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Mystery History Tour

Genealogists: Find the Freys!

As is typical for this time of year, Pat is busy making and buying props for another community theatre stage production. This time the show is She Loves Me, a love story about two pen pals who, unbeknownst to each other, work in the same perfume store in 1930’s eastern Europe.

Yesterday he stopped in at one of his favorite thrift stores, St. Vincent de Paul, in Concord in search of a Depression-era satchel to cross off the producer’s needed props list. There it was on one of the shelves in the back of the store, a beautiful brown, zippered leather satchel with carrying handle, typical of the 1930’s. It seemed a bit heavy when he picked it up, yet a cursory glance inside revealed no contents. A bargain at one dollar, he snapped it up and headed home. Carrying it into the house, he again noticed the unexplained extra weight and the fact that the satchel listed to one side. A closer inspection revealed additional zippered pockets inside and one of those pockets, when opened, uncovered a treasure trove of personal letters, all but one with 1930’s postmarks.

All were addressed to a member of the Frey family of Sioux City, Iowa and the majority were postmarked from Omaha, Nebraska. We’re speculating that at some point, one of the Freys moved to California, brought the letters with them, died here, and parcels of their estate were donated to charity.

Given the plot of She Loves Me, it seems to us a tad more than coincidental that these letters from the same era as the play would suddenly surface in a prop needed for the show. There are more than two dozen loose pages of letters handwritten in ink and pencil as well as typewritten on yellowed paper. There’s a Mothers Day card from 1951 and a congratulations-on-your-new-baby card from the 40’s. Most intriguing were the short letters/notes still in their original envelopes addressed to the recipients along with the return addresses of the senders, quite readable postmarks, with 70-year-old postage stamps intact.

An internet query with Zaba Search revealed that Frey is a common name in both Iowa and Nebraska. I first called a James Frey in Collins, Iowa yesterday because the search results indicated he was 80-years-old and therefore had a better chance of knowing the folks named on our letters better than some Frey born in 1974. He didn’t. I called a few more Freys in Iowa with the same result. So, I did another search for Freys in Nebraska and reached one in Albion who told me they were planning a Frey family reunion this year and one of the family members was currently doing genealogy research on the family. I sent her a listing I had culled from the letters of the addressees and senders but have yet to hear back.

We’d very much like to get this correspondence back to the current generation of this branch of the Frey family. So, here’s the list of addressees and senders, along with the postmarks. If you can put the appropriate family in touch with us, we’d be delighted to send them back these forgotten pieces of their family history.

Return Address
Miss Aliene Frey
5088 Irene St.
Sioux City, Iowa
Postcard signed Freddie
Mexico D.F., Mexico
20 ???, 19??
Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Frey
# 9 Madrid Apts.
Omaha, Nebr.
G.N. Crosby
4923 Webster St.
Omaha, Nebr.
NOV 24, 1931
Mrs. J.R. Frey
1310 South 28th
Omaha, Nebraska
1236 H
Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln, Nebr.
SEP 26, 1933
Aliene & Russell Frey
606 South Alice
Sioux City, Iowa
Omaha, Nebr.
FEB 10, 1934
Mrs. James Robert Frey
606 South Alice
Sioux City, Iowa
Mrs. J.O. DeLand
601 N. 10th
Beatrice, Nebr.
Beatrice, Nebr.
SEP 20, 1935
Mrs. James R. Frey
606 South Alice
Sioux City, Iowa
7411 Yates Avenue
Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Ill
SEP 24, 1935
Mrs. J.R. Frey
606 S. Alice
Sioux City, Iowa
Mrs. Geo. Gillard
Oak Terrace, Minn.
OCT 4, 1935
Mrs. James Robert Frey
606 S. Alice
Sioux City, Iowa
OCT 12, 1935
Mr. James W. Frey
606 South Alice Street
Sioux City, Iowa
203 Drake Court
Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha, Nebr.
NOV 29, 1935
Mr. & Mrs. Dale Fry
606 So Alice St
Sioux City, Iowa
Omaha, Nebr.
SEP 16, 1937
Mrs. Lila Frey
508 South Irene
Sioux City, Iowa
2011 No. 51 St.
Omaha, Neb.
Omaha, Nebr.
NOV 8, 1937
Mrs. J.R. Frey
1911 So Hennepin
Flower card from:
Hoselton Florists
500 Nebraska Street
Sioux City, Iowa
Mothers Day
James Russell Frey
Civ. Pers. (Dep. School)
7272nd A.B.U., Box 266
APO 231, New York, N.Y.
Mr. James Frey
1911 So Hennepin
Sioux City 6, Iowa
Sioux City, Iowa
OCT 31, 1962

Curiosity led me to read one of the shorter letters (4 pages!) and the insight it provided to American family life of the early sixties was pretty eye-opening. By reprinting it here, I hope I don't break any confidentiality that the letter writer requested over 40 years ago.

