Category Archives: family

Blue Star Mother: Family Letters

Blue Star Mother flag

Blue Star Mother flag with three stars.

Blue Star Mother

In December, I shared my grandmother Vera Anderson’s letters written in December1943.  During that month, she was thinking about Christmas and in her role as a Blue Star Mother. She was very concerned about her Navy SeaBee son, William. Through her letters, we saw a bit of what life was like on the homefront during World War II.

Many homes in Killbuck Ohio displayed a small banner with one or more blue stars embroidered on it. Grandma’s silk Blue Star Mother’s flag looked like this, with stars for Uncle Bill (William) Anderson, Uncle Herbert Anderson and my cousin Bob (Robert J.) Anderson.  When these letters were written, only William had joined up the Navy, but the other two would join before long. (I don’t know whatever happened to the banner, but it is one heirloom I would love to have.)

Articles on the Internet provide contradictory information about the beginning of the Blue Star Mother banners–with some claiming they started in World War II. However, this story seems to be the more accurate one. A soldier from Ohio designed the original flag in World War I.  By the time of World War II, the government codified who could fly the banner and the size and design.

Since December, I have selected snippets from Grandmother’s letters to my mother that showed her role as a gardener (and preserver of vegetables) and in her role as a Rosie the Riveter as she tries to make enough money to support her sick husband and herself. Now I am going back to grandma’s role as a Blue Star Mother. Some of the excerpts below are from December letters, so you may have read them before, but I wanted to put the whole story together.

During World War II, no matter what else was happening in people’s lives–and she related births, deaths, marriages, a bank scandal, basketball team and grandchildren’s accomplishments–the war was never far from her mind.

[I will be publishing the entire letters on a separate page for the benefit of relatives and anyone else who would like to see all the details of life on the homefront in a small Ohio town.]

I have struggled to date some of the earlier letters, but still do not know for sure the order of the letters. She wrote them in October and November 1943, but in many cases only put the day of the week rather than the date, and if I do not have the envelope or other clues, I cannot date them with certainty. The December letters all had dates on them.

The October Letters

Bill and Sarah Anderson 1943

Bill and Sarah Anderson, Aug. 1943 in Killbuck, Ohio

This is an earlier letter, because there is no mention of William leaving California.

Sent Wm. a letter and a compass this morning. Will send you his letter. Didn’t I send you his address?

For good measure, she includes his address at the end of the letter:

  • W. J. Anderson E.M. 3/C
  • 12 Spec. Batt. Platoon #2
  • Port Hueneme
  • Calif.

This letter seems to have been written before the October 12th letter.

Sarah (his wife) … had a letter from Wm saying there were 12 boats in there to be loaded and they was working them awful hard. He said his boss said he was the best checker he ever had and Wm. Says he always asks for him. He said they was loading their equipment on one of these boats so he thought they would be going this week. He said he thought they would go to Espiretu[Espiritu] Santo, an island east of Australia. It is 15 x 168 on map. We found it and put a flag on it. I do hope they get across and nothing happens. I guess all we can do is “Hope for the Best.” I do hope this D- war is soon over. Wm says he wants to go so I guess he will get his wish. I hope he never regrets it but we will never know if he does. It will be a wonderful trip and experience for him but he is sure taking an awful chance.

I was very young, but I vividly remember the large map of the Pacific that we studied and studied during the war, trying to figure out where my uncles and cousin were.

In another letter, Grandma show that although their mind is on the war, there is time for levity. (Bob–son of William the sailor)

Bob put on quite a show imitating Hitler last night and we laughed until we cried. He is good.

Another October letter, written before Oct. 12:

I will send you William’s address as I am afraid if you don’t write right away he won’t get it as he wrote Sarah they will be on alert after Fri. was the report now. Thinks they will be sailing before many days. That isn’t just what he said but I can’t think of the word he used but that it meant they will not be allowed any leaves or any liberty after Fri. He said they all were ready and wanted to get it over.

