A Story of Love, War, Science … and Family

Astute readers probably noticed that this blog got off to a pretty good start, then stalled for a month. I apologize. I haven’t been completely idle these past few weeks, though.

I’ve been finishing up another project, the story of Walter and Ina Dove. Walter and Ina were my paternal grandparents (Ina, by the way, is pronounced EYE-nah). They were both born right at the close of the 19th century and lived through a good part of the 20th, witnessing and participating in an astonishing series of technological and social changes. Beginning with their courtship in 1925, they wrote to each other whenever they were apart, which turned out to be pretty often. Having inherited their entire collection of letters, I decided to put them – and some other paperwork that fell into the same file – online.

Walter was a scientist. Over a research career that spanned more than forty years, he worked out the etiology of a puzzling human parasitic infection, developed the first systematic strategies for controlling myiases in livestock, and presided over the development of two of the most important insecticides ever created. The documents on the blog show some of the thinking behind those discoveries as they were unfolding. Ina wasn’t merely a passive recipient of that information, either; she took an active interest in her husband’s work and often advised him about it, especially on issues of office politics. Of course, the archive also includes numerous insights into a typically eccentric Southern family. This is where I come from.

Now, after two and a half years of near-daily updates, the Walter and Ina blog has just a few more posts scheduled. It will end around the middle of next week. I’ll keep it online after that, but may reverse the post order to start with the earliest letters instead of the latest.

I started transcribing this archive because I thought others might find it interesting, but also because I wanted to get to know these two people. Walter died several years before I was born, and Ina died before I was mature enough to appreciate her. It was wonderful to be able to rewind the clock and encounter them in their prime. The unidirectional nature of the conversation wasn’t a problem, as I mainly wanted to listen anyway. When I finally reached the obituaries, it was as if I’d suddenly lost a couple of friends I’d only recently met.

If you have access to an archive of family letters like this, or better still the ability to sit down and interview your grandparents, I urge you to take the opportunity.