Genealogy Letters Home
I’ve always been a little jealous of genealogists who’ve inherited family journals, photos and letters. In my family it seemed as though our branch inherited very little when it came to photos or diaries. However, after the death of my Aunt Lu, I was given a huge box of letters; some were from my Aunt to my grandmother (her mom), others from grandma to Aunt Lu, and a few from my dad to his mom.
Scanning the letters takes times, especially as many of the them are eight to ten pages long and oftentimes are out-of-order. However, if you’re lucky enough to have family letters I encourage you to take the time to scan and then read. Within those handwritten pages I guarantee you’ll find clues to your family member’s personality as well as tidbits about everyday life and current events.
Below is the first page from one of my aunt’s letters home. Written in November of 1943, it was mailed from St. Louis, Missouri; at the time my uncle (her husband) was stationed at Jefferson Barracks. (Click to enlarge)
So what did the letter reveal?
- my uncle was trying to get into the Chaplain program
- a meal cost 0.25
- they were thrilled to get a coupon for gasoline
- my aunt was terribly upset about not being home for Christmas (“I think I’ll perish if I don’t get home“)
- they were worried about my uncle being shipped out
- my aunt was worried about her sister’s health
- my uncle was going to get an additional $21 a month plus a ration book
Are any of these things life-shattering? No. But do they give me a glimpse of daily life during the war? Absolutely. You gotta love those genealogy letters.
What’s Next for your Genealogy Letters?
- Organize the genealogy letters. My sister and I took a long evening and put every letter into chronological order.
- Scan the letters. I use Flip-Pal, but any scanner will do. (If you want to save $30 on a Flip-Pal bundle, use this link)
- Save your scans using a naming convention that makes sense to you, i.e. Aunt Lu Nov 1943. It really doesn’t matter what naming convention you use as long as it makes sense to you and as long as you can easily find the document a few months from now.
- Purchase archival storage for the originals. Already, nearly 75-years-later, my letters are still readable; someday they won’t be.
- Read the letters! I suggest reading in chronological order. Glean whatever tidbits you can, then be sure to add those tidbits to your genealogy software or notes for a genealogy book. It’s the details in the letters that put flesh on those names and dates. And as you know, I’m all about saving the stories.
- Share with your family members. Share the scans, share the stories, and once you’ve written a book (or compiled a collection of stories) share those as well.
I’m so grateful to have these letters as I’ve learned so much about my dad’s family; their feelings about war (“damn this war!”), how grandpa dressed up as Santa, how dad loved Montana, and how they felt about one another. For genealogists, these are the details that make doing this work so gratifying.
Also of Interest for Genealogy Organizing and Archiving