Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Partially deciphering a "Buttonwood Farm" postcard from 1913

There is much to examine and ponder on this postcard of Buttonwood Farm in Iowa that mailed 103 years ago, so let's dive in...

1. It was postmarked on either January 23 or March 23, 1913. My guess is March, but there's enough detail missing to keep me from being 100% certain.

2. It was postmarked in a Pennsylvania post office beginning with DUN. So, two good guesses would be Duncannon and Duncansville.

3. It was mailed with a green, one-cent Benjamin Franklin stamp.

4. It was mailed to Mrs. Fred Santee in, I believe, Bartow, West Virginia. Bartow is a tiny community in eastern West Virginia, so it's a good educated guess.

5. There are references to Bessie elsewhere on the postcard. So I believe that the Santees are husband Fred Santee (1890-1968), who died in Hundred, West Virginia1, and wife Bessie Jane Cain (1889-1974). They had one child.

6. I believe that the cursive notes on the front and back of the postcard were written by different women.

7. Let's start with the note on the back. It's a tough one. Here's my best guess:
"dear Bess We all had Bad colds the Booby [unknown] a Bit well got your letter yesterday i am still getting stronger [unknown] Eat any [unknown] i want and am hongry all the time i am coming out when spring comes well write soon
There's an additional note written sideways on the back of the card:
"how is little [unreadable name] i would love to see her so Bad"
The unreadable name might be "Nellie," who was the child of Fred and Bessie, according to

8. And then there's the note on the front, which appears to be written by someone else. Maybe. It's not much easier to read than the note on the back. My best guess:
"the first good day comes i am going to town to have the Babbies Pictures taken But it has Bin so Bad [unknown] [unknown] just [unknown] [unknown] yet i would like to call [unknown]
The question is whether that's Bessie's signature at the bottom, indicating a separate writer from "Mary" on the back, or whether the note ends "call for Bessie" or "call to Bessie," which would mean the writer is referring to Bessie. How could we ever know for sure?

9. And we'll never know why this postcard from Pennsylvania to West Virginia pictures bucolic Buttonwood Farm in Iowa. But I don't think we should read too much into that. It was probably the "generic" card that was available at the post office or general store.

1. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, Hundred was named for Henry Church and his wife, the first settlers, who lived to be 109 and 106. Hundred is the only place in the United States with this name.


  1. It is lovely! Thank you so much for sharing. You have a fascinating and enjoyable blog. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)

  2. Nice work. I think it was postmarked from Dunns Station, PA.,_Pennsylvania. The "booby" might be "babby" and be a misspelling of "baby", especially since someone wrote the "babbies" later on.

    1. I think you're right, Tom. Great eye on that faded postmark!

  3. 1. March 23, 1913 was a Sunday; less likely to be postmarked on the Sabbath. January 23, 1913 (a Thursday) may be more likely.

    2. Here is information about the graves of Fred and Bessie Santee (with a notation of their daughter Nellie):

    3. Per the above, there were three children (not just one).