October 12. Sarah and Bob (William’s wife and son) visited grandmother with news. Sounds like William’s departure is imminent and he has been having an adventure. Grandma almost sounds like she envies him, but she is terrified that he will actually be going to war.

Sarah and Bob was here a little while. She had a letter from Bill yesterday and he thinks he will be sailing around 15 or 18 for where I told you. [Espiritu Santo—island east of Australia] He says he weighs 175# and can take the training with any of them and better than most of them. He says he has been having some wonderful trips out on ocean with Coast Guard that Flying isn’t any thing to being out on rough ocean in one of those boats. Every thing is closed up tight and you look out in the water through the windows and wonder some time if it will ever get on top again. He is ready to go. I think it is terrible. I wake up at night and it seems like a dream that it can’t be so. I wish it was over. I am afraid Wm is getting right in the midst of it. He doesn’t write us very often. Herbert had a nice letter. I am glad he wrote you.

A letter probably written October 25, she lists some of the local “boys” who are facing the draft.

Wm is still in California. I hope he never leaves there. But he would be disappointed.

Earl and Elliot told me he was going to Cleveland and enlist in C.B.s Frank Kinsey passed and they say Bob Purdy has been called out of Coshocton Co. Mr. Click got reclassified in A-1. Franklin Day got his notice also.

You may notice that “Mr. Click got reclassified A-1”  This is the same Mr. Click who later gets arrested for embezzling from the local bank. Ironically, his crime kept him out of the armed forces.

November Letters

November 19, she writes:

Wm is still in Calif. He was out fighting that forest fire.

The LA Times in September 1992 reported on the 60 worst fires in southern California in the past 60 years, including this, “DATE: November, 1943 AREA: Topanga Canyon, Malibu, Los Angeles County ACRES: 40,000 ”

On Google Books I found interesting information on the American attitude about forest fires during World War II.  On page 42 of the book, “The Culture of Wilderness: Agriculture As Colonization in the American West” I learned the the FBI suspected foreign incendiaries as the cause of the California forest fires in 1943.  They learned, instead, that it was caused by Americans not used to dealing with the dry conditions.

America had good reason to worry about forest fires and produced posters (Yep! more posters) warning that preventing forest fires was defense against the enemy.  In fact, Japan had incendiary balloons that they successfully floated over the western U.S., particularly the states of  Oregon and Washington. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful in starting forest fires.

Toward the end of November, she writes:

We haven’t heard from William for several days. I am afraid he is going to have to go. They called them all together and told them they would leave this month. I had sent him a fruit cake and cheese. Hope it got there before he left. Sarah also sent him cookies and pickles.

Another letter still is hopeful that he will not go overseas. She includes a list of Killbuck men who are enlisting or reporting for examinations. Mrs. Alderman apparently has not heard from her soldier husband.

William is still in Calif. Said in his last letter some talk of going up coast to some port in Wash. I hope they do keep him in States. He got my box and said it came through in very good shape. He said they had a farewell party and the boys put on a show and I will send you a part of the program.

Bernard Click Bernard Gallion and Franklin Day, Loudell Lanham’s man all go to Columbus next Wed for examinations. Helen Alderman told me to day she didn’t know where Louie is.

December Letters

December 10, she is feeling melancholy about Christmas.

I think William has sailed as he thought he would go into Secure last Sun or Mon. I am all broke up about it. He mailed his Xmas cards last week.

December 14, some ominous news from William.

Sarah had a letter from Wm saying he was sending clothes etc home as he thought he would go into Secure last Mon. nite. Didn’t know where they was going but a lot of tents on boat so thought must be somewhere it would be warm. I am so sorry I was so in hopes he would never leave the States. I feel awful bad about it.

In same letter she mentions working at the movie theater for another woman going to a Blue Star Mother meeting, so apparently she is not active in that organization.

Worked for Amy last Sun afternoon and Mon night as she went to Blue Star Mother meeting.

About December 22, she writes the last letter that remains in this series. It is the letter that unveils the bank scandal but also starts with  specific news about William.

