by Susan Chenelle

Some of Mr. Welt's students have gotten to know the Woodbridge family very well. They have been studying a collection of 16 letters written by four generations of the Woodbridge family for about five years. Through these letters, they have traced the Woodbridge family's journey through the Ohio Western Reserve. Their research has taught them about daily life in the late-1700s and 1800s. They have learned how to write letters to historical societies, colleges, and libraries seeking information from secondary sources and other primary sources in hopes of answering the questions raised by the letters. Most importantly, each student has developed a personal interest in the study of history.

Before graduating from Fitch Middle School in 1998, Jessie published a notebook entitled, "The Woodbridge Collection," which details her study of three of the Woodbridge letters. (She also created a website about her project.) The earliest of the letters was written in 1792 by Ephraim Woodbridge to his parents, Timothy and Dorothy Woodbridge. Jessie includes a copy of the original letter in her booklet, but as she says, "The first thing I do with a letter is the most important. I transcribe it!" After she has transcribed the letter, she examines the letter carefully to see what conclusions she can draw from it.

This letter tells us that Ephraim's father's name is Timothy, and that his parents live in Colchester, Connecticut. Ephraim is writing from Norwich where he is studying under his teacher, Mr. Kinne, but he will be returning home soon. Even though it may not seem like much, the information in this letter is very important. Since we now know the relationship between Ephraim and Timothy, we can start drawing a family tree, and add more to it as we learn more about the Woodbridge family.

However, we're not finished with this letter yet. According to Jessie, "You haven't finished your research until you understand every sentence you have read. I couldn't yet understand this sentence, 'I have the pleasure to inform you that Mr. Kinne says I improve very fast in my writing.' Who is Mr. Kinne? What is his significance?... Mr. Welt suggested that I write to the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). I received a response from Mrs. Arpin about two weeks later. She apologized because she couldn't provide any information. She wrote, 'I have never researched anything so much and come up so empty-handed.' This of course was a disappointment, but I hadn't completely wasted my time. Mrs. Arpin had made an inquiry on the Internet and had received a response to the name 'Woodbridge.' Someone in Montana had found Woodbridges in his own research. A few months later, I was once again stumped by a letter. I wrote to this man in Montana, and he sent me a long list of genealogy including several Woodbridges. I was able to use this information in my research."

During her correspondence with Mr. Welt's students, Lois Cunniff discovered the probable identity of "Mr. Kinne" while browsing through Frances Caulkins' History of Norwich Connecticut. Newcomb Kinney was a teacher at a school in the Norwich town plot in about 1792. He was a distinguished citizen of the town and later became the proprietor of Kinney's Hotel. He lost a son in the War of 1812, and the victory parade staged in the town when peace was declared in 1815 began from his hotel. The townspeople were asked to illuminate their houses, and a collection was taken up to buy wood for the poor—one of the first organized charity fund-raising events. Kinney lived into his 80s, as Caulkins' last reference to him is when he attends a ceremony to mark the grave of Chief Uncas.

The second letter in Jessie's notebook was written two generations later, in 1848. Roswell Woodbridge is writing to his wife, Laura Kellogg, in Candor, New York. Roswell is on a business trip in Holley, New York. Though he is not specific about the nature of his business in the letter, Jessie later learned that Roswell was a farmer, and was probably visiting a farm or field. While we learn about the personal relationship between Roswell and Laura with lines such as: "The day is beautiful and I wish you was here to take a walk," we also learn about the conditions of travelling at the time. Laura will soon be visiting Roswell, and he suggests that she come by railroad, instead of waiting for the canal to open. As Jessie writes, "At the time I was transcribing this letter, Mr. Welt was teaching the social studies class about the development of canals and railroads in the mid 1800's. This letter provided a sense of reality about the lesson. Now, instead of reading from a book, I could learn from primary-source materials. This is a great example of how researching letters from the past can help us understand our country's history."

The third letter is the last one in the Woodbridge collection, written on June 10, 1854, by Laura Kellogg to her husband, Roswell Woodbridge. Laura and their two children, Sarah and Louisa, are staying in Gilead, Connecticut. Roswell travels a lot on business, and is currently in Belvidere, Illinois. Sarah and Louisa both have whooping cough. From her research, Jessie was able to determine that Sarah and Louisa were under the age of seven at this time, since most people with whooping cough got it when they were that age. Jessie also found that, from Laura's descriptions of the girls' symptoms, their cases of whooping cough were very severe. "Both Sarah and Louisa were in danger. I really couldn't be sure of whether or not they recovered, though, because this is the last letter in the collection. But I had my ways to find out... I had received some information from the New York State Historical Association concerning the Woodbridges. Included was a census of Tioga County both in 1850 and 1860.... In the 1850 census, Roswell (30 yrs. old), Laura (20 yrs. old), and one-year-old Louisa were listed (along with Emily Kellogg—Laura's 60-year-old mother). In the 1860 census, Roswell was 40, Laura was 30, and Louisa was 10.... The truth was now very visible. Little Sarah Woodbridge had died of whooping cough."

There are many pieces to the Woodbridge family history. Roswell of the two letters described above, is actually Roswell, Jr., and grandson of Ephraim. (As Jessie notes, "by the way, it took over 12 months and a copy of a town census to figure out that there were two Roswells!") Abby Ann Burrows was Dorothy Woodbridge's niece. And connections between Edwin and Eliza Woodbridge and the rest of the family remain a mystery!

If you have any more information about the Woodbridge family of this period, or any of their descendents, please email us at:

Check back here soon for a feature on the stamp club's Brownell family project, as well as updates on the students' progress with the Woodbridge collection!