In May, I was invited to have lunch in the home of a friend in Oak Park, Virginia, a community in Madison County. The reason for the luncheon was to introduce me to Ruth Penn, whose (now deceased) husband I suspected was a relative. Armed with a box of photos, some albums of postcards, and my Family Tree Maker file for the Penns who made up my father’s line, I headed off to a wonderful day. Ruth and I sat down immediately and she walked me through the genealogy that connected me to her husband’s family. What a small world we live in. We had a delightful lunch, prepared by an interested friend who brought Ruth and me together just for the opportunity to meet and connect.
After lunch, I brought out two albums of postcards that I acquired when my great-aunt, Sarah Ellen Penn Sale, left us in 1997 at the age of 97. Her sister Annette, who was horribly crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, collected postcards that were sent to and from various family members in their travels within the US and overseas. The postcards are a treasure. There was a black and white postcard of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia from 1908. There were no trees around it and it looked rather stark. There were postcards of Richmond back at the turn of the century. My hostess asked if she could remove one of the postcards to see what was written on the back, and I agreed. She picked one at random, turned it over and it was addressed to “Miss Lucy Hobson, Oak Park, Virginia.” Her eyes and mine popped out of our heads. “You have to be kidding me,” she said. I was bowled over. Here I was standing in a house in Oak Park, Virginia, and she chose that postcard out of the pages of that album.
I knew that my great-grandmother was a Hobson before she married Peter Leath Penn, but I didn’t know who Lucy was. I returned home and went through my FTM files and old records and finally determined that she was my great-grandmother’s sister from Bristol, Virginia. I also found another postcard addressed to her at Oak Park Institute in Oak Park, Virginia. Her date of birth put her at 54 in 1908, the year she received that postcard. A little more research with locals led me to surmise that she taught at that school. Yesterday a native of Oak Park drove me to the site of that school. It is no longer there, but the sidewalk that led to the school remains. It is a straight sidewalk, up to what is now a round pen for holding cows or horses, then on the other side of the pen the sidewalk resumes and branches off in two directions. A foundation is visible, as are old foundation stones, and possibly the remnants of an ice house.
I need to go back into my boxes of photos and letters to see if I can find a connection between Ruth Penn’s husband’s family (Henry Clay Penn) and Bertha Throckmorton Hobson Penn and Peter Leath Penn, my great-grandparents. Oak Park is a small community that would not have been a likely destination for a single woman from Bristol, Virginia at the turn of the 20th Century. My musings lead me to believe that Henry Clay Penn’s family encouraged Lucy to come to Madison County to teach. Six months ago I had never been to Oak Park, but today I have eight special friends in that area, only twenty minutes from my home. Aren’t the little coincidences of life amazing? I was supposed to meet Ruth Penn, and through her, Lucy Hobson. Now I need to complete the story. Someday, I hope I will do that.