Yes, Wm sailed Sat Dec 11. Only wonder where he is and how he is tonight.  I know he would have been disappointed if he couldn’t have gone.

After all the hints that he might be going, and the periods of waiting, it is definite. Her son has gone to war and she is officially a Blue Star Mother.





A #52Ancestors prompt to write about “longevity” spurred me to check out my Family Tree and see if I could find how long my ancestors lived. I learned a lot through this exercise, but how long ancestors lived proved to be elusive.

A Longevity List

Using Family Tree Maker, I printed out a list of all people in my tree and their birth and death dates and age at death. Thanks to help from Amy Johnson Crow, I learned how to make Family Tree Maker do the math, so I didn’t even have to do simple subtraction. Thanks Amy and thanks, FTM.

After copying all the names of people who lived to 85 or above, I realized I need to narrow the field even more.  I looked at centenarians and ninety-nine year olds first, then those 95 or over.

Well, this looks exciting–I have FIVE ancestors who lived more than 100 years according to the list from my records. BUT…..

Erroneous Information In My Tree

The first centenarian, Anne Edward Rogers, wife of a 9th great-uncle, was born in 1615 in England and died in 1719 in Massachusetts according to my data. That would make her 104 years old. However, I don’t know where I got that birth year, because the only information now available came from Find a Grave where her birth date is listed as unknown. Scratch Anne Edward Rogers from the list.

My next ancestor claiming to have reached 100, Frances Belcher, is a closer relative, so I’m excited.  My 9th Great-grandmother Frances was born in England in 1598 and, my record said, died in 1678.  Whoops! Her death actually occurred in 1698, instead of the erroneously recorded 1678. That means she was a respectable, but not record-breaking, 80 years old when she died. The information on her comes from Find a Grave and from a family history of Hugh Welles (husband of Frances Belcher), neither of which is conclusive (primary) evidence, anyway.

115-year-old 7th Great Aunt?

Lydia Death (appropriate name for this exercise, right?)  lived in Massachusetts from 1682 to 1797, according to my tree.  While I have the usually reliable Massachusetts town record (Sherborn Massachusetts) that attests to her birth, reviewing her page revealed that I have NO Reliable Source for the date of her death.

110 Year Old, Legendary, 7th Great Grandmother

Next, I come across Penelope Van Princis Stout, a legendary woman in the most literal sense of the word.  Penelope married my 7th great-grandfather, Richard Stout, an adventurer and perhaps part-time pirate. My mother’s maternal grandfather “Doc” Stout traced his ancestry back to Robert and Penelope Stout.  Penelope’s personal story includes a shipwreck, a deadly injury,  capture and rescue from death by Indians, and becoming the “Mother of Middletown New Jersey.”  You can read the entire embellished story about the miraculous Stouts on this web page.  Although her birth year might range between 1622 and 1626, her marriage to Richard Stout is documented, as is his death and the fact she was still alive in 1705.  One of the many stories written about her says she lived to 110 years (1622-1732). Although that report was written in the late 1700s, closer to her time than others, it still does not constitute proof. Alas.

And Then There Was ONE Centenarian

Checking the information on Mary Jane Emaline Cochran, a First Cousin three times removed, drew me into a fascinating life.  I have to resist! Not only does she not come from the line I’m currently reviewing, but I also have resolved to stick with the grand parents for a while and resist writing about the aunts and uncles and cousins.

But if I WERE writing about her (which as you can see, I am plainly not) I would tell you that she was born in 1885 in Kansas and died in 1989 at the age of 103.  She did not spend all 103 years in Kansas. When she was just 17, she married a much older Belgian immigrant farmer and they lived in Kansas and in Colorado and had seven children together before he died. She remarried and had three more children with her 2nd husband. They lived in Michigan until she moved back to Kansas with her husband when they were in their fifties. She died in the state of Washington, according to that state’s death records and the Social Security Index. If I were writing about her, I would track down where her children were and whether she had gone to Washington to be with one of them.

