14 An American Archive: Epilogue

The Rest of the Story
The archive contains another 150 personal letters between Charles and Mary. After they marry, the Colonel finally accepts Charles as a fellow engineer and appears to be proud of his son-in-law in the many letters he writes to Mary. Mary gives birth to two children, Harriet and John, and Charles stays close at hand as evidenced by the many years with no correspondence between them. Eventually Charles accepts a few short term engineering projects that pull him away from home, and correspondence begins afresh.

Mary develops an infection on her hand that requires hospitalization. She is in and out of several hospitals around Boston, but the infection never completely goes away, and eventually it returns aggressively, finally requiring amputation. Even then, the infection continues and Mary is checked in at the Boston Homeopathic Hospital run by Dr. Constantine Hering, a famous homeopathic doctor from Germany. Mary’s father, the Colonel, dies in 1883, and Mary receives all of his papers. She dies from complications of gangrene in August of 1884, leaving behind her daughter Harriet at 13, her son John at 11, and her husband Charles at 51.

This is a devastating time for the family, Charles enrols the children at boarding schools, then travels to take on more and more projects to pay for the expense. The children spend more time at their uncle’s and aunt’s homes when they are not in school, and Charles continues to travel. The personal correspondence is now mostly between Charles and his brother George, with many letters coming in from business partners. Charles takes on the improvement of the Philadelphia harbor as his last job, and he dies in April of 1894.

Three years later, Harriet marries Carl Hering, the oldest son of Dr. Constantine Hering, the doctor who was in charge of the hospital where her mother died. John goes to Colorado in the early 1890s in order to control his tuberculosis. In 1903, he receives a law degree from the University of Denver, and he eventually married Edith Park, in 1922; they move to Los Angeles, but visit their ranch in Colorado often. Harriet Truesdell and Carl Hering have one child, a girl named Mary. There are many photos of Mary, up to about 10 years old, and then nothing more. The Herings move to Philadelphia where Carl becomes quite successful as an electrical engineer and excels in his field with many patents and discoveries. Carl dies in Philadelphia in 1926, and Harriet soon follows in 1928.

Mary is 30 years old at the time of her mother’s death and she meets Arthur Carl Alvarez, a college professor. They marry in San Francisco in 1930, and had a son David Hering Alvarez, born in 1939, Arthur teaches at U.C. Berkeley and was a leading earthquake expert. David dies fairly young at age 43, in 1983. I have no record of him marrying. David’s mother, Mary Alvarez, lived another eight years and it is possible that she is the older woman that was bringing the archive boxes to the curb in 1985. Mary ‘s husband Arthur had died in 1967, and she continued to live in Oakland near Lake Temescal. Is it possible that she was clearing out her son’s home in North Berkeley? I’ve called this collection “An American Archive” because of the incredible breadth that it covers, from Plymouth Rock through colonial times; from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, and from Recontruction to the turn of the 20th century.

Through the research, I have become intimate with strangers, I have found new facts concerning some historical figures, and I have been filled with wonder about the process of history. The hope of generations is continuity, that a life’s work and presence has meaning. The incredible story of Governor Bradford, who lost his wife while at anchor of Plymouth, is a classic example. His family story could have ended there, but it didn’t; the family grew and generations continued. But it is not always so, Charles and Mary Truesdell had a family history that was long and prosperous, but it all ended within a generation or two, with the family archives boxed, sitting by the curb side, heading to landfill. For me, reading the letters, protecting the documents, is almost like resurrecting the family, making their place in history secure.

John Diestler

Lafayette, CA March, 2012

Postscript: This was where I thought it ended. A family history that lived beyond the family. A cautionary tale to search your attic for your family’s past. As it turns out, this was not the end.

After publishing a few hard copies, I decided to post the pages on Facebook for friends to look at. I got a few requests to post the text of the pages on my blog, so I did. That immediately opened the text to a Google search, and I got a hit. Someone had information on descendants that I was unaware of existing. Then, out of the blue, one of the living descendants contacted me.

My first thought was, “How did I miss this?” The second thought was “are they interested in reacquiring the archives?”

I’m not certain that they fully understood how much paper that it was, some of it too faded to be read. One afternoon, after a lunch, we loaded six or seven filing boxes in a car, and the archives are back with the family.

I had known of the son of Mary Truesdell. I had heard that he had died young, and perhaps thus was why Mary Truesdell had taken the records to the curb for disposal. Well, it was true that he had died young, he also had a wife and two children. The daughter had seen my blog and made the contact.

The son of Mary had served in Vietnam as a doctor. He was so taken with the plight of the Vietnamese children that after his hitch was up, he went back to Vietnam as a volunteer doctor, with his wife and two children. Unfortunately he got ill, and died there. The family came back to the U.S. and continued on with their lives.

I am not surprised by the courage shown, and the desire to do some good in the world. I had grown to love the family in the Archive, and was thrilled to hear of his sacrifice. I even got to hear some first hand stories of little Mary as she grew up and raised a family. It was a great end to a long story.


3 Responses to 14 An American Archive: Epilogue

  1. Anonymous says:

    I believe David did marry. A woman by the name of Nancy. They had children. Aaron and Jill

    • johndiestler – Lafayette, California – Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
      johndiestler says:

      Can you tell me more?

  2. MY Aunt Anne has a history of mental illness. My brother and I are the only remaining family other than her and I am sure that due to her illness, she left the box. I would love to talk further. My father married my mother Nancy Jean Schaub in 1964 while both were medical students at UCSF and together as a family lived in Vietnam until his death in October 1972. He was 33 not 43.

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