we concluded that the owner of the journal was female, again, the penmanship and style of handwriting possessed feminine qualities. After this point, I was about ready to give up on finding the writer of the journal. I had studied the inside and backside covers with a magnifying glass (literally) to uncover the name of the owner, but all leads were met with dead ends. I decided to leaf through the entire journal again, page by page, in hopes of finding a clue. On page 96, hidden amongst the poetry was a letter that I had overlooked! After reading the letter I finally had a name and down the rabbit hole I went…
Below is the transcribed copy of the letter copied verbatim:
Dear Matilda: - My friend and companion,
How can you e’er pardon your Kate,
For not writing directly she came here,
And letting you Know of her fate?Such wonders I saw on my Journey!
And letting you Know of her fate?Such wonders I saw on my Journey!
I meant to have written them all
But forgetting to Keep up my diary,
I cant my adventures recall.
But when I arrived at Aunt Susan’s
With Bessie unpacking my box,
I heard a loud chorus of voices:
“Oh Kate, now you’ll meet Mr Cox!
We girls are all struck by his beauty!
He’s so rich, and so clever, and young!
And he wears the most matchless of neckties!
You’ll worship the song he has sung!”
When I heard this, my dearest Matilda
I put on my blue grenadine
I cant tell how praised it has been,
And I walked in the drawing-room singing
A few bars of an Opera air
Pretending I thought no one near me,
Yet I Knew Mr Cox would be there
And he was – standing up on the hearth-rug
With a photograph book in his hand,
They were right. He was tall, And so hamsome;
And his whisker and necktie were grand.
His eyes were like violet blossoms
His teeth were as orient pearls
And I marked a large diamond glitter
As he drew his white hand thro’ his curls
There I heard my Aunt Susan say, gently:
“Mr Cox, my pet niece, little Kate.
Now come, let us hasten to dinner –
Even now I’m afraid we are late.”
Dear Matilda, Poets say “that love cometh
Unsought and remarkably soon,”
They are right – for an hour after dinner
When we went out to look at the moon,
You’d have thought he’d have Known me for ages
As we strolled up and down the long walk,
I am glad that papa was not near us –
He’d have started to hear all his talk.
For I Know how he blamed me for list’ning
To Fred Wrightou’s few flattering Jokes
But Matilda, I never was flattered
‘Till I walked ‘neath the moon at fair Oaks
He sais I’m a Sylph and an elfin –
A fairy and gossamer sprite;
Mamma calls me “awfully dumpty”
After all Charley Cox may be right.
My hair which my sisters call reddish
He tells me “like rich mellow gold –
Only owned by the angels of Eden
Only painted by Artists of old”
As proof of his love and attention
When I sit down to sing or to play
He turns o’er each leaf of my music
And non power can attract him away.
There’s that musical genius Jane Ford –
So dark and so ugly, and tall:
I hear she would die for his smiles,
Yet he never looks at her at all
You Know what a dunce I’m at chess
I can scarce tell a pawn from a queen
Yet he’s always challengeing me to a game
And neglects the fine player – Jane Green
I think it a symptom of love
When he praises all the things that I do
And says I am perfect because –
I feel that his judgments untrue.
He declares that he Knows he’s unworthy
So he humbly has offered, in fear
His heart and his hand his devotion for life
And a sum of ten thousand a year!
H said he should die if I loved not.
So I’m wearing his diamond ring;
Ordered my trousseau from Stewarts
He has left off his billiards, his beer, and Cigars
Sold his horse that he loved more than life
Sent his dog, that once snarled at me, off to a friend
And is building a house for his wife;
So now when you read how employed I’ve been,
My silence, dear Matty forgive;
And pray, as I pray, that my happiness now,
May continue as long as I live;
So write to me dearest as soon as you can –
At Fair Oaks some time I may stay;
And believe that thro life I shall ever remain
Your affectionate friend Katy May
P.S. – I want your advise as to how I shall dress
Must I wear Meeklin or Honiton veil
I’m afraid if I have white Satin and pearls
It will make me look dreadfully pale.
End of post sct K. M.
Now with her name and her future husband’s name I started searching census records. I found a Kate Cox married to a Henry A. Cox living in the Ashby district from the 1880 census records. Kate’s occupation was listed as “keeping house” while Henry was a carpenter by trade. Great, I now had some verification. Katy May from the letter did in fact marry a Mr. Cox. I feel strongly that “May” from “Katy May” as she signed the letter is just a nickname. I have an uncle that calls me “Jake” which has nothing to do with my full name. People abbreviate their names; change names, and have nicknames. But a nickname or abbreviation doesn’t change who you are. Catherine Cox is the owner of the journal that has been housed in the basement of the library. But why? Who is this woman? Further down the rabbit hole I went…
My next step was to check the names in the Harrisonburg/Rockingham cemetery index. The index revealed that Kate V Cox preceded her husband in death on February 7, 1910. H.A.W. Cox died on November 3, 1938. Both are buried in the Keezletown cemetery. At this point in my research I was beginning to think “wow this is easy, I will have this wrapped up in no time at all.”
I was wrong.
The microfilm machine was my next step. I planned to search the February paper for Kate’s obituary to learn more about her life. As life often seems to go, as soon as the going gets easy, the going gets tough. The Harrisonburg Daily News (which preceded the Daily News Record) microfilm collection is limited. We have December of 1910 but not January or February of that year. After a call to the Library of Virginia, I was able to verify that these records are lost—at least on microfilm—the copying of these materials is limited to their availability. Unfortunately January and February of 1910 have not been found, so if anyone reading this happens to have those lost months, please contact the Library of Virginia immediately so that the papers can be recorded and history can be preserved.
Luckily, I did locate H.A.W. Cox’s obituary. Mr. Cox died November 3, 1938. He was married twice. Once to Kate and after her death, he married Fannie Van Pelt. Mr. Cox was a carpenter who built many houses and barns in the area and later became an undertaker. He had no children with Kate but did have children with his second wife. The 1900 census confirmed that Henry and Kate were married but did not have children.
After locating the obituary I went to the courthouse to locate a marriage license. Henry A. W. Cox married Catherine V. Carpenter on April 11, 1880 near Cross Keys, Virginia, just as her letter describes. With a copy of the marriage license, an obituary, and a handful of census records I was beginning to become satisfied with my research. My next step was to research Kate’s family name. We have a Carpenter Family History book housed in our genealogy department so I started there. The Carpenter family settled in the Valley in the mid-1700s and owned land in the Keezletown and Cross Keys areas. Much information on Kate’s immediate family is missing from the book, but her father and mother are mentioned along with her siblings.
I still have questions, but without her obituary I feel that I am missing a key piece of “evidence.”
If anyone reading this has any information on Kate, we encourage you to contact the library so that we can fill in the missing gaps. Thank you for reading our blog and I hope you have found it interesting. I learned a great deal about genealogical research and how difficult, time consuming, and frustrating it can be, but in the end—very worthwhile—especially when the research begins to yield results and answers.