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Family reunited with World War II letters after woman finds them at Idaho Falls antique mall

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RIGBY — What once was lost is now found.

A Rigby woman recently discovered precious family history treasures from World War II at an antique mall in Idaho Falls. She made it her mission to reconnect the letters to family members.

“I found this bag full of what looked like letters and receipts and miscellaneous paperwork. I purchased it because I just love history and I love my own genealogy. I love learning about the past and people. I brought it home and just dug in,” said Zen Hansen.

Hansen calls some of the letters she found the “Aunt Ida” collection.

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Aunt Ida Letters | Courtesy: Zen Hansen

“I purchased a dusty ziplock (sic) bag full of what looked like the contents of a desk drawer or two and in them a stack of letters to, ‘Aunt Ida in St. Anthony Idaho’ from the nephews she raised as sons, while they were enlisted in WWII in 1945,” Hansen wrote on her Facebook page. “Unfortunately, I learned that one of them, Gilbert Gibson, didn’t make it and was killed in action in Okinawa June 12th. Heart-wrenching to read his brother Cornelius Gibson’s shocked response at the news of his brother’s death and also upon learning Gilbert left a grieving wife (Evelyn) it appears no one previously knew much about. Evelyn then starts prolifically writing Aunt Ida as well.”

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Ziploc bags full of history | Courtesy: Zen Hansen

Hansen says reading the letters and learning about the family is just a real glimpse into history. She explains it’s fascinating to read those words, research the connection and get to know the people behind the messages.

She tells EastIdahoNews.com that she went searching for the closest relative to Ida and posted some of the letters on Facebook. She wanted to see if she could find anyone related to Ida and almost immediately, somebody reached out.

Suzanne Bennett from Newdale responded and said Ida was her great-grandmother.

“I am actually named after Ida. My first name is Ida Suzanne Bennett. She delivered me. She was actually a nurse in St. Anthony when I was born,” said Bennett.

Bennett and Hansen were able to meet each other in person on Wednesday and exchange the letters.

“My family is excited to get these letters. I’m just amazed she (Zen) found these,” Bennett says.

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Suzanne Bennett reunited with her great grandma Ida’s letters | Courtesy: Zen Hansen

Hansen and Bennett spent a long time together sharing stories and talking about the letters. Hansen also found out that she and Bennett are distant cousins.

“She (Zen) spent hours scanning all of the documents she found so that they could be shared with all of the family! She is an angel!! We also found out we are 9th cousins on grandma Ida’s side of the family! Thank you!” Hansen wrote on Facebook.

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Suzanne Bennett and Zen Hansen | Courtesy Zen Hansen

Hansen says she is glad she was able to find Bennett.

“It makes my heart happy. I couldn’t be more thrilled to reunite them (the letters) with the family,” she says.

Hansen’s search isn’t over yet. She has many more items from the bag she purchased, like pictures and letters, and is searching for relatives in the Idaho and Utah area.

“I spent all day scanning the documents into Google drive including the other collections that I have from other people, not just Ida, and made it all public so everyone can see everything. Hopefully I can eventually find other family members where these belong to,” said Hansen.

Below is Hansen’s post where you can view her Google drive of treasures she has found.

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