Posts made in November 30th, 2010

Love Letters, Chapter 2

Who’s “Poul”?

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Both of the letters I’d purchased were signed “Love, Poul” and I was curious to know who “Poul” was. The return address on the envelope said “R. Ives,” so I figured “Poul” must be some kind of nickname. I’d never heard it before, so I ran the word through Google Translator, and when I clicked “detect language,” it gave me Danish for the origin of the word. Unfortunately, the English translation was also “poul,” so I still have no idea what it means. However, it may stand to reason that it would be a Danish/Dutch term of endearment, since the recipient’s last name is Van Duyn… a Dutch name. (Incidentally, “mon poulet” is a French term of endearment and means “my chicken.” Probably similar to that.)

I assumed the recipient of the letters, “Dr. John Van Duyn” of Duluth, Minnesota, would be easy to find on Not so. I found a few Van Duyns living elsewhere in the state, but none in Duluth. So, I put that name on back burner for a while and concentrated instead on “R. Ives” living in White Plains, New York.

I tried looking for “R. Ives,” gender female, with a keyword of “White Plains,” but no luck. Too many hits, and none with a first name starting with “R”. I tried restricting my search to just Census records, but still no luck… too many hits, and no “R” first names. Then, I tried taking a stab at her birth date. This letter was sent in 1949, so I assumed she was about 25, give or take 5 years. Still nothing. Finally, I went back to my original search and checked the box that said “Exact” next to my keyword phrase “White Plains.”


I found 12 year old “Ruth Coes” on the 1930 census living in White Plains, New York with her father Warren, mother Millicent, and younger brother Edward, age 4. They had misspelled the family’s name. In brackets under the search results, it said [Ruth Ives].

I still didn’t know for sure that this was my “R. Ives,” so I opened up the file to look at the original census document.


As luck would have it, in 1930, the Ives family was living at the same address as the return address on the letter (sent nineteen years later): 107 Ralph Avenue, White Plains, New York.

I’d found my Poul. But… now the next question… was she still alive?

I went back and edited my search again. First name: Ruth. Last name: Ives. Birth: 1918 (plus or minus one year). Birth Location: New York.

I found a record on the U.S. Public Records index for a Ruth L. Ives living at 107 Ralph Avenue in White Plains, New York. Birth date: October 1, 1917.

I ran my search one more time, this time with the middle initial “L,” and the exact birth year of 1917. I found a record for Ruth Ives on the Social Security Death Index, born October 1, 1917. Died August 1975 in Maine.


I took a look at her birth date again, and wondered how close in age she was to Elena Duke Benedict. I checked back through my Villa Am Meer blog posts and discovered the craziest thing. Elena Duke Benedict (originally Elena Amaducci) was born September 11, 1917, also in White Plains, New York. They were born 20 days apart.

Now really, what are the chances of that?

They were probably schoolmates; maybe even friends. Now that I had a name, Ruth L. Ives, I’d be able to track down a lot more information, and potentially some living family members. And of course, there was still the mysterious “Dr. John Van Duyn” I would need to track down.

Color me giddy. My “happy mystery” is starting to get fun.

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Love Letters, Chapter 1

My darling…

New here? Start from the beginning…

In my quest to find a “happy mystery” (hopefully with a happy ending) I happened upon a set of love letters on ebay that I bid on and won. There are two letters, postmarked September 30, 1949 and October 4, 1949. (If you missed my previous post with pictures of the letters, view them here.)

I chose this particular set of letters (remarkably, there are many more for sale on ebay) because they’re from a woman in White Plains, New York, addressed to a doctor in Duluth, Minnesota. If you followed my Villa am Meer story, you’ll recall that Elena Duke Benedict, the owner of the Villa Am Meer property, was also born and raised in White Plains, New York, just like the author of these letters. And because I myself live in Minnesota… well, it just seemed like these were the letters I was meant to buy. Hopefully I can return them to their rightful owners.

To respect the author’s privacy, I am not including the full content of the letters. Suffice it to say, it seems the game of love was the same in 1949 as it is today. He loves me? He loves me not? I love him? I love him not? The author of the letters, “R. Ives,” questions John Van Duyn’s love for her, and seeks his reassurance. She views their relationship from every angle, analyzes past conversations, considers their future together, reads into every single word John Van Duyn says, and plots how she can change him into the perfect man. (Like I said, the dating game hasn’t changed much.) He, on the other hand, just wants to end the “word vomit” and tell her what she wants to hear. If only he could figure it out. Poor, simple soul.

We learn some clues to their personalities from these letters. The woman, “R. Ives,” was a tennis player and had just started working in the cosmetics department of Altman’s Department Store in White Plains. She was also a new Sunday School teacher at her church and trying to learn how to play bridge. It seems John Van Duyn was an avid bridge player and, in hopes of improving her game, had even given Ms. Ives his “Culbertson” (an instruction book written by world famous bridge player Ely Culbertson). His love of the game and her general lack of skill seemed to be a running joke between them.

By the second letter, it’s obvious that John Van Duyn had grown impatient with his girlfriend’s constant doubts and analysis. The couple appears to be on the brink of a break-up. Ms. Ives ends her letter by saying, “I think I’m beginning to accept you as you are, and I couldn’t love you more.”

So, who are these two people? Why was one living in White Plains, New York, and the other living in Duluth, Minnesota? Do they ever resolve their differences and get married?

Stay tuned to find out.

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