My parents are cleaning out their house, preparing to move to an assisted living facility. They are coming across ancient letters, including the following 1918 letter from my great-grandfather, Lynn Rowland MacBroom.

MacBroom was born in Indiana in 1881, grew up in Lafayette, attended Purdue University, graduating with an engineering degree in 1902. He then worked for General Electric, in Schenectady, for the city of Rutland, Vermont, and for the city of Burlington, Vermont, where he was the superintendent of the lighting plant until 1916. At that time, he joined Westinghouse and moved to Texas. When the United States entered World War I, in April 1917, he “responded to the government’s call for help in the shipyards and at the time of his death he was an electrical aide engineer in the employ of Uncle Sam.” Burlington Weekly Free Press Feb. 14, 1918.

Lynn married Mary Lena Frank, daughter of Peter and Angelina Frank, on May 26, 1906, in Schenectady, New York. They had two children: my grandmother, Nell Maude McBroom, born Schenectady May 13, 1908, died Santa Ana, California, March 30, 2002, and Mary Francenia MacBroom, born May 1912 and died July 1912 in Burlington, Vermont. Mary Frank MacBroom died of tuberculosis March 30, 1916. After his wife’s death, Lynn placed his daughter Nell with his sister and brother-in-law, Maud and George Edwin Rogers. They lived in Dallas, Texas, where he worked for the railroads. Another obituary mentions that Maud McBroom Rogers was on her way from Dallas to Norfolk, at the time of her brother’s last illness, but “arrived too late.” Burlington Free Press Feb. 14, 1918 (quoting Lafayette Courier). Lynn MacBroom spelled his name Mac; others in the family spelled their names Mc.

Lynn’s letter is to his mother-in-law, Angelina Frank, living at the time in Schenectady. I believe he refers to two of his sisters-in-law, Nellie and Minna, as well as his daughter (my grandmother) and his mother Francenia Rowland McBroom (1846-1929).

History is not just famous people; it is little people doing their part. My great-grandfather did his part in the Great War, building the great naval base at Norfolk, and my grandmother in her way did her part, living apart from her father, missing him, not even getting to see him before he died.

So here is the letter itself.

Naval Operating Base

Hampton Roads

Norfolk, Virginia

Jan 14, 18

Dear Mother Frank & all:

I guess you will all think me very negligent and ungrateful for not writing. I have so little time that writing has come to be a task. I have only about two or three hours a day outside of my working & sleeping hours, and you know how I love to read. Also, I must have some recreation.

I was not at all well up to Christmas. I was laid up twice for three days at a time. And the rest of the time I could just drag around. I keep getting colds, one right after the other. I started a new one last week, but I think now I am going to get out of it without being laid up. I have gained some in weight and am considerable better than I was in the fall.

The box from Nellie came a few days after Christmas. I thank you all very much for the presents. Also, Minna’s card came. I hope that she and Chester may make a success of the candy business.

This is a busy, busy place. It is like building a city. We have accommodations now, for ten thousand men; and are providing for ten thousand more. All of the heating, lighting, water supply, sewage, etc. etc. of course comes to me. Then there are the docks, armories, hangers & supply houses. It is a big job.

We have had some terrifically cold weather for this country. It was down to four above zero, a couple of times. And there was snow on the ground for two weeks. The water pipes froze, the coal & oil ran out; and there was a [hard] time generally. Norfolk is overcrowded with soldiers & sailors & workmen. There was a fellow named Bigly, who boarded where I am, and whose home is in Schenectady. He went home a couple of weeks ago. I asked him to go and see you and tell you about things down here.

I couldn’t have Nellie Maude and mother come at Christmas time, as I expected to, because I could not find a place for them to live. I hear from Nellie and all of them regularly. She seems to be quite happy and content. I’m sure she has everything she could possibly need and she loves Maud and Edwin very much. She gets home sick to see me sometimes; but soon gets over it. I expect to see them this spring.

I have in my application for a commission in the civil engineering corps of the Navy. If I get that, my condition will be bettered somewhat, since I am now only in civil service. Also, I would probably be transferred from here. I think Nellie and mother can come to see me at Easter time. l she is very busy with her school and music and cat and dog and play mates. I think Mary would be pleased with the bringing up Nellie is getting.

I hope this may find you all well and especially father’s health improved. Minna said he was sick again. Write when you can. Good-bye, good-bye and much love from, Lynn