A French pen pal?

As part of your ancestor search, have you considered that parents or grandparents may have had a pen pal? Someone who might have preserved their letters?

As a “tween”, in the early 1970’s, I acquired two pen pals, by responding to an advertisement in the Boston Globe or Herald.



My first, Donna, grew up in Bondsville, Massachusetts.  I don’t recall the content of our letters – just that I was excited to receive mail. We corresponded until we departed for college,  and although we only lived 82 miles apart, lost touch and never met. The second (who’s name I can not recall), lived in Trinidad and Tobago.  The relationship was short lived; after several letters, she asked me to send money.

I was suprised to find that my dad may have also had a pen pal when he was 17.  He saved the initial letter of introduction, dated 26 Feb 1953, addressed to him at his childhood home, from Mademoiselle Solange Poncelet of the College Modern de Jeunes Filles at Thionville.  I haven’t had time to get this to a french speaking friend, but using “Google Translate” the jiste seemes to be: She has waited a long time for a pen pal. Miss Lawrence, an American was her teacher of English.  She is 17, small, with brown hair and dark skin.  She speaks of her father’s occupation and says that she doen’t see her parents much, other than holidays; she is boarding at school. She speaks of french examanations, perhaps related to college acceptance? She asks about his interests and schooling and whether they should correspond in Fench or English.  She asks that he send his photo first, before she sends hers. She thinks that Americans are friendly based on their apperance and gaiety.

Did dad write back? If he did, how long did they correspond?  My dad had a longtime girlfriend, Alice, during that time period (he didn’t start dating my mother until 1961) would she have tolerated a french pen pal? Where is Solange today? Although her initial letter is a bit commonplace, it would be interesting to track her down to locate further correspondence and to share the letter with her family.

Will our grandchildren know the meaning of the phrase “pen pal”?  Back in the day, it exposed us to other cultures in an era before the global economy, home computers, email, Internet and social media. Did you, your parents or grandparents have a pen pal?  Were the letters preserved? of what did you/they write?

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