Stranger Exchanger! 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge Week #1

Amy Johnson Crow has a new challenge for geneabloggers called Challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Amy challenges genealogists to write about one ancestor once a week. Here’s my week #1 post:

My husband supports my genealogy efforts but can’t 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 have exchanged genealogy data to aid each other in breaking through our brick walls, while adding color to ancestor’s lives. Many times the stranger is not even interested in genealogy. I mail them a bit of their family history, hoping to pique their interest  and get them looking through those old boxes stored in the attic.

A highlight of 2013 was when one of my long lost “stranger” cousins, named Sam, came to visit me in New Hampshire with a suitcase full of photos, letters and scrapbooks.  His 2nd g-grandparents and my 3rd g-grandparents were George Perry and Ann Jones of Wales and Oneida/Herkimer Counties, New York. This was Sam’s second visit since we met through 5 or 6 years ago, soon after I posted a “mystery photo” of my g-grandmother Georgianna (Hughes) Hall with her Grandma and 4 others who I later learned were her 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 find a photo of his grandmother Kitty Mae Palmer (who he knew as Katherine) and her grandmother Ann (Jones) Perry/Evans. 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 had recently decided to “organize” a file of letters that he had inherited from his grandmother.  When he arrived, he said something like “I have this 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 (pictured below), a veterinarian, Dr. Charles G. Hall was my first “best friend”.

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I knew him, but didn’t know him.  He attended veterinary school at Ohio State 1926-9 and belonged to Omega Tau Sigma (he lived at the fraternity house his last two years), met my grandmother at a church dance, raised greyhounds (a tradition started by his parents) on his farm in Wilmington, worked at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston for a few years, then started his own veterinary practice in Malden. He was a “meat & potatoes” guy who ate on a TV tray most nights.  He collected old coins, loved the television show “Let’s Make a Deal”, introduced us to the board game “Oregon Trail”, taught me to play chess and gave my dad our house (Grampa’s childhood home) for $1.00.  When he hugged me, his face was “scratchy”.  In bad weather he picked us up at school in his big green truck (my mom didn’t have a car) and we would sing the song “Daisy, Daisy / Give me your answer, do….”.  Likely how my first kitten, delivered by Grampa, got her name

I was six years old when my Grampa described his wish 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 having Grampa’s attention so I worked diligently to reach this goal and make him proud.  In first grade when everyone was starting with “run Jane run,” I was learning how to spell and define words like castration, hysterectomy and expectorate. Every Saturday , Grampa would administer verbal quizzes to test my retention.  I always passed with flying colors and begged for more. Weekly Grampa would shop at the bookstore and buy one or more books covering every imaginable topic.  My father’s office became a small library. On most days after school through bedtime I opted to keep my nose in a book in lieu of watching the popular kids shows.

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


By the time I was in 5th grade, I could travel 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 on top of 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 at 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 the 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.


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 kept his secret.  He died that night.  I was in the 8th grade.

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 some 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

7 responses to this post.

  1. 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: ( […]


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