Some days I wish I had old letters that my ancestors wrote, but I'm not fortunate enough. I do have two old letters, but they are from cousins of my ancestors and not my direct ancestors. One letter I am unsure of who wrote the letter and to whom the letter was addressed. All I know is that the letter was in some papers of my great-grandmother's cousin. The second letter is again from the same branch, except this time, it was written by my great-grandmother's aunt to her son (my great-grandmother's cousin).
So, why am I writing this? Well, old letters are nice to have as they can shed light upon ancestors in way that other records cannot do. What I mean is that one can get a sense of what an ancestor's personality was like from reading the letter they wrote. Also, you would probably learn about the ancestor's friends and hometown. You would get a much better sense of what a person was going through. In short, a letter is a real glimpse into history. It is one of those rare times that history can come to life for a person. Newspapers articles can do that as well, but I think letters are more effective at making history sink in a person's mind. (You may or may not have remembered but I did write about the effect some old newspaper articles had on me in a previous column.)
Of course, it would be nice, but again, I know nothing of any other old family letters. I would have loved to be able to read letters from the nineteenth century, but as far as I know, any possible letters did not either survive. Or the letters never existed as I know my Civil War ancestor did not know how to write, nor his parents. I am not sure if his son even knew, although it appears that two of his children did learn to read and write. Maybe I just haven't found any of those letters, or maybe one of my cousins has some old letters. I have not yet checked.
So, how many of you have found or have letters written by your ancestors? How did you find them?
Indiana Genealogical Society blog
9 years ago