Like many collectors, my journey in philately has been an evolution. From my initial interests in the administrative and logistical aspects of postal history – the stamps used, the rates they paid, the cancellations they bore, and the routes they traveled – I began to appreciate that covers were also important primary documents in the field of social history, capable of unveiling much about the historical experiences of the correspondents in the context of the times in which they lived. With this perspective, philatelists, in their preservation of covers, are the custodians of important historical artifacts and have much to contribute to the field of social history.
In this article, I document the process I went through and the resources I used to research the social history of one representative cover from my collection. To make the process as accessible as possible to anyone who is interested in exploring similar aspects of their own collection, I only used resources that are free and publicly available to anyone with an internet connection. I conclude by placing the research in the context of contemporaneous world events.
Figure 1. 1948 (January 22) cover addressed to Mr. J A Bayne, 2221 La Salle Ave, Niagara Falls, New York, USA, franked with red 2½d Paid cancellation. Additional 1942 2½d KGVI and 1943 1d QE definitives were subsequently affixed, paying the correct 3½d surface letter rate to non-British Empire countries, and tied by Type I Hobart H.F.A. (Held For Adjustment?) handstamps.
Our case study (Figure 1) is a January 22, 1948, cover sent to “MR J A BAYNE” of Niagara Falls in the state of New York, from Hobart in Tasmania, Australia. Several aspects of the cover led me to add it to my collection, including the use of the H.F.A. handstamp (Figure 2). The H.F.A. handstamp has been recorded on numerous covers from the Australian states of South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania. Four types are known for Hobart, of which this example is Type I, and is the earliest recorded example for Hobart (Figure 3). It is not clear what H.F.A. stood for, but as these are seen on covers in which postage has been deficient, I believe it to mean “Held For Adjustment.” On this cover, the Postage Paid of 2½d was not sufficient for the 3½d surface letter rate to non-Empire countries. Another point of interest was the cover’s contents:
the original Tattersall’s (lottery) inclusions for “Tattersall’s 82nd £10,000 Cash Consultation” (drawn January 27, 1948, Figure 4) [Note 1].
Figure 2. The HFA handstamps from Figure 1 processed through retroreveal.org.
Figure 4a. Enclosed memo in Figure 1 cover. By virtue of Bayne's ticket in the previous draw having the same two terminal numbers as the first prize winner in Tattersall's 81st £10,000 Cash Consultation (Ticket #97529), he was entitled to a free ticket in the subsequent draw. No application was necessary. From: "TATTERSALLS 81st £10,000 CASH CONSULTATION," Advocate (January 21, 1948). https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/69069300
Figure 4b. List of prizes for Tattersall's £10,000 Cash Consultations, enclosed in the Figure 1 cover.
Figure 4c. Enclosed ticket #154711. A check of the winning numbers in Tattersall's 82nd £10,000 Cash Consultation published in the Advocate on Thursday, January 29, 1948, shows that this was not a winning ticket. The first prize number, #82391, also meant that Bayne was not entitled to a free 5/- ticket based on the two terminal numbers. The £10,000 first prize in the 82nd draw was won by a syndicate of 60 men from Hobart who worked in the Hobart Post Office or Tramways Department. Sources: "TATTERSALLS 82nd £10,000 CASH CONSULTATION," Miners' Advocate (January 29, 1948). https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/69070568; "60 Share in £10,000 Prize," Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (January 28, 1948). https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/134316695
However, central to the theme of this article is that this post-war cover was sent from Australia to a U.S. address. Was the addressee an Australian based in the U.S., or a U.S. citizen connected with Australia, and if so, in what capacity?
My research does not usually begin with Google. Unless the cover is associated with someone of historic note or significance, a more efficient and productive entry point is through digitized newspaper archives or a genealogical database. As I begin to build upon my initial observations about the cover, I extend the search to encompass local and national government and library archives, digitized books (found through archive.org and Google Books), forums, and various online websites, including those maintained by special interest groups such as local historical societies or keen hobbyists.
For Australian content, I utilize the newspaper archives at TROVE (https://trove.nla.gov.au/). For U.S. information, I use Fulton History (https://fultonhistory.com/) and Chronicling America (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/). For information specific to California, the California Digital Newspaper Collection (https://cdnc.ucr.edu/), a project of the Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research (CBSR) at the University of California, is a particularly useful resource. For genealogical information and other sources of historical documentation, I primarily use FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/).
