I recently became the Chaplain for the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Connecticut and thought it would be nice to obtain a Prayer Book to help me with these new duties. I currently owned a copy of Song and Service Book for Ship and Field: Army and Navy (1942), but thought an additional military prayer book might give me some additional prayers to consider. I searched online at Amazon and quickly found several options, of which I selected a World War I prayer book, A Prayer Book for Soldiers and Sailors (1917). A few weeks after ordering from a small book shop selling through Amazon, I received a nice note informing me that my order was canceled because they could not find the book in their inventory, in fact, no one could remember seeing it for the last 6 years! Not to be deterred, I picked a second book seller and happily received the book a few weeks later. Upon opening the book I discovered the “personal information” section partially filled in – the name of “next of kin” and “local minister,” but no name of the prayer book owner. The minister’s name was clearly written, The. Rev. Floyd Tomkins, and the relative’s name was Mrs. Charles ???. I was disappointed to discover great difficulty in reading the last name and the omission of the owner’s name. Ah well, I continued to explore the book…and my exploration provided one more happy surprise – a picture in the back cover pocket (the picture shown with this story)! The back of the photo noted: Capt. Cooper ??? and his mother, Mrs. Charles ??? OK, now I really needed to solve the mystery of the last name. I studied the name closely and determined I could make out the second or third letter to be “o” and the last three letters to be “ell.” Armed with this information I headed to the Ancestry website to do some research. After some searching, making use of “*” for wildcard unknown letters, I was able to determine that the mystery man was Captain Cooper Howell from Philadelphia. And the bonus to my research, I also found someone using Ancestry to research their Howell family’s roots…a connection in the making.
I contacted the gentleman on Ancestry and we exchanged a few email notes to confirm family connections and share information. Some additional interesting information is that The Rev. Tomkins (a priest at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Philadelphia) had previously served at Christ Church, Hartford, CT…interesting because I am an Episcopal priest serving at a church in CT, just a few miles from Christ Church! I learned quite a bit about Captain Cooper Howell, and his mother, Annie Fitler Howell, and their home in PA. I am very grateful to have learned about Captain Howell and his service to his country. I read through the prayer book a bit, made some copies of prayers that I particularly liked, and happily sent Captain Cooper Howell’s prayer book back to the Howell family. I know the book will be included among the many family treasures and enjoyed for future generations. A great end to an interesting story and I have had the honor of meeting a fellow family genealogist and contributing a tiny bit to their history.