E-mail is one of the greatest inventions to come down the pike. It’s kept me in touch with more people, more frequently, and made communicating genealogy information a breeze. However, as I dash off a quick e-note, I often compare my sparse prose with letters written long before cyberspace.
My mom recently gave me a letter I sent her in 1964, when, as a 16-year-old, I was on a great adventure with my cousin on a ship to Alaska. Reading it flooded me with memories of carefree days on the Inside Passage, our closet-size cabin, and the flack we took from all the “old ladies” on board the “floating rest home.”
I have another letter, too—a V-mail written in 1945 from my dad to his mother. Dad was recuperating in a hospital in England from a wound received in Germany. It was his sixth hospital and his mail hadn’t caught up with him. “I worry about you all,” he wrote. “I was very lucky, mom.”
These letters don’t contain any family vital statistics, they don’t further my research one bit, and yet they are priceless. Why? Because they help bring real people to life. Somewhere down the line, I hope someone in my family reads those letters and learns something much more important about the letter writers than our vital statistics.
If you have family letters, think about scanning them and inserting them into your genealogy software. Then, the next time you print out a family report (or your family book), the letters will become a permanent part of your family’s history.
To read more about family letters, visit these Web sites:
• Valley of the Shadow, Letters and Diaries from the Civil War
• What to do with a diary you have found
• Old Family Letters and Postcards
• Pioneer Letters
• Scanners and Scanning