Channa Carsey's quest began with a visit to a rummage sale.
"My mom loves estate sales and I hate them," she said. "Who wants dead people's stuff anyway?"
Being a good daughter, though, the nursing student from a small village in Washington state south of Seattle accompanied her mom to just such a sale last summer.
As they browsed through crates of old books in a back room, a small box caught her eye. Inside, yellowed from age, was a bundle of letters exchanged more than a century ago between sisters from the tiny Warren County town of Camak, Ga.
"I asked why they would sell someone's personal letters, and they told me they didn't know who the people were," she said.
On a whim, she bought the bundle of letters -- and began reading them.
The author, Sallie Holliman, used rolling cursive to describe everything from weddings and babies to crops and cattle.
Her sister, Anna Holliman, moved from place to place but took great care to fold and stack the letters together.
The correspondence -- dated from 1879 to 1885 -- offers an intimate glimpse into life in the post-Civil War South.
For instance, on Dec. 9, 1884, Sallie Holliman wrote that an outbreak of whooping cough and rough weather had taken a huge toll:
"Charlie Lowe's mother is dead and Sam Swint, too. Lib Kelley's baby and Marie Williford's baby. There is more babys buried out here than I can write -- for I haven't the paper. Lizzie Dixon's was buried at 4 o'clock."
Although she lives 3,000 miles from Warren County, Ms. Carsey hopes to locate descendants of the sisters.
"I want to return them to someone from that family and I've tried to locate them," she said. "I even talked to someone in Camak, and they told me they wanted to put the letters into a historical display. But I don't want them to go to just anybody. I want to find someone on their family."
She even made calls to a few Hollimans she found in phone books. "Nobody ever called me back."
Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119 or email@example.com.
CAN YOU MAKE THE CONNECTION?
Do you have information on Anna and Sallie Holliman? Can you connect Ms. Carsey with descendants of the sisters? Send an e-mail to Ms. Carsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS IN TIME
Here are more excerpts from other letters, and their dates:
JUNE 15, 1885: "Joe and Susie are very affectionate -- they are as happy as Adam and Eve in Paradise.
"They have had many deaths up here. Uncle Adams Jones, old Mrs. Lane Todd and Mrs Minerva Beall. Hannalain -- John's wife, is dead, left 7 children & little baby 1 day old. Mandy Ladrimus left 6 children, a baby a week's old. Henry Bale's baby is dead and Bill Johnson lost 2. Miss Liza Greene's sister Nancy Grizzle is dead -- left 8 children."
JAN. 5, 1887: "Well, today is the time to elect county officers, and I don't think there will be many votes polled," she wrote. "The weather is bad and I don't think the people will turn out."
"The earth is all covered in snow and I may as well say the house to -- for the children will go out in it and they bring so much in with their shoes you can hardly tell whether the floor is plank or dirt.
"We have had a good many marriages this winter," she wrote. "Susie and Neal, John Swint and Beulah Shellon. Henry Shelton & Mattie Woodward. Lawrence Realey & Ellen Shelton. Emma Hawkens & Charlie Walden.
"Brother David's little Charlie got burned very bad. They were killing hogs and the pot turned over and scalded both his legs from his knees down. All the skin is off."
At the Mill Creek church, that year, members of the Sunday school class were given gifts:
"Clyde got a silk handkerchief. Bob got a wooden doll that would dance. Henry got five ground peas and 1 ear of corn & bottle of cologne. Ben Parham got a pone of cracklin bread and Old Man Freeman Johnson got a doll. Johnnie got a nursing bottle full of milk and a jelly lime. Some got mad, most was well pleased."
MARCH 25, 1887: "Dear Sis, I am very busy building a school house at the cross roads it will be a nice little house with a veranda in front. We will finish in one more day and I am getting along very well with my business. I am done planting corn and will plant about 70 acres in cotton. I am running three plows this year."
APRIL 5, 1888: "We had a picnic at the shoals last Saturday. Had a nice time and caught a good many fish and fried them out there. How are you getting along raising chickens? I am having the worst luck I ever did have. the mites and lice are so bad I can't set a single hen."
SEPT. 8, 1889: "Henry has shipped 6 bales of cotton to Augusta. The children and myself have been picking cotton - I have to pick to get them to pick. Flynn is in Augusta selling machines for Thomas & Barton and I guess Henry will go down soon.
"Leila Carson and Brad has been very sick but they are up and Bonnie's baby turned the coffee pot over and scalded her foot -- very bad & yesterday Annie dropped her and hurt her. It is not well, it looks bad. Carson has gone to walking and is as fat as ever.
"We have two young calves and I will have more milk and butter in a while than I can use. Old Cousin Hubbard Reynolds is dead and Mrs. Alfred Ericson fell dead last week. She went out to feed her chickens and just fell dead and Cousin Lizzie Tool, Brad Tool's wife, went to Johnson's Church one night to meeting & by next day by 10 o'clock she was dead -- left 10 children."