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Discovery of old letters links families, preserves history

February 22, 2019

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Lynne Rosamond carefully unfolds a letter from another century. The handwriting is small and close, the paper fragile with age. Not unexpected in correspondence penned 170 years ago. It is one of several letters from the mid-1800s discovered in family memorabilia at Franklin Square, the circa 1835 home of Lilla Pratt Rosamond until her passing in 2009. Her son, William “Bill” Rosamond and his wife, Lynne, have lived there since 1991, when Bill returned to his childhood home.

Until recently, the letters rested among stacks of other papers and photographs stored safely in a large cabinet. With the historic house — one of the earliest brick homes in the city — now for sale, the Rosamonds began sorting through the extensive collection several months ago. Already, they have donated more than 200 Pratt and Franklin family letters and other papers from the early 1900s to the Billups-Garth Archives at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.

More recently, the older 19th-century letters came to light.

“It was just a little tied-together packet of letters from the 1800s, mostly correspondence to family members from Georgia Priscilla Butt Young,” said Lynne. “She was actually one of the original residents of Waverley. ... I’d always known that we were related to the Youngs of Waverley but wasn’t sure exactly what the kinship was.”

Georgia Young (1834-1911) was married to Thomas Erskine Young (1831-1869) of Waverley Plantation. Her father-in-law, George Hampton Young, completed building Waverley mansion in Clay County in the mid-1800s.

“She had seven children, one of which died very young,” explained Lynne. “But her husband died at age 38. Waverley was way out in the country back then and Georgia had all these young children, so she moved into town.”

Georgia would eventually move into Franklin Square, on Third Avenue North, where one of her daughters, Priscilla (Lilla) Young, had married T.B. Franklin.

“She was actually one of our first family members to live in this house,” remarked Lynne who shares a particular bond with Georgia’s daughter. “I have her engagement ring that was passed down through the generations. It’s my engagement ring. It’s inscribed ‘Lilla Dec. 18, 1876.’”

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Finding the pre-Civil War letters inspired Lynne to look into family history.

Georgia was active in the community and linked to several families that helped shape it.

“And I saw that she was a member of First United Methodist Church, which is where we go to church,” Lynne remarked. “There are just some neat connections.”

Georgia’s April 20, 1911, obituary in The Columbus Commercial described her as “a woman of strong will and broad culture. She had wonderful executive ability and this, with her clearness of thought, made her especially fitted to train the six young girls left to her care.”

The Rosamonds will soon donate Georgia’s writings to the library, just as they have the Pratt and Franklin letters and papers. Together they add a few more pieces of the past to the record — glimpses into community daily life, local commerce, travels, illnesses and occasions large and small.

“Some of them were just about at the point they needed preservation, or you just wouldn’t be able to read them,” Lynne said.

Library archivist Mona Vance-Ali was glad to see them.

“This all helps researchers have an even broader understanding of the families and history of Lowndes County,” she said.

While some letters may be challenging to decipher, the archives staff is accustomed to reading older handwriting and has methods that can enhance the ink in some cases.

“That’s what I’m here for; I can help,” said the archivist.

The early-1900s Pratt and Franklin Family Letters Collection already given to the library has been organized chronologically, neatly labeled in white folders in archival quality boxes. The collection also has a “finding aid,” a tool researchers utilize to know what it holds.

Vance-Ali urged others to consider how their own family records may reflect local history.

“If you suspect or know that you have materials relating specifically to Lowndes County, please give us a call,” she encouraged. “We would be happy to look at them and determine whether or not they can go in the archives. We definitely would rather take a look at it first instead of having them thrown out, lost to history forever.”

The Rosamonds are pleased to be able to help preserve insight into several active area families.

Bill Rosamond said, “The family letters, portraits and photos meant a lot to my mother. She would be pleased that they are being shared and preserved.”

Parting with a family home is bittersweet. As the Rosamonds contemplate it, they hope whoever starts Franklin Square’s next chapter loves the house as much as they do, said Lynne.

“I feel like it’s just so neat that in one historic house in Columbus, we’ve got just a wealth of history and information about three very long-standing families in the community that have very deep roots here — Youngs, Franklins and Pratts.” She could add “Rosamonds.”

“Just in one house,” she said, “all this history.”

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com