Saturday, January 26, 2008

Genealogy and History Thoughts - Column Eleven

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?

1 comment:

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

My family has a treasure trove of letters written during the Civil War. After my grandfather died the letters, along with other family papers, were donated to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Of course they did not copy them first. *sigh* At least I know they are safe until I can make the trip and copy them for myself.