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Military letters bring family history to life

Published May 1, 2003

My Dear Mother,

Just a few lines which I hope will find you as well and happy as they leave Mart and I. Just came out of the trenches and am resting up and we certainly need it as where we were was no party.

We had more battles with the rats than we did with Germans and some of them were as big as mules.

No doubt you have read about the big drive we made and about the Huns on the run. Well Mother, you can expect to read any time about the war being over, as I know it will not last much longer, so pray to God to end it soon, as you know a little prayer once a day will help. This sure is a nice place and all that, but the U.S. is the only place. I was in Paris for a week and so was brother Martin. Paris is a very pretty place. I think the next pass I get will be to America, but there is one place I am going to go and that will be to England and Ireland before I come home.

I am still cooking and the boys are going to have chicken and spidy dies for Thanksgiving dinner.

Well mother I must close hoping this little note will find you all well and hope you are praying for peace.

Give my best regards to all and tell Aunt Katie I will write later. May God bless you one and all.

Your loving son,

During World War I, the Burlington (N.J.) Daily Enterprise printed many similar letters from soldiers on the front. A volunteer at the Burlington County Historical Society sent a copy of this one to me because it was penned by a distant relative. Thomas McGarry's father and my great-grandmother were siblings. The Historical Society is culling letters such as these from newspapers and assembling them into a collection.

I am including this letter today because it's a good example of the kinds of things that help bring a written family history to life, and it's timely. I also have a selfish reason for wanting to print it. I'm hoping that a reader can tell me what "spidy dies" are. I've exhausted my sources and am no closer to finding an answer than the day I started my search.

McGarry was lucky. He came back from France and enjoyed a long life.

Michael Carnack, my great-uncle, was not as fortunate. In a telegram dated December 4, 1918, Joseph Carnack learned that his son had been mortally wounded.

Deeply regret to inform you that it is officially reported that Private Michael Carnack, infantry, died November 4.

A copy of the poignant telegram has a spot in my history book of that branch of my family.

Tom McGarry, Irish to his bones, and Mike Carnack, a Slovak, were connected by marriage, but it's doubtful they met. The McGarrys were foundry workers who stuck around the Burlington area. The Carnacks were Pennsylvania farmers. The men did share a common bond. They were born to parents who emigrated to America in the late 1800s seeking a better life.

Many resources exist for anyone who wants to learn more about ancestors who served in the military. All original World War I draft cards are kept at the National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Branch in Atlanta. Copies cost $10 each. The American Battle Monuments Commission ( maintains a list of soldiers interred at American military cemeteries overseas and those missing in action from World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.

Military and pension records before World War I may be obtained from the national archives. Log on to for details. Military records starting with WWI are kept in St. Louis.

-- Donna Murray Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, she can't take phone calls, but you can write to her c/o Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at You can read her column online at Type Donna Murray Allen in the search box. Or visit her Web site:

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