Will the ‘Circle’ be unbroken?
The Darr Family Circle Letter was missing. For nearly 80 years, since sometime in the 1930s, my grandmother’s family had circulated a packet of letters and pictures among the far-reaching branches of the family tree. Eighty years, and now it seemed to be gone for good. No one had seen it for nearly a year.
My great-grandparents, Oliver Hazard Perry Darr & Naomi McCreary Darr, had eight children in Texas and Missouri during the late 1800s. Several generations earlier, Oliver’s great-grandfather, Conrad Darr, had founded Darrtown, Ohio, after arriving from Pennsylvania. The amateur genealogists in the family can trace this tree’s roots back through the American Revolution all the way to Germany in 1700.
Oliver and Naomi had been born under a wandering star, and were part of the Utopian, experimental society movement. They were idealists and pioneers. They moved their family a few times, always in search of a better life — a life in harmony with the land and with each other. By the 1930s, their children had grown up and moved away. In spite of annual family reunions, it was difficult to keep in touch.
At the time, circle letters were a popular means of communication among missionaries and sororities. They were a way for groups to stay connected and informed across many miles in the days long before e-mail, instant messaging and cheap long distance.
As a child in the 1950s, I vividly remember the reverence and excitement that the Circle Letter’s arrival inspired. And when I had my own children, we’d sit on the couch and read aloud or pass the letters around to be read. The clump of photographs included by more than a dozen proud parents and grandparents, documented and celebrated births, weddings, new homes, graduations, touchdowns and school plays. Without the Circle, we just wouldn’t have known.
The original writers are gone now, and the four surviving of the original Darr grandchildren are now in their seventies and beyond. They call themselves the “top of the heap.” Each of them writes, but now it is their children and grandchildren, the greats and great-greats of Oliver and Naomi who keep the letter going – a tribute to the strength of family and tradition. It is now my generation that plans the reunions.
Here’s how our Circle Letter works: When the letters arrive, I enjoy all the letters then write a new one and include new pictures. I remove my old letter and pictures and send the packet on its way. An address list is included with the letters so that changes, additions and the sad but inevitable deletions can be made at any point. E-mail addresses are pretty common now, too, even among the oldest members. Someone on the list usually takes on the task of making a new list now and then – an easy task with a word processor.
No one in my memory has ever had to start it over again. I was worried I’d have to do it, but last week, my cousin Becky e-mailed me that the Circle Letter had arrived at her house. Finally. We’ll try not to dwell on who’s had it – for almost year. We’re just glad it’s on its way again. The circle is unbroken.
It has been suggested that it might be time to post the entire thing on a Web site. Maybe it’s a good idea, now that there are so many genealogical resources available online and everyone has digital cameras and scanners. The links might even serve other Darrs who are looking for their roots.
In fact, just recently, a distant cousin found me through a genealogy Web site. We share a great-great-great-grandfather; our great-greats were brothers. When she came to Carson City for a visit last week, we spent time at Kinko’s copying each others family trees and photos.
So maybe it is time. But I can’t help thinking there will be something lost if we opt for a totally Web-based Circle Letter. When the thick 9-by=12 envelope of letters, pictures and clippings arrives, there is an expectation that I get it on its way within a week. It becomes an instant priority, putting me back in touch with what is really important. Tradition. Memory. Family. An unbroken link to the past. Not a bad lesson to arrive in my mailbox once or twice a year. Not bad at all.
• Lorie Schaefer teaches kindergarten at Seeliger School. She is looking forward to the Darr Family Reunion next week in Grass Valley, Calif.