This collection spans several generations of the Guernsey and Donaldson families and centers around Emeline Donaldson Guernsey
(born 1819) of Pennsylvania,
Illinois, and Iowa, and
her immediate family, relatives, and friends. The letters, with the majority written by women, give a detailed account of
the lives of farmers, millers, shop keepers and school teachers in 19th century Midwestern America.
The collection includes over 1,300 letters including 200 "Round Robin" family letters, spanning the years 1899 to 1957, that
were sent to each family member. The collection also includes over 250 letters of Civil War interest written by William D.
Henry A. Guernsey and several other soldiers.
Emeline Donaldson Guernsey, born in 1819 in Pennsylvania, was one of ten children born to
Asa and Delia Allen Donaldson. She married Peter Buell Guernsey of Tioga, Pennsylvania, in
the late 1830s. Peter died in a railroad accident in 1852. Six years later, in 1858,
Emeline moved to Stacyville, Mitchell County, Iowa, to be near her sister and
brother-in-law. There she settled on a farm bought and worked by her and her five
children: William D. Guernsey, Henry A. Guernsey, Sarah Guernsey Beebe, Fannie Guernsey
Orcutt, and Emma Guernsey Flint. In 1861 William, her oldest son, enlisted in the Fourth
Iowa Cavalry and fought in the Civil War; Henry soon followed. With her sons gone, Emeline
successfully managed the farm by herself while still managing to raise her three
daughters. After the war, all of Emeline's children eventually married and moved away. In
1872, she sold her farm and moved to Illinois to live with her daughters. In the early
1880s, however, they all moved back to Iowa, including Emeline. Sarah Guernsey Beebe and
her family remained in Iowa. Fannie Guernsey Orcutt and her family eventually moved to
South Dakota. In the early 1900s, Emma Guernsey Flint and her family moved to Washington.
Emeline's son, William D. Guernsey died of a sudden illness in 1879, at the age of 39.
Henry A. Guernsey, her other son, moved out west to California, Oregon and Washington,
where he lived for several years.
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