Stranger Exchanger!

My husband supports my genealogy efforts but does not comprehend why I seek out online 3rd, 4th & 5th cousins.  He emphatically exclaims “They are STRANGERS! Didn’t your mother ever teach you about “Stranger Danger!”

Yes, but strangers have family bibles, photos, letters and diaries! I have become good friends with many of these “strangers”. We exchange information to aid each other in breaking through brick walls, while adding color to ancestors’ lives. Many times the stranger is not even interested in genealogy. I send a bit of family history to pique their interest and get them looking through those old boxes stored in the attic.

In 2013, my long lost “stranger” cousin Sam, visited New Hampshire with a suitcase of photos, letters and scrapbooks.  His 2nd g-grandparents and my 3rd g-grandparents were George Perry and Ann Jones of Wales who later settled in Oneida/Herkimer Counties, New York. This was Sam’s second visit after our meeting through, when I posted  a “mystery photo” of my g-grandmother Georgianna (Hughes) Hall with her Grandma Ann (Jones) Perry Evans and 4 others who I later learned were Georgianna’s cousins Anna Belle Palmer, Kitty Mae Palmer, Leland Spoor [cousin by marriage only] and George Spoor. A 5th cousin, born after this photo was taken, was Gilbert Spoor.

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Sam was thankful to locate a photo of his grandmother, Kitty Mae Palmer (who he knew as Katherine) with her grandmother. I was a genealogy “newbie” and overwhelmed with the amount of information he shared in exchange for one photo!  He had visited Ann’s birthplace in Llanfaelog, Anglesey, Wales; had the ship manifest for Ann, her parents and siblings arrival in New York, in 1849, on the Julia Howard and had taken photos of the family graves at Wright Settlement Cemetery  in Rome, New York!

Sam “organized” letters he had inherited from his grandmother.  Upon arrival, he said something like “I have a letter, that your g-grandmother Georgianna wrote to my grandmother’s sister, Anna Belle, just after Christmas, in 1918.  I thought you might like it, since it mentions a cat, and you are a crazy cat lady”.

What a surprise!  My grandfather’s 14th Christmas!

My grandfather, Dr. Charles “Charlie” George Hall, a veterinarian, was my first “best friend”.

grampa and nana and me

Grampa with his mom (left) with Nana (right).


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I knew Grampa, but didn’t know him.  He was born 08 Dec 1904 in Malden, Middlesex, Massachusetts, to Charles “Garrie” Milton Hall and Georgianna “Georgie” Hughes [who used her former step-father’s surname, Clough], of 17 Dale Street. His only sibling, David, was premature, and died one day after birth on 3 Jan 1914, just after Grampa’s ninth birthday

Grampa was blessed to have known three grandparents and his step-grandfather Mr. Shipman.  At age seven, he traveled with his mother and grandmother to their Rome, New York birthplace to visit his Uncle.

August 1911 The Utica NY Herald Dispatch: “Mrs. F. M. Shipman of Lynn, Mass and her daughter, Mrs. C. M. Hall, and son Charles of Malden, Mass[achusetts], are spending two weeks with Mrs. Shipman’s brother. W. C. Perry, 414 West Dominlck street, [Rome]”. [Mrs. F.M.  Shipman aka Kittie Perry, was Grampa’s maternal grandmother].



3 generations

Grampa and Roxanne

Grampa had appendicitis at age 17.  At 18, his aunt, Ellen Maria Sophia (Hall) Nichols, bequeathed $500 (about $6,800 in 2015 buying power), a small fortune for a teenager.

He attended the Faulkner school, graduated from Malden High (1922), attended the School of Ontario (1922-1926) and Veterinary School at Ohio State College (1926-1929). As a member of Omega Tau Sigma, he resided at the fraternity house (1928/9). His inheritance likely covered the $27 -$32 quarterly tuition, and much of his living expenses.(Student_Fees_1874-1967). He graduated in June of 1929 with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

He met my grandmother, Edith Anna Haines, daughter of John Glatis Haines and Edith Bernice Lansil, at a dance at the Congregational “branch church” on Forest St., Malden (my grandmother asked the minister to introduce them). They married on 18 July 1930, without his mother’s approval; Georgianna considered her son’s marriage a social step in the wrong direction (she had selected another woman, with whom she had hoped he would connect).  Grampa visited his mom daily, until she died in 1964, despite her disdain.

In 1933, Charlie and Edith took a $5,000 mortgage, and purchased their home at 228 Main Street, Malden. They had two boys, the later being my dad, Robert “Bobby”, born on their wedding anniversary in 1935.  Grampa was strict with his children and frugal, a result of the Great Depression.  My grandmother was an active church member, but my grandfather, a non-church goer, jokingly proclaimed himself a “Holy Roller”.

