Did my grandfather write this verse?

Did my grandfather write this verse?
A family historian finds an old treasure
19 May 2015

Family historians sometimes find old postcards, letters, notes or other items, maybe in a shoebox or old biscuit tin. These can be of great value for getting a sense of the time an ancestor lived in, and their interests and pastimes. 

But sometimes the ‘finds’ raise more questions than they answer. A reader found one such treasure, and turned to Ask a Librarian for help.

I have found a very sentimental artefact, the words of an old love song or poem written out by my grandfather, in pencil. I don't know how I came to have it, but I must say it's a treasure. I might get it framed. In any event, I'd like to know if it was a well-known song or poem, or if my grandfather composed it himself. It's called 'Let Us Grow Old Together'. My grandparents were married in October 1933 in a little town in Tasmania, where my grandmother was known as a singer, especially in the church choir.

A scan was sent along with the question.

Song lyrics

And here are the words:

Let Us Grow Old Together 

Dearest little girl, I’d like to tell you
Now that we’re contented let us try
Doing things to make each other happy
Let us sit and plan a lulla bye 
————— 
Chorus
Let us grow old together
We should worry about the weather you and I
Let us grow old together
Just as long as we are contented let us try
————— 
We will live day by day
Planning dreams that should come true
In a palace just beyond
There’s a room for just we two
Let us grow old together
We will weather life together you and I
——————
Day by day we grow a little older
Day by day we’ve learned a little more
Let us be the same to one another
Just as we’ve been in days of yore

Finding the music

Did our enquirer’s grandfather write this piece, or was it a popular, published work, written by someone else? To find out, I started by searching the Library Catalogue for any items titled Let Us Grow Old Together. The search results showed that there were a number of sheet music items with this title, and a look at the lyrics of these items helped to determine the correct one.

It is in fact titled Let’s Grow Old Together and you can see the Catalogue record here.

Let's grow old together

Bob Nelson  1926, Let’s grow old together [music] / by Bob Nelson, nla.mus-vn1868705-s1-v

Popular song?

We’ve found the music, but the core part of the question is about the popularity of the song. What clues does the cover of the sheet music provide? At the upper left corner we can see that it was recorded by Columbia records with another song, The Prisoner’s Sweetheart, on the reverse side. An internet search for the two songs, together with the record label, shows that it was recorded in 1926 by two very prolific recording artists of the 1920s, Franklyn Baur and Helen Clark. The song may have become popular after this. You can see an advertisement for this very recording in the Mercury (Tas), August 19, 1927, page 8, and even hear the recording on You Tube.

Record advertisement

The Mercury (Hobart, Tas: 1860–1954), p. 8, 19 August 1927

We can find other traces of its popularity in ‘everyday’ references to the song. Trove’s digitised newspapers are a great source for these. Today we rely on the internet and social media to get ideas or jog our memories, but in the past the newspaper social pages might have been the first port of call for sharing information. For example, the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express (NSW: 1896–1938), had a Young People’s Section by ‘Uncle Jeff’. On Friday 15 April 1938 it includes readers’ requests for lyrics.

Request for words

Young People’s Section, Albury Banner and Wodonga Express (NSW: 1896–1938) p. 20, 15 April 1938

Let’s Grow Old Together appears to have been quite popular all over Australia. Trove searches show that lyrics were reprinted in response to reader requests in several newspapers, for example the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld: 1860–1947), Friday 14 February 1930, on the Domain of Women page.

But in the case of our enquirer’s grandparents, we are looking at a small town in North Western Tasmania, so the Advocate (Burnie, Tas: 1890–1954) is a good local resource.

A popular concert item

Reports in The Advocate from various towns show that Let’s Grow Old Together was a popular concert standard in the late 1920s. In North-West Coast News (an Advocate column) of 10 October 1928, a report on the Penguin West End Social tells us,

“Bertha Handsley and Clem Spinks were deservedly recalled for their tuneful duet, Let’s Grow Old Together

and on 20 May 1927, News of the North-West reports on a Concert-Social at Don, where,

“a vocal duet, Let’s Grow Old Together (by Miss H Saunders and Mrs Page) received very heavy applause.”

Why write it out and keep it?

Of course we can’t tell from this distance why the song may have been important to the reader’s grandparents. It may have been the grandparents’ ‘special song’.

We know that the enquirer’s grandmother was in demand as a singer, and was in the church choir. A search in The Advocate for her name shows that she was often a soloist at weddings. This might indicate a link between the written verse and the popular song; perhaps it was a request from a bride. 

More background 

Finding the written verse for Let’s Grow Old Together was a start in discovering aspects of the grandparents’ lives and their role in the community. If you are looking for more background like this Trove newspapers are a great resource. 

There is also a wealth of background information in other published items. In Ulverstone : sunshine and storm : glimpses of a small Tasmanian town 1920–1940 by Tony Large, I found the following anecdote: 

Bill Deacon looks back: to amuse ourselves back in those days—we didn’t have television and that sort of thing, we used to have community singing every Friday night. We used to have it in the Town Hall and they’d have one or two feature artists but the majority of it was everybody singing together. And it was a great time. (page 141)

Or perhaps a book like this would be more in keeping with the grandparents’ background:

Around the Country Circuits

 Jennifer Hemsley, 1996, Around the country circuits : reminiscences of the Baptist Church family throughout "Tassie's top half"

To continue your research on your grandparents’ life in their community, look for:

  • Centenary or jubilee celebrations souvenirs (e.g. Back to Ulverstone, or other town name)
  • School magazines, sports team histories and trade magazines from local companies
  • Guides published by local history groups
  • Memoirs published by other family historians
  • Anecdotes and memoirs from the Oral History collection

Go to Experimenting with the Catalogue for tips on how to find material in the Library collections.

 

Not sure where to start your research?  Stuck somewhere along the way?  Ask a Librarian.