Heartwarming WWII Love Letters Returned to Family Members 80 Years Later
The couple's daughter was "so happy" to receive the letters, which were hidden in her childhood home.
Valentine's Day has arrived, and in addition to flowers and candy, many celebrate their love with a sweet note or post on social media. But during the mid-20th century, handwritten letters were often how couples expressed their feelings for one another—especially during times of war. While loved ones were separated during WWII, many corresponded through heartfelt letters until they were able to finally see one another again. Recently, a stack of such love letters found during a home renovation was returned to the daughter and grandchildren of the besotted couple almost 80 years after they were written. Read on to find out more about these long-lost letters and the family's heartwarming reaction.
The letters resurfaced during a home renovation project.
The romantic correspondence was uncovered roughly 30 years ago when a woman named Dottie was renovating her home in Staten Island, New York and a stack of letters fell from a ceiling beam. The love letters were between Claude Marsten Smythe and Marie Borgal Smythe during the time when Claude was serving in the U.S. military during WWII.
A section of a letter from May 21, 1944, reads: "Dearest Marie…..Today being Sunday I expect to attend Church. Best of all I enjoy singing hymns. It reminds me of the wonderful times we had together going to meetings…….I do hope you will be feeling better soon….Well so long Honey, Glad to hear you attend the Church suppers, you're lucky to win the pie. Love and kisses and a huge big hug…Your Hubby, Claude Smythe."
Dottie held onto the sweet notes knowing how special they were, but she didn't know how to get them to their rightful owners.
Dottie found someone to help her return the letters 30 years later.
In May 2022, Dottie was watching the The Kelly Clarkson Show and saw a woman named Chelsey Brown talking about how she returns lost heirlooms to families. Dottie reached out to Brown via email, sending a photo of the letters and the envelope in the hopes that they could be returned to the couple's family.
"The second Dottie messaged me about these letters, I knew I needed to take this research project on. I always prioritize war or Holocaust artifacts when returning lost heirlooms," Brown told Best Life. "I especially fall for the love letters. Every. Single. Time."
Brown was indeed able to get the letters to their rightful home using the information on the envelope and the global genealogy site MyHeritage.com. She inputted the first and last name and the location, noting in a Tiktok video that you can find people with these details alone. Other times, however, you also need to look at census data.
"I actually found the census record with the receiver of the letter and an address that matched perfectly, and then from there, all I did was find public family trees with her in it, and I contacted the owners of those public family trees," Brown said. She also added that letters are often the easiest artifacts to return, seeing as they include so much information.
Brown was then quickly in contact with the Smythe's daughter, Carol Bohlin, who moved from New York City in 1974 and now resides in Vermont.
Bohlin's son responded on her behalf.
Brown reached out to the family on Facebook, and it was Bohlin's son (Claude and Marie's grandson) who responded, as he's "more fluent in social media," Brown explained. In the TikTok video, she read his message aloud, noting that he initially thought the whole thing was a scam—something Brown says happens fairly often in her line of work.
"But soon [I] realized she was legit and truly looking for the rightful descendants of these letters. Knowing that my mom lost her mother when she was 14 and later losing her dad in her early 20s, I was so excited to call and tell her about what I found out," Bohlin's son explained. He added that he called his mother to verify the address of the home she grew up in, then told her about the message from Brown.
"She was so surprised and so shocked to hear that something had gotten left in the house she spent her childhood in…this made my mom so happy," her son's message continued. Bohlin waited for the letters to arrive, and they are now on display in her home.
This was a particularly rewarding homecoming.
Brown documents her work as an "heirloom investigator" on social media, with over 217,000 followers on TikTok and 100,000 followers on Instagram. She told Best Life how much these projects mean to her, and why she continues to reunite families with items.
"In terms of why I return lost heirlooms to families in general is because there's a myth that families just throw these artifacts away—which is the furthest from the truth," Brown says. "People want to know their family history and connect with their ancestors—and reuniting these artifacts with descendants proves that kindness and history will always prevail."
The Smythe's letters were a particularly rewarding project for her. "I truly believe Carol's parents hid them away for someone to eventually find them, which makes this return even more emotional," Brown said in a statement. "This one was also particularly special because this wasn't an artifact that I found. A woman who was doing a renovation in the '90s found these letters in her house, and she didn't know what to do with them for years."