For over twenty years, Grampa raised, trained and raced greyhounds (a tradition started by his parents) on a farm in Wilmington, Massachusetts until it was taken by eminent domain in 1964 (at it’s height, the business had just over 100 dogs and puppies, most with the surname Matron or Guide); the farm was purchased in 1945, perhaps with the winnings of the family’s famous dog, Hi-Guide.

After graduation, Grampa worked at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston for four years, then in 1933, began a veterinary practice in Malden. His rates were low and he excelled at his craft.  He never took a vacation and clients adored him.  As a young adult, everyone I encountered from Malden, knew my grandfather.


animal hospital


Grampa inside of his operating room at 228 Main Street “fixing” my apparently very sick toy dog in the 1960’s.  The rear of the photo says that I paid a penny to have the dog operated on…

His best buddies were Hy Goldberg, the local Jewish druggist, Leo Norton who owned a Malden funeral home and Dr. Cornelius “Connie”  Thibeault, a fellow colleague, also an Ohio State graduate, of Wakefield, then Ipswich who had his own horses (a home I loved to visit with Grampa)!

In 1939, he purchased the home next door, as a birthday gift for Nana, their rental property until his death.

Middlesex land deeds to 1950 CG Hall.png

There were hardships. As a young man, Grampa had a breakdown which resulted in the newlyweds temporarily residing with Georgianna. His young wife battled cancer and lost a breast at a fairly young age. One of her arms swelled and stayed that way (doctors never discovered the cause). In 1942, Grampa rushed to his dad’s bedside in Florida, and watched him die at the age of 61.  He nearly lost his youngest son, my dad, to illness, while he was stationed in Germany in 1958 (his friend, Hy Goldberg, arranged a $513.20 ticket, “economy”, so Nana could fly to Frankfurt. On Bob’s 23rd birthday, also her 28th anniversary – she writes in her journal, “miss Charlie something terrible”).

charles milton died

Grampa was a “meat & potatoes” guy who ate on a TV tray most nights. He collected old coins, enjoyed the television show “Let’s Make a Deal”, introduced us to the board game “Oregon Trail”and taught me to play competitive chess.

He gave my dad our house (his parent’s home, which they purchased in 1930, three months prior to his marriage) for $1.00 in exchange for a promise to take care of Nana, when he was gone.  There was a gigantic pine tree in the back yard planted by Grampa as a young man, which he confided was “no taller than me”.  When I was a child it was a great place to play; the ground was covered with a deep bed of comfy pine needles, a small space protected by the heat of summer.

tree tall

When Grampa hugged me, his face was “scratchy”.  He seemed to always be wearing a leisure suit and a fedora hat. In bad weather he picked us up at school in his big green truck (my mom didn’t have a car) and when Nana was with him, we would sing things like  “Daisy, Daisy / Give me your answer, do….” on the short ride home.  Likely how my very first kitten, a gift from Grampa, was named Daisy.

For as long as I can recall, my brother, sister and I (and later my baby brother) spent every Saturday with Grampa and Nana, at their 228 Main Street home and veterinary office (except, according to my mother, one week each summer, when my cousin visited, and reportedly cried if she didn’t have them all to herself). My grandparents stopped by our house, just two miles away, several times a week. On the rare occasion my parents had a social engagement, Nana and Grampa were our babysitters.

I was six years old when my Grampa described his desire for my future. “You will become a medical secretary!!” he stated emphatically on a number of occasions.  I was not sure how a medical secretary differed from a regular secretary but based on what I had heard from my mother (a secretary prior to marriage) a job as a typist did not sound like much fun.  But…I loved Grampa’s attention and worked diligently to make him proud.  In first grade instead of “run Jane run,” I learned to spell and define words like castration, hysterectomy and expectorate. Grampa would administer verbal quizzes to test my retention.  I passed with flying colors and begged for more. Weekly Grampa would present one or more books covering every imaginable topic. He introduced me to the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew.  My father’s office became a small library. On most days, after school through bedtime, my nose was buried in a book, in lieu of watching the popular kids shows.

In addition to being my first teacher, Grampa was a genius. He was a life long learner who in 1975 cured cancer in a greyhound through a diet of raw fish and selenium.


By 5th grade, I traveled alone on Saturdays, catching the 6:30 AM public bus to my grandparents home on the other side of the city. My grandfather, who was semi-retired, would begin operations at 7 AM. I observed closely as he skillfully performed surgeries on cats and dogs. I held the animal’s legs while Nana would moisten a giant cotton ball with ether and place it a cylinder like contraption over the animal’s face, speaking softly to the little guy until he went under.