In the case of this cover, I commenced with the Australian newspaper archives available through TROVE. TROVE is a collaboration between the National Library of Australia and its partners to provide free access to more than six billion digital items held in libraries, museums, galleries, the media, government and community organizations throughout Australia.
I started my TROVE research by limiting my initial inquiries to “Newspapers & Gazettes,” being careful not to use keyword combinations that are too restrictive, allowing for the myriad of ways in which people and events may have been reported. As an example, a search for “J. A. Bayne,” further filtered to articles published in the period 1940-1949, yields no relevant results. However, searching for “Bayne” and “Niagara” (1,833 possible results spread over 92 pages without filtering) produces 12 results with the 1940-1949 filter, of which the first five are relevant.
Figure 5. A wedding notice from the Williamstown Chronicle of August 27, 1943. Accessed through TROVE.
The first result returned by TROVE is a wedding notice from the Williamstown Chronicle of August 27, 1943, reporting on the marriage of “Justin A. Bayne, of the U.S. Forces” (United States Marine Corps), the “only son of Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Bayne, Niagara Falls, New York,” and “Miss Sylvia Sands, younger daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. Roy Sands” of Williamstown (Figure 5). They were married in the Holy Trinity Church, in Williamstown [Note 2], located on the shore of Hobsons Bay, 11 km (6.8 mi) south-west of Melbourne’s central business district.
Sylvia was given away by her father. Her sister, “Mrs. David Underwood” (Doris Sinclair Sands had married David Underwood in 1938) [Note 3], acted as bridesmaid; her niece, Deidre, as flower girl. Sylvia’s brother, Supply Assistant L. Sands, Royal Australian Navy, acted as Justin Bayne’s best man. According to his Record of Mobilized Service, available through the National Archives of Australia (https://www.naa.gov.au/), Leslie Albert Edward Sands (b.1917) was then serving at the naval base HMAS Lonsdale in nearby Port Melbourne [Note 4].
Family notices, such as weddings, funerals and obituaries, are particularly valuable sources of information (as demonstrated above) as they will often list the names of spouses, siblings, children (daughters by maiden and/or married name), and extended family members. These names can help broaden the research parameters and enrich the social history, while providing perhaps the only direct publicly-documented links between individuals. Middle names can also provide clues to the family names of grandparents. This can be particularly valuable in a time when women, after marriage, were often referred to by their husband’s names alone.
Another common practice in newspapers of using initials instead of an individual’s given name(s) can also prove frustrating to research but can occasionally be overcome by substituting the common names of the period in your searches. Popular baby names in the U.S., broken down by decade, can be found at the website for the Social Security Administration (https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/decades/). When you conduct searches by name, also consider abbreviations that were occasionally used. Some common examples include “Chas” for Charles, “Thos” for Thomas, “Doris” for Dorothy, and “Madge” for Margaret.
Searches should not be limited to names alone. A search of an address can also yield results that might otherwise be overlooked. In researching the Sands family, I found that Sylvia’s parents lived at 3 Charles Street in Williamstown [Note 5]. They were keen sailors and members of the Williamstown Royal Yacht Club [Note 6]. Sylvia’s father, Arthur Roy Sands, was a foreman shipwright at the Hobson’s Bay Floating Dry Dock, Melbourne Steamship Company [Note 7], and with the help of his wife and daughters built the 34-sloop Carola in their backyard in the 1930s [Note 8] (Figure 6). By limiting my search to the address alone I also found that in 1933 Roy was advertising “YACHTS - Perfect models, well built and guaranteed to sail, 3ft. to 5ft. 3 Charles St., Williamstown” [Note 9].
Figure 6. Arthur Roy Sands’ sloop Carola, built with his family’s help and reported in The Australasian on November 13, 1937. Accessed through TROVE.
Through my research I also discovered that this was not Sylvia Sands’ first relationship with a member of the U.S. military. On August 7, 1942, the day U.S. Marines landed on the beaches of Guadalcanal marking the commencement of the Guadalcanal Campaign, the Williamstown Chronicle reported on her engagement with Private First Class (PFC) Joseph John Firtko (1918-2002) of Racine, Wisconsin. They had celebrated their engagement at the Orient Hotel in Melbourne, on August 1, 1942 [Note 10]. There is no publicly available record of the circumstances that eventually lead to the end of their engagement, but from Joseph’s obituary in The Journal Times we know he survived the war as a “decorated veteran who served in the United States Army during World War II in the South Pacific Theatre” and “was united in marriage to Marie D. Riva” in 1953 [Note 11]. By coincidence, Joseph’s name would appear in print again exactly one year later, on August 7, 1943, in the Syracuse Herald-Journal reporting on his participation in the fighting at Buoisi Ridge in New Guinea [Note 12].
