30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 15

By Grace Dobush

November rolls on! We’re at the halfway point of our 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge, and guest editor Andrew Koch shares his response to today’s prompt in this guest post:

“Pick an ancestor from the 1800s, drop him into today, and (as your ancestor) write a letter to family members still in the 1800s. How would he describe today? What surprises him? What questions would he have?”

In this letter, my third great-grandfather, a 25-year-old clothing repairman named Henry Winter (1853–1926), writes to his wife, Isabella (1857–1894):

My dearest Isabella,

I’m writing to tell you of the most strange and marvelous adventure I’m having. I find myself in a new—and terrifying—world, full of people and inventions I’ve never even imagined.

Our city looks nothing like we know it. The buildings rise high into the sky, and I can hardly see the top without bending over backwards. The noises and smells are overwhelming…so many people, and so much movement. The streets are crowded with horseless coaches in all variety of colors and shapes, and people rush past each other without speaking to each other. Instead, they barely look up from their hands—Many of them carry strange devices that they speak into. I heard them called “sell fowns,” though it seems more than just salesmen carry them.

But what confounds me most are the people’s dress. Such indecency! Such scandal! Men strut through the streets in just a shirt and trousers, with garish ties and unshined shoes. And the women—why, they’re hardly dressed at all! Many wear men’s trousers, and some don only nightdresses as they go from place to place. And citizens of both sexes wear those new-fangled denim trousers—some with holes in them! You can imagine the fit my supervisor would have should he see how they are all dressed. You’d think they had never even heard of a clothing repairman!

I pray I will someday return to you and our familiar life and home.

I have the honor to be yours,


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