I know little about great-grandma Amy Sansom, who died 15 years before I was born. My father loved her and told stories about how this energetic little English woman playfully pulled his ear, or washed his face with a dishcloth, when he pretended to be bad. Mesmerized by this as a child I would prance around as the spirit of great-grandma Amy, play punishing him as she had when he was “bad.” Only later, when I read her autograph book, did I begin to understand more about her.
She was born Amy Alice East in 1887 and raised in working-class Reading, England. As a young woman she joined the Salvation Army, and her life changed. In 1914, just before her marriage to William Sansom, her sister gave her an autograph book. As Salvation Army officers, Amy and Will traveled to South Africa, Kenya, South Asia, Haiti, and Jamaica, ‘spreading God’s word,’ retiring in California. During her migrations, the people she met signed her autograph book. Flipping through this book, I discovered that the entries, dating 1913-1948, were actually inspirational notes, scriptural quotes, and occasionally drawings and paintings. Sometimes they were in other languages such as Korean and Urdu. But only a few directly spoke to her; most were deeply religious proclamations.
This autograph book gave a glimpse of a different Amy, a fiercely religious woman who left her working-class English home, to travel the 20th century world in the Army of God. She was, though, the same woman my father knew as a kid.
– Claire Skotnes