Christmas Time Capsule: Ancestors’ Letters to Santa

Christmas Time Capsule: Ancestors’ Letters to Santa

Find your ancestors' childhood letters to Santa Claus.

 

All I Want for Christmas

 Dear Editor,
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
—Virginia O’Hanlon, 115 West 95th Street
[New York Sun, Sept. 21, 1897]
 Dear Santa Claus,
Please send me an airgun, and a tool box, a little candy and nuts. How is Mrs. Santa-Claus and your self? Do you still have your pretty reindeers or do you travel in an automobile? I remain as ever your friend.
—Raymond Waller
221 So. Weber St.
Colorado Springs
[Gazette-Telegraph, Dec. 20, 1903]

Dear Santa Claus,

Please bring me a little cook stove, table, two chairs and a large jointed doll with red hair and brown eyes with lots of nuts and fruit. Don’t forget my little nephew, James Arling, for this is just his second Xmas. He wants a rocking horse and a horn that will blow. That’s all this year. I almost forgot to tell you I was 7 and live at 1810 Fifth avenue.
Good bye, Santa.
—Jimmie Edwards
[Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dec. 16, 1908]

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint when newspapers began publishing children’s letters to Santa, Virginia O’Hanlon’s famous 1897 letter asking “is there a Santa Claus?” no doubt triggered the trend.

 

Now that so many newspapers are going digital, it’s easier to find a relative’s letter to Santa. Try searching on an ancestor’s name in databases such as GenealogyBank or Newspapers.com.

 

You may hit a snag if your ancestor signed the letter using a nickname. A workaround is to search for letters to Santa. I got more than 104,000 hits in GenealogyBank using that search term. Narrow this search by specifying the state where your ancestor lived and the local newspapers. You could find a letter from an ancestor’s sibling or other relative. Sometimes letters included requests on behalf of others, as in the note above from Jimmie Edwards. Or they may mention someone away from home and tell Santa where the person lived so he wouldn’t miss them. Some newspapers published letter-writers’ street addresses; others included names or a neighborhood.

 

Also watch for trends in toys. In Colorado Springs in 1908, for example, requests for air guns, skates and of course, dolls, were the most popular.


From the January 2012 Family Tree Magazine

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