But I’m not going to write about her.

Was She Ninety-Nine?

Elizabeth Bee, a nine times great-grandmother would have lived to the ripe age of 99, had I not discovered that some researchers had mistaken her from some other Elizabeth Bee.  She married a John Stout (The same Stout family as Penelope married into). Despite the fact she was a widow at death, I doubt the church records would have called her Elizabeth Bee.

One record used by several people lists in Latin “Elizabeth Bee filia” followed by a difficult-to-read first name with the surname Bee. A few lines  further on and a few days later, the death of “Elizabeth Bee uxor”with the same man’s name.  It seems obvious to me that a child died and a few days later the mother who had given birth also died.  And she was an Elizabeth married to a Bee, not a Bee married to a Stout.

Finally, Find a Grave lists (with no documentation) January 1, 1591 for her birth and 1685 in Nottinghamshire England as her death. So if Find a Grave is correct, she lived to 94, not 99.

A 7th great-grandmother, Hannah Rice, whom I thought died at 99, actually died at 89.  Instead of relying on shakier data, I should have looked a little harder and found the Concord Massachusetts town record which records her death year and age at death–89.

More Miscalculation

Fifth Great Uncle Stephen Barrett Jr. would have been 98 at death if the dates I originally had were correct.  The Rutland Massachusetts town records say he was born in 1753, however I have only Find a Grave to rely on for his death date, and instead of the 1852 I had recorded earlier they say 1832. So he died at the age 78 or 79.


  • William Lwelyn Kaser, a cousin of my father, was born in 1891 and died in 1988.  Those dates are confirmed by the Social Security records and by Ohio Death Records. He lived to 97.
  • My mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser, lived to 96.
  • George Reed, 7th Great Grandfather born 1660 and died 1756 in Massachusetts, lived to 96 according to Find a Grave and New England Genealogy and History Register.
  • Isaac Bassett, of Norton Massachusetts, my 5th great-uncle, lived from 1755 to 1852 (including service during the Revolutionary War) which made him 96 at death.  This is well substantiated by various sources.
  • My mother’s sister, Rhema Anderson Fair lived to 95, and so did many of my earlier ancestors in New England.
  • Robert Irving Stout, First Cousin two times removed lived from 1891 to 1986, very well documented living to ninety-five. The thing that amazes me about Robert Stout? He lived in the same city as my parents in the eighties and they never made the connection.

Others too far removed from me–related only by marriage  or very distant cousins–reached their nineties.  But these are the highlights, and lowlights of research errors discovered while searching for longevity.

So did I find a lot of long-lived ancestors?  Some, but not as many as it appeared at first.

Meanwhile, I need to get my nose back on the grindstone of following my Kaser line (and the associated names).

What I Learned

Contrary to popular belief, the long-lived ancestors do not all come from the twentieth century. My New England ancestors were a hearty crew.

And what did I find?  I found a lot of errors. I found that I need to double check the information on many ancestors where I did the research four or five years ago. And I learned that an amazing amount of new information has become available that was not there a few years ago.

I need to review all my earliest entries on my tree and”Family get rid of any questionable reference materials and the associated information.

I learned that when I began filling in boxes on my family tree, I depended too much on index lists like

Millenium File“.  That document merely compiles information from other family trees rather than from primary sources.

Family Data Collection“. Same complaint as with the Millenium File.  I routinely ignore information from that source, and need to go back and eliminate those places where I used it as a reference–in my less choosy days.

Find A Grave presents several challenges. First, most of the information there is not sourced. Unless there is a photograph of a gravestone, the written information is questionable.  It provides guidance but proceed with caution. A second challenge is that there are both the general U. S. Find a Grave and separate ones for states, and a third that includes “Deaths at Sea”.  These lists are redundant, so citing all of them does not give you 3 sources of information, just one source expressed in three different ways.

And can somebody explain to me that Netherlands file?  It looks like it is another compilation of individual family trees rather than solid information, so I rarely even look at it.

