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B.C. woman gets overwhelming response about contents of old writing box linked to Newfoundland and Labrador

Laura Lang of Victoria, B.C., displays a wooden writing box that she found in her late sister’s home four years ago. Many of the items found inside have links to St. John’s, and she hopes someone will know more.
Laura Lang has gotten a lot of replies following The Telegram's article, featuring her writing box, with century-old photos and other items, last week. - Contributed

But Laura Lang says some things are still a mystery

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Laura Lang figured when she spoke to The Telegram a few weeks ago hoping to find answers about a mysterious writing box that had ties to this province she would get some response.

But she had no idea just how much.

"Oh my gosh, it's been overwhelming," Lang said Monday during a telephone interview from her home in Victoria, B.C. "I wasn't expecting that many replies or that quick a response."

Lang contacted The Telegram two weeks ago looking for help in finding information about the contents of the wooden writing box, which she discovered in her late sister's home.

Lined with purple velvet, the box had two glass ink bottles, two glass inkwells and a blotter inside. There was also a pop-out compartment for storing dip pens. But there were also several old photos, dating back to the late 1800s, many of which were taken by professional photographers in St. John's, including S.H. Parsons Photography and Fine Art Emporium, Lyons and Vey Photography, and Page Wood, which were all located on Water Street.

The writing box also contained a beautifully handwritten, four-page letter, dated Oct. 14, 1898, from the Turks Islands. It is addressed to Mrs. M. McCaubry in St. John's, and expresses condolences on the death of her husband, Dick McCaubry. It appears to be signed by W. Stanley Jones.

Lang's sister had left no trace of where she might have gotten it or the identities of those in the photos. Lang hoped publishing a story about it would help.

Almost immediately after it was published on June 11, emails began pouring in.

Lang's first indication of how widespread the story had become came the next day when a woman in her yoga class approached her about it.

"She had just been in Newfoundland for three weeks and read the story and recognized me. She said to her husband, 'Oh my gosh, I know her. She's in my yoga class,'" Lang said, laughing.

"So, she brought me the actual hard copy of the paper, which was so wonderful.

"It's funny how the world works."

From genealogy buffs and internet search wizards to historians to university professors, the story sparked a lot of reaction.

"I was shocked to see so many people with no connection to these families coming forward," Lang said. "They just like that stuff."

Emails came from all over Canada and as far away as Australia.

The story was particularly meaningful to two people who had family connections to the McCaubry family mentioned in the letter.

Christopher Morry of Rockland, Ont., originally from this province, recognized some of the photos.

He explained that Richard (Dick) Alexander McCourbrey married Clara Isabella Winsor (or Windsor) of Aquaforte in St. John's. In 1893, they had a son, Alexander Rixon McCoubrey, who, on July 12, 1920, married Williamina Catherine Penhallurick in Victoria, B.C.

After Richard died in 1898, Clara moved to Victoria with her son and, in 1930, she married Thomas Graham Morry in Victoria when they were both in their 80s.

Thomas Graham Morry was Christopher Morry's great-grandfather.

"This was her third marriage and his second," Morry explained. "They had been childhood sweethearts, but never married (each other) for various reasons."

A woman in Orangeville, Ont., Amanda MacCoubrey, has been researching her husband's family for over a decade. She was delighted to see The Telegram story shared by someone on the

Newfoundland Geneology Facebook page and found a connection with the McCaubry in the 1898 letter. She said despite the different spelling, it's the same family, as her husband's grandfather changed the spelling for some reason.

"When I saw the name Dick McCoubrey (in the article), I thought, oh my gosh, could it be? I didn't want to get my hopes up, so I emailed," said MacCoubrey, whose email to The Telegram was forwarded to Lang.

She said Richard (Dick) McCoubrey was her husband's great-great-great grandfather's nephew.

"It was so exciting and satisfying to find this," said MacCoubrey, who added that her husband is not a genealogy enthusiast, but was happy about the discovery. "Something like that letter really gives you a glimpse into their lives. It was so elegantly written. It's almost romantic even, even though it was so sad."

Lang is glad to have found family connections and plans to look into it further when she returns from vacation this summer.

"I need to find some solid evidence," said Lang, who suspects her sister bought the writing box at an auction or antique sale. "I would certainly like this stuff to be in the right place, with the families.

"But a lot of it is still a mystery. I have no need for the photos. They're not my family, but I feel they should go somewhere. I just don't know where. I'm going to have to think hard about it because these are pretty special and I want to make the right decision."

Twitter: @TelyRosie


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