I turned next to the genealogical database, FamilySearch. FamilySearch traces its roots back to the Genealogical Society of Utah, founded in 1894, and through its employees and volunteers maintains a free, online searchable database containing an estimated 4+ billion names. FamilySearch has a strong holding of U.S.-based records and enables users to search state census information as well as the decennial U.S. census up to 1940. Due to the 72-year rule, the U.S. government does not release personally identifiable information about an individual until 72 years after it was collected. Therefore, the 1950 census was not available until 2022.
Figure 7. The 1930 census lists the Bayne family in Niagara Falls. Accessed through FamilySearch.
Figure 8. Sylvia’s resident alien’s border crossing identification card. Accessed through FamilySearch.
Looking for more information on Justin A. Bayne, resident of Niagara Falls, FamilySearch yielded copies of the 1920 and 1930 U.S. census [Note 13-14], which list the Bayne family at 2221 La Salle Avenue, the address on our cover (Figure 7). The census records also show that Justin had two sisters, Rita (b.1915) and Vernette (b.1919). My search also yielded passenger manifests for Justin and Sylvia documenting their journeys between Australia and the United States, as well as Sylvia’s application for a resident alien’s border crossing identification card (Figure 8) which provides personal information about her height (5’9”), weight (137lb), complexion (med.), hair color (brown), eye color (brown) and employment (Comptometer Operator) [Note 15]. Expanding the search to Bayne’s family allowed me to extend his family tree back to his grandparents which includes his maternal grandfather, the famous local brewer, Prosper Peuquet [Note 16].
Linked to FamilySearch, but also searchable through their dedicated websites, are Find a Grave (https://www.findagrave.com/) and Billion Graves (https://billiongraves.com/). These websites work to preserve information and images from cemeteries around the world. The location of graves, together with photographs and transcriptions of the gravestones, are constantly being added to the sites by volunteers. Entries may also provide links to the graves of other known family members which can be invaluable in expanding the search. In some cases, contributors have added personal photographs of the deceased, short biographies, and/or obituaries.
From Justin Bayne’s obituary, on the Find a Grave website (attributed to the Buffalo News), Justin A. “Justy” Bayne was born February 8, 1918, in Niagara Falls, and died May 19, 2000, age 82, in Mount St. Mary’s Hospital, Lewiston, after a lengthy illness. As a WWII Marine Corps veteran, he served in southwestern Pacific, participating in the Guadalcanal campaign. A longtime employee of Moore Business Forms in Niagara Falls (1940-1972) and in Dover, New Hampshire (1972-1976), he was head of the model shop, making scale models of equipment prototypes, when he retired [Note 17].
Of immediate interest to our story is that on Justin’s death he was married not to Sylvia Sands of Williamstown, but to Eleanor Doty of Niagara Falls. On the presumption that Eleanor may have also passed away in the interim 20 years since her husband’s death, I moved focus to Google in the hopes that a name search would reveal information from either a local newspaper's website or one of the many funeral service companies that now provide virtual memorials. In Eleanor’s case, I found both.
From her obituary in the Niagara Falls Gazette (https://www.niagara-gazette.com/), I found that Eleanor (1924-2018) married Justin Bayne on August 29, 1949 [Note 18]. In neither her obituary nor Justin Bayne’s did I find the name of Sylvia (Sands) Bayne, or a suggestion that Justin had been in a previous marital relationship.
Figure 9. The May 27, 1944, passenger manifests of the SS Goonawarra. Accessed through FamilySearch.
From my research in the TROVE newspaper archives and in FamilySearch, I learned that after Sylvia’s marriage to Justin, she sailed to the U.S. aboard the Swedish cargo-liner, SS Goonawarra, arriving in San Francisco, California, on June 16, 1944 (Figure 9) [Note 19]. I learned that she stayed briefly with her sister-in-law, Rita, in California, on her way to Justin’s parents in Niagara Falls where she was to reside until he returned from active duty [Note 20]. I learned that in September 1947, they returned to Australia aboard the Marine Phoenix [Note 21], and on January 5, 1948, Justin boarded the Marine Phoenix once more to return to the U.S. alone [Note 22]. We know he married Eleanor in August 1949. Are there any clues to what happened in the U.S. newspaper archives?
