Monday, November 24, 2008

Deciphering Clues in Family Documents

When reading family letters or journals written by a previous generation, sometimes you are left wondering what they meant by a particular passage or phrase. And if you are not familiar with the era, the reference may leave you puzzled. I came across one such instance in a letter that my grandmother wrote to her parents in 1919 while on her journey to Canada as a war bride.

In her letter she sketches a couple of pictures and then adds the line, "I make a good Judy don’t I." This left me wondering what she meant. My aunt suggested it could be Judy from the English puppet play, Punch and Judy. I wasn’t convinced but didn’t know of any other person named Judy that she could be referring to.

Recently, I posted a copy of the page from the letter online. Not long after I received an email from a lady in England. She told me she believed that Judy was a character from the book Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, which was first published in 1912.

The main character in the book is Jerusha "Judy" Abbott, an orphan who is given the opportunity to go to college by a benefactor. The only stipulation he makes is that she must write to him once a month to tell him of her progress. She doesn’t know his name but she believes that he is a very tall man, hence the name Daddy-Long-Legs.

In her enthusiasm Judy ends up writing to him almost daily and includes little sketches of what she is doing, much like my grandmother’s letter. My grandmother was an avid reader and I feel that this book would have been one of the many books she may have read as a teenager.

The book was a popular play during the war years. In 1919 Canadian actress Mary Pickford played the lead role in the movie. It marked her first film as an independent film producer.

Daddy Long Legs image from the Calgary Daily Herald, 6 June 1919, 16.

© Annette Fulford, 2008-2010

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