A Letter from my Dad

Many years ago, I received from my father a graduation present which was quite something. My father was a stamp collector, and had been for many years. For my gift, I was allowed to go through one of his U.S. stamp albums and select what I wanted. This not only enhanced my collection, but further emboldened my enthusiasm for the hobby. Along with the stamps I got, there was an old letter my father had gotten in a stamp lot he had purchased. The letter was inside its original envelope with a torn U.S. stamp on it, because the side of the envelope had been opened in such a manner that it had compromised the stamp. For me, that really didn’t take away from its allure. It was an intriguing bit of history that, from the very first time I had it in my hands, I knew that it might have been something special. Probably seeing that fascination in my face, my father allowed me to keep it.

Here is a photograph of the envelope:

This is what the stamp should look like in mint or unused condition. This stamp is enumerated by Scott’s Stamp Catalog as #A36 1869 3¢ Blue (Used-Postmarked: $16.00, Unused-No postmark and no gum: $100.00, Mint-No postmark and gum: $200.00):

Here is the letter:

You can clearly see the date of the letter, which will make this envelope and letter 150 years old come May 9th, 2020:

I have now had this letter for 42 years. In the more recent past, I have at times tried to research the name on the outside of the envelope with little success.

For years, I had read the name on the front of the envelope as “John McGroh”. After the past 8 years of “genie” research experience, and seeing how John wrote his “M”s, I was finally able to determine that his name was actually, “ John M. Groh”.

I have read the letter many times, and I’ve transcribed the letter here:

Benevola, Washington Co., MD

May 9th, 1870


I directed this letter so that I might find a person engaged in selling Patent Rights with whom I could enter into a contract, or whose services I could engage to sell my Patent Rights of a Mat, which is the best of all patents on this subject – the only one that possesses real merit in being cheap, neat & durable. The accompanying circular will give you an idea of the invention. As an article of practical utility you will easily discover its merits. Please write & state your terms.

Jno. M. Groh

So this told me that John Groh must have been an inventor. Now, here is an interesting question…if this letter was addressing someone that may be able to enter into a contact with Mr. Groh for his invention patent rights, why was the envelope addressed to John M. Groh? The answer to that will be forthcoming. Also, the postmark on the stamp was marked Chicago, Ill.

The address on the envelope simply stated “Benevola, Washington Co., MD”. The very first record I scored was the 1870 Census for a John Groh, born in PA in about 1832 and living in District 6, Washington Co., MD.

Image courtesy of Ancestry©

When I opened up the record, there was what I was looking for:

Now I knew I had the right person.

Here was my first glimpse into his family and what he did as a profession:

Interesting that it says “School Teacher” for his occupation, so his “inventor” aspirations must have been a side endeavor. Other records I found for John Groh were the 1860 Census, his Find A Grave record and an obituary record. I now knew that John Groh was born 24 Jul 1832 in Schaefferstown, Lebanon Co., PA, was married in 1853 and died in the month of June 1898 in Breathedsville, Washington Co., MD. (John’s Find A Grave day of death differs from the obituary record I found. I will be addressing that later).

From this point, I decided to check on Newpapers.com to see what else I could find.

I started with his death, so I did a search for John M. Groh in the year 1898. These are what I found:

From the Pittsburgh Press, 18 Jun 1898, Sat. – Image courtesy of Newspapers.com©

This told me so much more about this interesting man. The article says he died Thursday night, which according to the 1898 calendar, that would have been 16 Jun, 1898.

Here is another newspaper article:

From the Baltimore Sun, 17 Jun, 1898, Fri. – Image courtesy of Newspapers.com©

This article also indicates that John died on Thurs., 16 Jun, 1898.

This is the next article I found:

From the Lebanon Courier and Semi-Weekly Report, 22 Jun, 1898, Wed. posting an article from the Hagerstown Daily Mail, dated June 16, thus making John’s death date 15 Jun 1898.

There could be various reasons why someone’s date of death is wrong. Perhaps it was not reported the the newspapers correctly, either by the informant or sometimes newspapers would transmit news items to one another, thus possibly causing errors in the facts. Without a death certificate to verify a date of death, there will be differences.

This is the last article I found:

From The Evening Times (Washington, D.C.), 17 Jun 1898, Fri. (the date of this article and the day in question mentioned would indicate that John died on Weds., 15 Jun 1898).

Image courtesy of Newspapers.com©

I then wanted to see if I could trace John further back through newspaper articles.

I went back to Newspapers and did a search on John’s name with a time period between 1860 and 1870, and got some interesting hits, the 1st matching the subject matter of the letter:

From The Baltimore Sun, 26 Sept 1868, Sat.

Image courtesy of Newspapers.com©

Images courtesy of Newspapers.com©

I then decided to see if I could find more of John’s family. I went back to the 1850 Census to see what I could find. I found John at the age of about 19 living with a Stine family in Bethel, Lebanon County, PA:

Image courtesy of Ancestry©

Now I had to find another record that would lead me to John’s parents. I went back to John’s obituary from the Lebanon Courier and Semi-Weekly Report, 22 Jun, 1898, and was given my next bread crumbs. The names of John’s sisters Sarah and Susan, and his late brother, Israel.

I did a search on Israel Groh and found an 1850 Census for a Michael Groh family with Israel, Sarah and Susan Groh in Heidelberg, Lebanon County, PA:

Image courtesy of Ancestry©

So this pretty much ties down the parents of John Groh, Michael and Susan Groh. I saw that there was a younger brother named Michael as well. I also noticed the 61 year old man named John Moyer. Could this be a relative?

Actually it is, as John M. Groh’s middle name is Moyer.

Now, getting back to the question regarding the letter that John wrote and mailed to himself.

One of the practices of many would-be inventors was to mail their ideas or patents through the U.S. Postal Service to themselves to have an authorized date, thus negating anyone else’s claim they might have on any inventor’s idea or patent.

This practice ws known as “the Poor Man’s Copyright”. The federal copyright office explains on it’s website, “The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a ‘poor man’s copyright.’ There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.”

However, copyright legislation that took effect Jan. 1, 1978, stated “that all works are automatically copyrighted from the time that they are created and “fixed” in some recognizable way”.

Things to remember…

When researching an individual, be sure to investigate any siblings or other family members. Cast your net wide because you never know what you’re going to catch when you do.

Researching any memorabilia related to your ancestors can garner you untold information and some surprises along the way.

Before the end of this writing, I decided to go back through my stamp album with the stamps that I had gotten from my Dad all those years ago, and sure enough, there was #A36 3¢ Blue at the top of the page in good condition. The image is a little offset, but none the less, in good shape, but you know what…that letter with the torn stamp on it means more to me.

Thanks Dad.


The U.S. Copyright Office





My father, Ray C. Miller, whose gift of knowledge and stamp collecting has helped spark the journey of discovery that I am on

To my brother Mike, whose knowledge of stamps almost surpasses the knowledge my father had of stamps

Cheryl, my wife, whose constant support and love is the air I breathe

Brian S. Miller

5 thoughts on “A Letter from my Dad

    • Cathy, It was a mystery that I have held onto for such a long time, and it was time to discover it’s secrets. Funny thing is, Jonn Moyer Groh could be, although I have found no evidence for it, an ancestral cousin. My g-g-g-grandmother was Susanna (Moyer) Hensel.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s