Hairy Heirloom

It’s more properly called a friendship album.  I got a chance to see one with a distant family connection.  It was made by Emma Osborn with help from her sister Erista, beginning in 1860.  Emma married my great-grandfather’s brother, Thomas C. Duncan in 1866.  Besides poems and obituaries, the book contained locks of hair – from children, friends, and deceased folks.

The woman who generously shared it with me – and provided these photos – found it at an estate sale.  Her research brought her to my blog.  I’m grateful for her diligence.  If the book had a more direct line for me, I would have considered buying it.  It later sold for several hundred dollars.

T. C. Duncan served in the Wisconsin cavalry in the Civil War.

An entry for Francis Osborn Duncan, the adopted son of Emma and T. C.

Lots of genealogical information here.

Hair from a deceased woman braided.

A child’s lock of hair. I think the black ribbon indicates the person has died.

One of Emma’s poems.

A lot of hand work has gone into these tributes.

More intricate designs.

A funny story from our visit is here.

T. C. Duncan Letter to Emma Osborne 1860s



Thomas Cation Duncan was a private in Company A of the 1st Regiment of Wisconsin Cavalry Volunteers from September 1861 to October 1863 when he was discharged for a disability.  Sometime during that period he wrote this letter to Emma Osborne, his future wife.  The first page(s) is missing.  The best part for me is the artwork on the reverse, especially the one he titled “home.”

thomas to emma envthomas to emma p1

The [reg?] is not quite so badly used up as I at first supposed.  They are in the chase of those [?] who so wickedly attempted to destroy them but still we have nothing definite or reliable in this out of the way hermetical place with so irregular a mail we feel as if we were out of the world.  It is only by letters and old papers that we know that the world is going on as usual.  I tell you what it comes hard for a literary man who has been used to see a daily paper each day of publication.  This is my fix.  

Maybe we do not live well now if we don’t whose fault is it.  I will just describe some of our dinners.  Bread yes real bread, beef or mutton or if these are scarce we kill a pig.  Soups.  Genuine vegitable [sic] soup potatoes.  peaches with sugar, as the cows do not come up regular we have to go without cream.  apple sauce molasses.  Water and the rest of the fillings as salt pepper etc.  I think we do well.  On the other side of this sheet you observe scenes sketched by the special artist of Co A. Prof T. C. Duncan  this will afford some amusement to the hopeful.  More anon.  Thomas

PS.  I help cook my old [?] [?].  My respects to all [?] is M. L. teaching school in Boys district.  Mary Lyman.  T.
[on the left side] Excuse the short note if you call it short.
[on the right side] Keep your minds calm about my welfare.
thomas to emma p2
At the top of the drawing:  Conceal these as you would most anything using my old books for instance.

This was difficult for me to transcribe.   I kept the spelling, punctuation, and capitalizations as I saw them.
The PS is almost without meaning! The drawings on the reverse include Ripon College (which might explain the reference to teaching), home, and cavalry scenes.

thomas to emma env rev

T. C. Duncan’s Silver Napkin Ring

tcd napkin ring 1I was so inspired by Susan Wennerstrom’s post about napkin rings, that I found this one that my grandfather’s widow sent to me several years ago.


It has the “D” monogram that let’s us know it’s a Duncan artifact.  And it has a date engraved on it, May 24, 1866.  That’s the date Thomas Cation Duncan married Emma Osborne.  T.C. is my great-grandfather’s brother.
tcd napkin ring 2

Here’s my theory about this napkin ring.  When T.C. and Emma married, they didn’t have much money, so I’m fairly sure this doesn’t date from 1866.  Celebrating the 25th wedding anniversary with silver dates back to the Holy Roman Empire.  The Duncans would have celebrated 25 years in 1891 – this is a time when T.C. was doing very well as a homeopathic doctor and author.  My guess is that it was a gift at that time to commemorate their marriage.
tcd napkin ring 3


T.C. Duncan in Santa Fe 1891

tc duncan clipping santa feMy great-grandfather’s brother, Thomas Cation (T.C.) Duncan was a prominent homeopathic doctor in Chicago is the late 1800s.  In March 1891 he took several patients from Chicago to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  He wrote a short article for the journal Medical Visitor.  I have the clipping, but not the photo printed in the journal – I think that is T.C. in suit and top hat.

His article:
An Escape from Climatic Rigor.
Chicago, May, 1891. – It was a great relief to a train load of excursionists to emerge from the snow of the north into the balmy Rio Grande Valley in early March.  We left Chicago in a storm of sleet and snow.  Nearly every one on the Raymond and Whitcomb train had taken cold, and beside I had the child of Mayor Longyear wrestling with membranous croup.  In southwestern Kansas the snow disappeared and mild spring seemed at hand, and the sick improved.  As we entered New Mexico the farmers were putting in their spring crops, and our sick all felt decidedly the salubrious change.  If Colorado Springs is a good resort; that New Mexico must be far better in spring, would be self-evident.               — T. C. Duncan, M. D., in Medical Visitor.

sf collage 2He took many photos, some of which have survived.  Last weekend, I tried to take a photo similar to one of his photo of St. Michaels Mission in Santa Fe.  I’ve written more about that and his camera on my photography blog.

TC SF 2 story crop TC SF san miguel church crop

TC SF horno crop

The oven is called a horno and they are still in use today.  Great way to bake in summer without heating up the house.

sf collage 1

TC SF st scene crop

TC SF auction crop

TC SF ranch crop

This camera held from 60 to 150 exposures.  I would love to see all of them!