Of the previously mentioned U.S. newspaper archives, the best results come from Fulton History. The website can be searched directly, or through the alternative front end Fulton Search (https://fultonsearch.org/). Exploring Fulton History provides a myriad of references to Justin and to Sylvia in the Niagara Falls Gazette.
In the October 6, 1943, edition, the Niagara Falls Gazette reprinted the wedding notice from the Williamstown Chronicle as a “wedding of interest.” It occupies the column next to a report of Vernette’s marriage to Raymond Genter, with whom Justin enlisted in the USMC on January 6, 1942 [Note 23]. In the August 21, 1947, edition Justin and Sylvia are reported as returning to Australia to visit Sylvia’s parents, driving first to San Francisco, where they were to stay with Rita before sailing for Australia on September 2nd. Unfortunately, thereafter, the available records do not have enough information to determine the reasons behind their separation or Sylvia’s fate after her return to Australia in 1947.
This cover, and the relationship between Sylvia and Justin, takes us back to an important period of social and cultural upheaval in Australia, and as such the cover should also be examined in the context of contemporaneous world events. In the previously mentioned August 21, 1947, Niagara Falls Gazette article announcing their return to Australia, the report concludes by noting: “An Australian war bride, Mrs Bayne has been in this country for more than three years and was the first bride to come to Niagara Falls from that country. She was a member of the first group of brides to leave Australia” [Note 24].
Sylvia was just 21 years old [Note 25] when, in early 1942, Melbourne became the initial headquarters for the Allied military effort in the south-west Pacific, playing host to more than 30,000 U.S. servicemen. By mid-1942 however, the allied HQ had relocated to Brisbane and the initial influx of U.S. servicemen was progressively deployed for frontline service. Joseph Firtko would have been one of these servicemen.
In early 1943, the void left by the initial U.S. contingent was filled by the arrival of 15,000 battle-weary young men of the First Marine Division, who arrived in Melbourne on a nine-month sojourn following the Guadalcanal campaign (August 7, 1942 – February 9, 1943). It was to this group that Justin Bayne belonged.
For many young Melbourne women, with the vast majority of single, eligible young Australian men deployed around the world, the allure of the American servicemen, fueled by the glamor of Hollywood movies and no doubt the uncertainty of the times, proved irresistible. As a consequence, relationships flourished despite the outcries of “immoral” behavior coming from voices within the government and church.
For the Australian servicemen coming home on leave, the Americans were “over-paid, over-sexed and over here.” It was therefore only a matter of time before tensions boiled over, and in February 1943 a street brawl, termed the “Battle of Melbourne,” erupted between U.S. Marines and the men of the AIF Ninth Division [Note 26]. Fortunately, differences were soon set aside in March with an allied “Get Together” party hosted by the U.S. Forces at the Melbourne Cricket Ground [Note 27].
While we don’t know the circumstances of Sylvia’s first meetings with Joseph Firtko and Justin Bayne, it may have resulted through Sylvia’s mother, who in her role as manageress of the Williamstown Camp Concert Party had by November 1943 “travelled thousands of miles to Victorian and American camps during past few years and [had] given over 400 concerts to thousands of appreciative troops” [Note 28]. Irrespective of how they met, Sylvia was just one of an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Australian women who married American servicemen during World War Two, with many immigrating to the U.S. to begin their new lives as War Brides between 1943 and 1946; “the largest contingent of women, babies and children ever to leave Australia” [Note 29].
Thus, an unassuming cover has provided us with a glimpse into a largely forgotten episode of Australian-U.S. relations. With the ever-growing body of archival materials such as letters, magazines, diaries, newspapers, and oral histories freely available online to researchers, there is no better time for philatelists to start preserving, researching and sharing the stories their covers reveal to further the social history record.