If I live long enough, I may get this all straightened out.

Grandma’s World War II Garden: Family Letters

Vera Anderson, August 1944

Vera Anderson, August 1944

Throughout the letters that my grandmother, Vera Anderson, wrote from Killbuck Ohio to my mother in Ames Iowa in 1943, she included many reference to her World War II garden.

Victory Gardens

Victory Gardens were just one of the many ways that everyday citizens on the homefront were enlisted to help the war effort.  The government helped people learn how to grow gardens, gave them brochures and recipe books to take advantage of the vegetables they grew and exhorted them to save the produce grown by farmers for the troops. And of course–Posters!

World War II Garden Poster

Patriotic gardening poster during World War Two

I’m pretty sure, however, that Grandma never thought of her World War II garden as a Victory Garden–let alone a Munition Plant. She planted gardens every year. She was still doing so more than ten years after the war when my family lived in Killbuck and my father also planted a garden.  People in small rural communities like Killbuck did not need the government to tell them that growing gardens could save money and provide healthy eating.  They always planted in the spring and harvested everything before the first hard frost.

Grandma grew flowers as enthusiastically as she grew vegetables–possibly more so, because flowers caused a lot less work, as you can see below.  An apple tree in her back yard provided small, misshapen but delicious apples as long as I could remember.

In her letters she is as obsessed with the effect of weather on the crops as any farmer would be.

Grandma Writes about Her World War II Garden

Undated letter, probably October 4th :

I gathered in my green tom. & mangoes [ bell peppers] also flowers tonight as they will surely go tonight. The frost hasn’t hurt anything yet.  The trees are beautiful.

Letter written October 12, 1943

Well we are having lovely weather –awful dry. I hear farmers say they are afraid the wheat will not get started for winter. (Coshocton Tribune front page article on October 11 reports the area has had only .77 inch of rain in six weeks, and none in 25 days.)

Later in the letter, she says,

I made 16 pts. of green tom and mango [bell pepper] relish last week and also 7 more pts of tom juice and 3 cans of Kraut like you said.

Salted Green Tomatoes for Relish

Green Tomatoes and Red Peppers, salted. (These look like tomatillos, but the seller at the farmer’s market said they were small tomatoes.

Unfortunately, Grandma did not leave recipe cards for these items. If you would like to make something like her green tomato and mango relish, check out this recipe that I found for “green tomato pickle” in a Mennonite cookbook. Or you might want to try grandma’s recipe for red pepper jam”.  I wrote about her canning in general and in a later article related my experience in following her recipe for “red pepper jam.” When you read these articles you will see that it would take A LOT of “mangoes” to make 16 pts of relish!

Making Canned Food--Re Peppers

Red Peppers for Ready to Make Grandma’s Red Pepper Jam

In an undated letter probably written in soon after the one above, Oct 13? she wrote:

I made some more catsup today. That is the last of tom. Only green ones now. Frost hasn’t hurt anything here.

Another undated October letter remarks on the weather, “No killing frost yet.” then later says:

We haven’t had any frost that harmed anything. My flowers are beautiful yet.

Oct. 16

It is raining here and cold. Glen Orr said it hailed a little.


But she is starting work at her GoodYear “Rosie the Riveter” job, so she would have no time for her World War II garden, even if the weather were favorable. Another letter in October says that Irene, my father’s sister, is busy canning.  Irene was a prize-winning gardener. November letters have remarks about rain and December it is ice and cold weather. But Grandma and Daddy Guy would have vegetables galore all winter.

While other vegetables had been harvested earlier in the summer–beans, peas, cucumbers, and most had been canned, at the end of the year, we hear that she is canning tomato catsup, tomato juice, green tomato relish and sauerkraut.  Her basement shelves were full of those jewel-tones in glass jars (like these from a farmer’s market) created from Grandma’s World War II garden.

Preserves at farmer's Market

St. Phillips’ Farmers’ Market in Tucson, Grammy’s canned foods