Grampa’s second love was raising greyhounds and racing them at Wonderland and the Topsfield fairgrounds where he moonlighted as the track’s veterinarian. I was the eldest local grandchild and my grandfather’s sidekick. He let me name some greyhounds, always bet $2 on the dog of my choice and bought me jelly donuts at a fair food stand when we arrived early on crisp fall mornings. The dogs’ winnings went to a college fund for his five grandchildren.  Grampa was happiest when he was with family and animals, he lived what he loved.


doc hall

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One Saturday, Grampa and I were in the operating room alone (Nana was upstairs instructing my siblings on the art of baking).  He was struggling to untangle a cat’s matted coat, with a giant metallic comb.  Suddenly, Grampa drew his hands to his heart, and withered back in pain.  He soon recovered; looked me in the eye and sternly said, “DO NOT tell your grandmother”.  I was in the 8th grade.  I kept his secret.

My dad drove him to the hospital later that night. He died a day later, on Monday, 1 March 1976.  It was leap year; I often thought he might have lived, had there been no 29th day of February that year.


Grampa was buried at Forestdale Cemetery, Malden alongside his parents and paternal grandparents.  Nana joined them in 1999.

Grampa left me a clock, saying he had planned it to be my wedding gift, it is a treasured possession of mine.



To have a letter from a “stranger” that gives me some insight into Grampa’s childhood is a wonderful gift!

It reads:

Christmas Day

First excuse paper as I didn’t want to go upstairs, being pretty tired. I am awfully lame and no strength but am in hopes to be better soon.

Glad Aunt Delia was better as sickness makes it awfully hard for everyone.  We had a nice day. Mamma and Mr. Shipman were up. Ma came up yesterday about noon and Mr. S. today. We all received our share of gifts.

Little Charlie got everything he asked for. His father got him a Rifle which will worry the life out of me but I guess he won’t use it yet awhile as last year he got a dandy air rifle. I gave him a Receiver + Sender of a telegraph set. Suppose the whole house will be wired all up now, and a belt.  Ma gave him a Compass + Pedometer, two batteries, 4 books, $2.00 and then he got several other things from friends.

Suppose you received lot of pretty things. Tell me about them. Thank you very much for my pretty handkerchief. They are always needed and I love pretty ones and I have quite a few that I am very choice of and among them are yours.

I received a lonely long letter from Gilbert yesterday saying he was well and he wanted to go to Germany. He also said he was going to visit us when he gets back in the USA more [?] when he comes. Don’t forget to come with him. We have beds for everyone and always have plenty to eat.

Glad you liked Chas. picture. That is his dog, the first good one he has ever taken to and they are Pals [Grampa’s father raised boxers for show and greyhounds for racing]. He has a cat that he likes and that raises the deuce with everything. He has been up the Xmas tree about a dozen times so far and has tried his best to get everything off.

Mamma sent her love to all. She was quite lame but outside of that feels pretty good. She has had us all playing cards all day. Little Charlie is going to take after her I guess as he wants to play with everyone he can get to play. He has only just learned.

Sorry Leland’s folks had the flu.

Well Anna Belle, I have written a long letter to Gilbert and this one so I guess now I am ready to go to bed. Hoping it will find all well also wishing all a Happy New Year.

With love to all.


P.S. Hoping Gilbert will be home soon.




In summary, don’t be afraid to look for some Stranger Exchangers who may hold a piece of your family history!!

PS: For those of you wondering about Gilbert, he was honorably discharged about six months later on July 3, 1919.  I don’t know if he ever made the trip to Malden to visit his cousins.

Gilbert discharged

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rita Ackerman on January 9, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    Wow! How exciting. I have met many Stranger cousins. It has always been rewarding in some way. I always try to stress to people that they do this now. Things get lost, people pass away and other lose interest. Great Post.



  2. This is a fabulous post! I have reached out to stranger cousins, too, but we haven’t been able to find connections. In most cases, I think it’s because their trees don’t go back far enough.



  3. This is one of the best posts I have read.What a wonderful history to share with your family.



  4. Love your post! My Grandpa was my first best friend, too. Such a special relationship, and so rewarding to come upon a treasure like that.



  5. […] – “Stranger Exchanger” (Dr. Charles G. Hall) by passagetothepast on Passage to the Past’s […]



  6. […] Linda at “Passage to the Past” tells a neat story about her “first best friend,” her grandfather Dr. Charles G. Hall. Not only are the stories wonderful, but it is fantastic example of others sharing what they have. As Linda puts it, it’s not stranger danger; it’s “Stranger Exchanger!” […]



  7. […] Kittie seemed to have recovered by Christmas 1918. She visited her daughter with Mr. Shipman and gave her grandson Charles “a Compass + Pedometer, two batteries, 4 books, $2.00.  See a copy of the letter, describing Christmas, here: ( […]



  8. Posted by nancyhvest on December 8, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    I have yet to meet any of my ‘stranger’ cousins in person, but I correspond through email and facebook with many of them. This blogpost encourages me to do so when I make my next research visit to SC.



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