January 31, 1963

My Dear Russ -

I already had the urge to write you, and since your Sunday letter came today, I have the urge all the more.

I want to compliment you upon your happy attitudes toward life. I believe that you never write us a letter, but that in one way or another you express happiness or gratitude.

While most of us do not fully appreciate it, this can really make all the difference in our lives. These attitudes can give us years and years of happiness, or we can go through all those years being very unhappy. There is something to really think about. Whatever is evident on the outside, comes from within.

So, I heartily wish for you to always hold to this positive way of thinking, this happy way.

I also wish to express much heartfelt gratitude for both mother and myself, for the fact that you are so faithful in writing us. And of course we feel that it is because you have a real love for us. And that alone makes us very, very happy.

We want you to know that the experiences you have, we as fond parents are sharing them greatly with you, and we are most happy for you and still our love is with you always. You have given us so much to be proud of.

After 19 straight days of sub-zero weather we have finally hit what now seems like real mild weather. -12 last night, now +13. Our snows have been very moderate here up to date. Watertown, N.Y. has had 70 inches with drifts up to 25 ft. to 40 ft. in depth. The A.P. says this is the worst winter in this century, which as you know, is quite a record.

Sedalia, MO, a town of 25,000 was without gas for 36 hours at a low of -7. Talk about hardship.

I was supposed to have left the church job as of Feb. 1. I had told Clifford, who is new house chairman, that I could not afford to keep it because of 4 & 5 trips a day and getting so very saturated with soot & coal dust and the great amount of time it took. That it was a matter of bread & butter with me. That in other words I was getting no other work done.

So as of now, and retroactive through January I will receive an additional wage of $6. per day when I am on coal. While this is not much, at least I decided to stay on job till April 1, at least. That way I will not feel I am running out on them, in a time of need for a reliable custodian.

They are now, at last, investigating the possible chance of putting in a combination gas & oil burner.

Now this next is strictly confidential. It is about Aliene & Paul. We got a most discouraging letter. She feels that Paul is extremely negligent in doing his duties as a husband & father. She had wanted mother to be back there 4 or 5 weeks. She says that Paul would plan on sending the train fare. Evidently they have had a scrap about the money and evidently it must have been pretty bitter. For now she says that Mother is not to come back under any circumstances. She says she knows us well enough to know that we would scare up train fare ourselves, and she states that mother must not come back there under any circumstances.

But mother is going, for we both know that it is a trying time, and we would both feel that we were negligent in our duty, if she did not go. There will be the new baby, also little Paul, plus the fact that Aliene will not be herself.

She further states that if things do not get better within the year that she will be home here at 1911 with her two children. I have no doubt but that Paul does not do all the things he can, but I also know that Aliene can and does have a mean temper, and that also her outlooks on many things are difficult for me to understand.

You see now more clearly what I mean about attitudes towards life. It seems she is almost always unhappy. I regret this very much, for I always wanted all of our children to meet their problems and maintain a degree of happiness. We can not expect life to be free of problems; everyone has problems of one kind or another. We must to a degree learn how to master them.

I do not think Paul is doing any too well on his job. I know that they bought no gifts for anyone this year. She told us they could not, because they had no money. Surely with his education he should be able to snap out of it. That is one reason why I think your training excels over his. You earned your way and he had everything done for him, everything.

As always, I am looking forward so much to April 1. By then the great part of winter will be in the past. This has been a tough one.

The 55 has been starting real well; of course so far I have been able to keep it in the garage. I use plenty of Heat, the stations still charge 65¢, but Joe’s Surplus has lowered his price to 23¢ a can. Nice.

Europe has had one of its worst winters. Many people without heat and everyone rationed. So we thought you had perhaps not taken a place off base at Bitburg, for reasons of lack of heat.

You said you might buy a car in Europe. I would not try to deter you on this idea. For some time I have been thinking of a motor scooter, the outlay is but a fraction of a car, the gas consumption is practically nil. And I have read so many articles in the Monitor by young people who have traveled Europe by scooter.

Mother says she will write tonight.

Best wishes and Love,

Editor’s note: a comparison of the content of this letter, which was not in an envelope, with names & addresses from other correspondence indicates that the sender was likely J. R. Frey, 1911 South Hennepin Avenue, Sioux City, Iowa and the receipient was James Russell Frey who was stationed in Germany.