A Secret Gift by Ted Gup, the story of the author's quest to learn more about his maternal grandfather. For any family genealogy nut (like me!), this is fascinating reading. It's wonderful motivation, as well, because of the satisfaction of following along as Gup puts the pieces of the puzzle together and reconstructs the past (very vividly).
What drew Gup into the quest was a dusty suitcase. By the end of his years of research, Gup had uncovered most of his father's secrets--and his father's secret kindness in his adopted hometown of Canton, Ohio.
It all started when Gup's mother, 80 years old, was clearing out her attic and gave him a suitcase of letters and other family memorabilia. Inside was a large envelope with the mysterious inscription: "Pertaning Xmas Gift Distribtion." (Yes, bad spelling and all.)
The letters were dated December 18, 1933, one week before Christmas, in the dark days of the Depression. Also with the letters was a sheaf of canceled checks, each for $5 and each signed by "B. Virdot." Gup puzzled over the envelope until he pulled out a folded piece of newspaper and read the story of a mysterious benefactor, B. Virdot, offering money to locals who were down on their luck. B. Virdot, it turned out, was Gup's grandfather, Sam Stone, acting anonymously to help families in his community.
Why would Sam hand out money to Canton residents? That's what Gup wanted to find out. He also wanted to know who got the money, why, and what it meant to them. So he not only applied his genealogical tracing skills to Sam and family, but to the people who had written the letters found in the suitcase. Once Gup tracked down descendants and read them the words of their parents or relatives, he got their side of the story and showed what the $5 gift meant to each family. (Gup reminds us that $5 then was like $100 today.)
Sam's story, as told by Gup, reveals his dreams and fears, his ups and downs. Highly recommended for the genealogy as well as the writing and the heart-wrenching, heart-warming picture of his family and the families he helped.