Update from the Archives: How Relatives Can Help

March 6, 2017

Fifty years after the end of the Spanish Civil War and one year after the death of the last US volunteer, Tamiment Library’s archives of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade continue to grow.

Tim Johnson. Photo: Elena Olivo. Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau.

Tim Johnson. Photo: Elena Olivo. Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau.

Relatives of volunteers and veterans continue to uncover material that had been stored in boxes or packed away in basements, attics and other out-of-sight locations. We recently acquired, in such a manner, some material from a Lincoln veteran named Aubrey Kirby Kelley.

Up to now, the VALB database had some basic information on Kelley, which states:

Kelley, Aubrey Kirby. (Kelley, Arthur; Edwin; Eiwin; Hirby), b. September 4, 1903 (1904), Bessman (Bessmay), Texas; Canadian with American Passport; Carpenter and Plasterer; CP 1938 (Spanish?); No passport issued; Domicile 638½ Proctor Street, Port Arthur, Texas (Momryk indicates Kelley lived in Toronto at some point); Arrived in Spain on May 1, 1937 (March 1, 1938); Served with the XV BDE, Lincoln-Washington BN, Machine Gun Company, later Co. 1, rank Soldado; Returned to the US on December 20, 1938 aboard the Ausonia; WWII Armed forces; d. 1970.

There was no further information about Kelley in the ALB Archives until Tamiment received an email from Kelley’s granddaughter:

My name is Laura Pickett, my maternal grandfather Aubrey K. Kelley was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and I have found some of his personal memorabilia regarding his time spent serving their cause in Spain. I was unaware of the specifics of his service until a few months ago when I discovered a trunk with a scrapbook, newspaper clippings, etc.

In particular, is a beautiful art book depicting scenes from the Spanish Revolution with signatures of American men who were (I think) involved with the fight. If you are interested in any of these documents, please let me know.

We responded to Ms. Pickett, informing her that we would appreciate adding her grandfather’s collection to the archive. She notified us that she was planning a trip to New York City in August and would bring the material with her.

When she arrived, she had with her some materials from Kelley’s service in World War II (including dog tags). The ALB materials included a copy of Kelley’s Spanish carnet (military passport), a copy of Estampas de la Revolución Española 19 Julio de 1936, which had been signed by over 50 other Lincoln vets, and a number of clippings from Texas newspapers announcing his return from the war.

A copy of Estampas de la Revolución Española 19 Julio de 1936 had been signed by over 50 other Lincoln vets.

While this material won’t initiate a radical re-evaluation of the ALB, it does assist in fleshing out the stories of the men and women who volunteered. Just as importantly, it often helps their descendants understand the motivation of their often-distant relatives. Upon her return to Texas, Ms. Pickett wrote:

I really enjoyed our visit. Your knowledge of Spain’s revolution helped me a great deal in putting some pieces together about my grandfather. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the donation process at the Tamiment library and look forward to continued correspondence with you.

Timothy V. Johnson is the director of New York University’s Tamiment Library.