- “Advertising,” Voice (January 24, 1948). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article220429193
- “WEDDING BELLS,” Williamstown Chronicle (August 27, 1943). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70718023
- “CONCENTRATES,” Williamstown Chronicle (March 19, 1938). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70688058
- NAA: A6770, SANDS L A E, https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=4509632
- “CAMP CONCERT PARTY,” Williamstown Chronicle (November 5, 1943). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70718400
- “Williamstown’s (Victoria) Royal Yacht Club Boasts a Cruiser Manned by Seamaids,” The Australasian (November 13, 1937). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article141811654
- “FOUNDERING OF LIGHTER OFF COAST,” The Argus (December 4, 1943). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11799262
- “BUILT AT HOME,” The Argus (January 21, 1936). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11875129
- “Advertising,” The Herald, 1933 (December 16, 1933). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243208727
- “WILLIAMSTOWN YOUNGER SET,” Williamstown Chronicle (August 7, 1942). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70715139
- “Obit: Joseph J. Firtko,” The Journal Times (June 5, 2002). https://journaltimes.com/news/local/obituaries/obit-joseph-j-firtko/article_28910d27-3a9c-5947-94e0-8c635fd0cadb.html
- “New Guinea Ridges Make Hard Going,” Syracuse Herald-Journal (August 7, 1943). https://fultonhistory.com/
- “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch, New York > Niagara > Niagara Falls Ward 9 > ED 121 > image 38 of 54; citing NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
- . “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch, New York > Niagara > Niagara Falls > ED 65 > image 12 of 54; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).
- “New York, Northern Arrival Manifests, 1902-1956,” FamilySearch, Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester > Soundex: B-455 George to B-536 Beverly > image 2509 of 8180; citing NARA microfilm publication M1480 and M1482 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
- .“New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936,” FamilySearch, Niagara > Marriage records, 1913-1917, vol 2 > image 152 of 590; citing county clerk offices from various counties, New York.
- “Justin A “Justy” Bayne,” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/96209885/justin-a-bayne
- . “Eleanor D. Bayne,” Niagara Falls Gazette. https://obituaries.niagara-gazette.com/obituary/eleanor-bayne-1070792443
- “California, San Francisco Passenger Lists, 1893-1953,” FamilySearch, 378 - Jan 11 - Aug 2, 1944 > image 150 of 837; citing NARA microfilm publication M1410 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
- “MAINLY PERSONAL,” Williamstown Chronicle (June 30, 1944). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70680679
- “New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973,” FamilySearch, Auckland (other ports also listed) > 1947 > Marine Phoenix > image 7 of 23; Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- “United States, California, List of United States Citizens Arriving at San Francisco, 1930-1949,” FamilySearch, > image 1 of 1; citing NARA publication M1439. (College Park, MD.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)
- “WEDDINGS,” Niagara Falls Gazette (October 6, 1943). Fulton History
- “Falls Couple to Visit Wife’s Australian Home,” Niagara Falls Gazette (August 21, 1947). Fulton History
- “Notes of the Week,” Williamstown Chronicle (December 19, 1941). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70713689
- Darian-Smith, Kate, and Jenzen, Rachel. OVER-PAID, OVER-SEXED OVER HERE? (City Gallery, 2010). https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/over-paid-catalogue.pdf
- “AUSTRALIANS AND AMERICANS ENJOY “GET TOGETHER” PARTY,” The Australasian (March 20, 1943). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142146388
- “CAMP CONCERT PARTY,” Williamstown Chronicle (November 5, 1943). http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70718400
- Nicole Hansson, “Australian American WWII War Brides,” Australian Women in New York (Accessed November 2, 2020). https://australianwomeninnewyork.org/2015/10/22/explore-a-little-known-chapter-of-history-the-australian-war-brides
Peter Congreve was born in Australia, but lives in Japan with his wife and two children. He enjoys all aspects of philately, marcophily, and postal history, especially collecting and researching covers as primary sources of postal, social and genealogical history. You can find him on Twitter (@stampden).
For Further Reading
Recommendations from the APRL research staff:
“Postal History vs. Social History,” Fricke, Charles A. American Philatelist, January 2009 (Article).
“An Example of Philately as Social History,” Berg, Charles. COMPEX 83/86, May 27-29, 1994. (Article)
“Intertwining of Philatelic and Social History,” Hahn, Calvet M. Postal History Journal, February 1998. (Article)
The Social and Economic Importance of Postal Reform in 1840. Allam, David R. (Batley, West Yorkshire: Harry Hayes, 1976). G5741 .P859 A416s
Social Philately: Letters from the Loneliest Island in the World. Peck, Richard C. (Clarence St, NSW, Australia: Richard Peck, 1991). G9172 .T7 P367s