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    Letters - A Form of Family History

    So often we throw out letters we receive from family and friends. How can we keep everything? So much of what we get from the postal, and now e-mail, is relegated to the waste basket or delete file.

    However, the importance of letters in compiling a family history and making ancestors come alive was brought to my attention when I discovered letters my great great grandmother wrote. These were tucked away midst some papers in an old house. Iíve also found other letters from ancestors in museum collections.

    As I read these simple messages, about everyday affairs, some events mundane and others of importance, I learned more about these people who had been simply names and date on a family tree.


    Family of Letter Writers

    My family has consisted of letter writers throughout the years. I've found letters from mother to daughter or brother to sister, dating back 100 years. I have reams of my mom's and my correspondence after I married and lived away from home.

    I discovered letters my grandmother wrote to me when I was a child. Every Sunday and Wednesday evening, Nanny wrote to her friends and family. When I visited her, I learned the rudiments of writing letters as we sat at the kitchen table after supper and penned notes to my family, telling them about events of the day.


    My Letters Home

    When I moved my mom, due to her developing Alzheimer's, from her home to mine, I discovered she'd kept my letters to her and Father...an accumulation of years of living. I've collected these into a box but haven't had time to sort them into order...this chronicle of my life after I married. I realize these letters will be a family history of sorts, with as much or more information that I've written in my journals.


    Mother's Letters Filled With Humor

    I didn't keep all my mom's letters to me because my husband and I have moved around quite a bit. However, I often jotted down excerpts from them into a journal. Just the other day I came across this and discovered the humor in my mom's writings. I'm compiling these, along with her diary entries, into a book for her family.

    These are fun to share with my daughter and grandchildren and give them insight into the person they remember mainly as an old lady disabled by Alzheimerís. She comes alive to them as a vibrant woman with sense of humor.


    Letters Others Have Kept

    Sometimes you'll find that other people have kept letters your ancestors wrote to them. My mom didn't throw out much of anything. So I found midst her papers letters she'd received from friends.

    I've tried to locate the children of these friends and give them the letters their parents, aunt, uncle, or grandparents wrote. It may help give them a bit of family history and help provide a better picture of that ancestor.


    Letters in Museum Collections

    One of my ancestors, I discovered, was well-known as a pioneer in his state. Some of his letters to a business associate have found their way into a museum collection. It's so interesting to have copies of these. Also in this collection were letters from his mother and brother. (Why the business associate had them, I don't know, but I'm glad they were kept.)

    These gave me additional information about his mother, another of my great great grandmothers.


    Keep Your Letters

    So keep, as much as you can, the letters you receive from family members. See if you can obtain copies of letters other family members may have.

    These provide a fascinating record of your family history.

    Copyright © 2001 Mary Emma Allen

    Mary Emma Allen researches and writes about her family history. She's researching a biography of her famous ancestor. Letters from other ancestors to her grandmother sparked the idea for a children's novel set in Civil War days. She also is a cooking columnist, children's author, travel writer, and writing teacher/speaker. Mary Emma lives in the United States. Her many publications are listed on her Web site -- http://homepage.fcgnetworks.net/jetent/mea.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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