Dear Little Eileen…

This is a very special project which combines family history with my love of research.  When my mother-in-law, the Eileen of the title, died in October 2013 an envelope containing some old letters and photographs was found amongst her possessions.  The letters had been written in the late 1930s by a Catholic priest working as a missionary in Tanzania.

Being a historian I couldn’t help but start asking questions!  Who was he?  How did they know each other?  What happened to him?  Was there any more correspondence?  Sadly, the answer to this last question turned out to be “no” but it wasn’t going to stop me from working with what I had.

There were six letters in all which covered the period 10 July 1938 to 15 November 1939.  Five complete, and one incomplete.  Two with illustrations in their borders.  There were also two, small, black and white photographs both featuring a priest.


The first shows a man in holy orders surrounded by a group of Africans; men, women and children.  This is presumed by us all to be Father Jean Delines, a French priest.  Although there is nothing to confirm this, there is also nothing to suggest that it is not.  There could be no other reason for a photograph like it to have been in my Mother-in-Law’s possession if it had not been sent to her enclosed in one of the letters.


The second shows the interior of a church and a priest praying at the altar.  Written on the reverse of this and initialled ‘JD’ was the following:

“praying for you in our poor mud-walled chapel.

As only the back of the priest’s head was shown there was no opportunity to compare him to the man in the first photograph.  It may be Jean Delines but, it is equally possible, he was the photographer.

After copying and transcribing the letters,  my research began with the order to which Jean Delines had belonged: The White Fathers.

That was when I hit the brick wall. I contacted the Father’s archivist, fairly confident I could find out the dates he served even if they had nothing else, but no one by the name of Jean Delines could be found. Now, I’m not an expert at palaeography but I’m not bad and I’m 99% sure I’ve got the name right. So, the question is, where next?

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