Ring out those ghosts on the Ohio*

by chuckofish

After a long hiatus, I finally got back to my genealogical pursuits and returned to the Carnahan family. You can read an earlier post about them here.  Today, I present a sweet letter dated March 17, 1942 from our great-grandfather, William H. Carnahan, to his daughter, Catherine, our grandmother. Since it names a lot of Catherine’s relatives, you may want to consult this abbreviated family tree as you read the letter.


4503 N. Rockwell St.

Dear Catherine,

Your letter of February 14 has remained unanswered much longer than it should. I have nothing to take up my time except reading and walking out a little for exercise in the fresh air, but still am forever behind with my letter writing. I am glad you enjoyed the citrus fruit. No. It was not shipped by the people whom I stop (at) in Lakeland. It came from the same place as a year ago – some folks who run a small fruit store, during the citrus fruit season from about December 1st to May 1st and who have a fruit orchard of their own situated at a little settlement near Lakeland called Frostsproof (?). Besides your casket, I ordered one shipped to Ida and two to the Becks, the latter being divided between us folks and Jane’s. The fruit sure was appreciated by all hereabouts!

I had dinner with and spent the afternoon at [daughter] Anna’s two weeks ago tomorrow along with Catherine [grand-daughter], Buzz [Catherine’s husband?] and little Susan [great-granddaughter?]. The latter is just as sweet as ever – Anna and Mr. B. [Alfred Bays, son-in-law] then planning to start for Tucson, Ariz. the following Thursday to be gone two weeks – suppose they will be getting home within a day or two if not already here. Had a card today from Washington D.C. – had gone there with Van for a couple of days – nothing as to where they would go next – Helen [daughter-in-law] is surely getting to see the whole United States.

I am glad to learn that Mary is such a good scholar. It runs in the family. I surely have some unusually smart grandchildren. Billy [Beck, grandson] is right on top in his studies – could not get much higher marks. He is also coming right along in the R.O.T.C. He had a test examination just recently and is assured of a lieutenancy –surely a second and quite likely a 1st Lieutenant – this of course is just in the R.O.T.C. I received an announcement card of the marriage of Phil Rand [a cousin?]– he must be seventy, perhaps even a year or two over that. It is all right for people of that age to marry if they are sure they are suited to each other – with their ideas and whims so firmly fixed. I acknowledged the card wishing them all happiness.

You inquire as to “how the Carnahans got into the family”. I’ll explain it as well as I can. I might say in starting that I left home when I was only fourteen years old and before I was old enough to be prying very much into my ancestry. Also, my father left his home when quite young because his own mother had died, his father had married again, and my father thought his stepmother did not treat him very well – so he pulled out and to a large extent lost contact with his family. He was born and grew up until he left home somewhere near Pittsburgh PA. How he landed in Ravenna I don’t know. My mother [Catherine Rand], as you know, was born and grew to womanhood in New Hampshire and had been, I believe, a schoolteacher there. She had a close and very dear friend who had married a man by the name of Bostwick – we children always called her “Auntie Bostwick” –  a physician I believe, who had settled in Ravenna. While on a visit to the friend, my mother met James Carnahan and married him. He had been married before to the daughter of a prosperous farmer near Ravenna. She died not long after marriage (I do not know) – there were no children. Her maiden name was Ely and we children always called them Grandpa and Grandma Ely. My father had two full brothers in Ravenna: William and Timothy. The latter had two sons, one of whom died in childhood. The other, Charles, grew to manhood, settled in Cleveland and I never knew him. William had five children: two sons and three daughters, all of whom passed on years ago. The youngest son, Robert, had two boys: Franklyn, the older (one), lived, the last I knew, in Cleveland. The younger, Sydney, is still in Ravenna with his mother, Mary, and they are the only people bearing the name of Carnahan still left in Ravenna. Sydney has never married. Whether my father had any other brothers and sisters I do not know. At one time years ago when my oldest brother, Curtis, who was in Pittsburgh on business, undertook to look up the Carnahan family but did not get very far. He did, however, locate one man, a half brother of my father, met him and learned from outsiders that he had risen to a point of quite some prominence in his profession, that of a lawyer. And here my story ends. It looks that as far as our end of the family is concerned the name might soon become extinct: Uncle George and I cannot last many years more; Franklyn and Sydney not married, my two boys passed on – so it looks like Bruce [his grandson] is the only one left to carry on.

We are now having fine weather – in fact I cannot complain of the winter as regards weather, but little extremely cold and an unusually small amount of snow. Time, however, for a plenty of the latter during the balance of this month. I am beginning to look forward to the time when I shall be going to Michigan – only about seven weeks more here, which will bring it to near the end of April. I shall be glad to get back to the country. I hear from [your] Uncle George now and then. He is getting along nicely – writes that he is in about his usual health (for him perhaps). I am getting along fairly well – more or less digestive trouble as usual. The toe is all o.k. now – maybe the one on the other foot will be next. I have developed a bad knee on my right leg – rheumatism, arthritis or what not. I can’t say. It makes walking a little difficult. The old frame is nearly worn out maybe. I trust you all keep well. I shall get up to see Ida [his daughter-in-law] and the children once more before I go to Michigan. Much love to all of you,

Grandpa [though he is Catherine’s father]

Besides some inventive name-spelling (according to records, Franklin and Sidney were spelled conventionally), the letter contains several interesting tidbits, including William’s address in Chicago. Here’s a Google street view shot of the area today.

north-rockwell-stAs for Ravenna, Ohio, where William grew up, it is basically a suburb of Cleveland now. Back in the day it was a thriving Midwestern town.

Main Street From Court House Ravenna, OH

Main Street From Court House Ravenna, OH

I’m not entirely sure when the family moved to Chicago, but our grandmother certainly grew up there, and her parents are buried in Rosehill Cemetery, the oldest and most famous cemetery in Chicago. It includes a number of rather wild monuments and prominent people. Take this railroad tycoon’s for example.


I daresay that the Carnahan plot is much more modest. I’d love to visit sometime, wouldn’t you? Also, I thought William’s comments about the family dying out were quite sad. As it happened, he predeceased his  brother, George, who died in 1954.

Let’s lift a glass to the Carnahans tonight, shall we? Try this traditional toast: “Here’s to our ancestors! Without them, where would we be?”


*Gregory Alan Isakov, “The Stable Song”