Newly found files add intrigue and depth

“Adventure is routine with us now, only time things are dull is when the engine is running,” my Grandfather wrote home to his mother.

I have been diving in to my Grandfather’s writing, letters home, and “personal abstract” written later in life. Even though he passed away in 2010, I am very lucky that he was an organized, thoughtful man who recorded brief blurbs on various parts of his life. I just got back from a trip to visit with his wife, Mary Browne, in Oak Park Illinois. While there, we found a file titled “Abstract of William B. Browne,” which included a four-page professional and personal resume, a six-page “Present and Future Personal Analysis,” and thirteen pages of the abstract itself. I was very excited to see he hand-wrote my birth in to his personal resume.

Those who knew him well (my mother and aunts and uncles, his only surviving sibling, Ed Browne), tell me that this is classic Bill Browne. He was extremely intelligent, enjoyed just thinking as a basic activity, and analyzed everything. During World War II, he was accepted for the Aviation Cadets just after Pearl Harbor, and enlisted in December of 1941 (just three years after his care-free road-trip). Throughout the war, he was sent to 19 different locations in the US. According to family, the military wouldn’t send him overseas since he was the youngest, and already had two brothers over there. Instead, they gave him one heck of an education, including pilot training, B-29 aerial engineering school, advanced electrical engineering, and gunnery school, among other things. After being discharged at the end of the war, my grandfather continued to educate himself by taking personal leave from work to attend college (Monmouth, B.S. in Physics), going to night school at Northwestern (B.S. in Business Administration), and obtaining his pilot’s license. While this is all extremely interesting (and I’ve only scratched the surface in this blog), it only serves to more fully understand my grandfather’s character, as all of this happened post-road-trip.

The beginning of his quasi-memoir, however, gives a bit of insight into the experiences that would have shaped 16-year-old Bill Browne. Here is an excerpt:

“In high school, attended at Madison, New Jersey, I pursued a scientific curriculum. I was president of the Automobile Club and captain of the Debating Team. I constructed a running model of an internal combustion engine, which I donated to the school. During this period I worked part-time as a gardener on an estate in Morristown, New Jersey. For a period of time, I worked as an office boy for our family doctor. A neighbor employed me as a general helper around his home, and later as a kitchen helper in his night club. This developed into a six-night-a-week job, advancing to short order chef and finally to night chef.”

In the amazingly busy timeline of his life, the summer of ’39 was only granted three sentences in his abstract:

“In the summer of 1939, I built a bus out of junk pars, organized a group of boys, and took them for an 8,000 mile tour of the United States. An accident reduced our finances to the point where we had to work for the United States Forest Fire Service, in the Sierra Mountains, fighting forest fires. The San Francisco Fair and Boulder Dam* were highlights for me on the trip.”

*Now the called The Hoover Dam

The problem with having all of this fascinating information on a man that I only knew until I was 15, is that I want to include everything in my final product. Unfortunately, researching his World War II involvement and reading about all of the different machines he’s worked on isn’t getting me any closer to completing my StoryMap. I’ve decided I’ll finish up what I planned to do in formulating a narrative that brings our two journeys together, and then delve into my grandfather’s exciting early life. Only 2.5 days to finish this StoryMap!

grandpa young adult Story Map BeginningRetracing 1939 route


  1. Hi Lauren,

    What a fascinating life your grandfather had! Even if he only did half the things you mention here, you would still have an incredible amount of experiences to include on your Story Map! I particularly enjoyed your anecdote on the summer of 1939 – the casual mention of the Hoover Dam was very interesting. With such a rich pool of material to draw from, how do you decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t? It must be difficult picking what is most important from your grandfather’s busy life. Did your grandfather discuss some of these experiences when you knew him or are you finding most things out for the first time now?

    Looking forward to hearing more about your research!

  2. aewingate says:

    This is such a cool project and a great way to find out more about your grandfather. I think it could be an interesting model for archives or private individuals to follow to display their holdings about a specific individual. I don’t know exactly what kind of data you have, but you might look into AwesomeTable to incorporate into your website. I hope that you get everything done in time.! I’m feeling the deadline looming as well.

  3. Hi Lauren! Having heard your initial proposal back in the Spring, and thinking what a huge undertaking it could be (having trolled through copious amounts of personal files, letters, and documents in my own research), I’m glad this sounds like it developed so well. I imagine having a personal connection to what you were putting together would really help. I’m curious to know, though: Did you find the man in the documents to be the same one that you knew? Also, it would be so interesting to know if, when you read his diaries and notes, you hear his voice as you would remember it, or if it is a young man’s voice–and of course, how that colours your interpretation of what he’s saying.
    Cool project idea! Hope you had fun.