Time Capsule: To The Letter

Time Capsule: To The Letter

As this letter shows, even our ancestors tried to dig up the roots of their family tree.

Feb. 5th 1901Time Capsule Letters
Dear Papa,
I received your letter yesterday and was disappointed, but not surprised to find that you had taken no steps to procure the desired information that lies within your grasp. All of the old FitzHughs lived, and most of them died, in Stafford and Westmoreland counties, where their wills, their deed[s], and their marriage licenses must be on record in the clerk’s offices of those counties, or in that of King George Co. which was formerly a part of those counties. A little exertion on your part in this matter would … enable us to process, once and for all, a correct record of our family.                
Your loving son,                          
         Horace A. FitzHugh
It’s nice to know that 111 years ago, one of my Fitzhugh cousins faced similar problems to mine in enlisting the aid of family members.
I learned about the Fitzhugh Correspondence File (No. 5242) in the University of Virginia Library Special Collections Department from a social history of Southern plantation women during the Civil War. Cited among the author’s endnotes was a reference to the file.
The library’s archivist brought out a gray archival box. I opened it, my heart palpitating, and sat for several minutes inhaling the aroma of musty pages. Then I pulled out a stack of the Civil War-era letters between mother and son. I stifled squeals of glee and got lost in history. Halfway through my reading, I discovered something startling: This wasn’t my family. The letters were written by people in another, distant branch of Fitzhughs—not anyone in my line.
But suppose they had been in my branch: I might have never discovered this collection had I not ventured beyond traditional genealogy sources and read social histories about everyday life during my ancestors’ lifetimes.
Another way to find treasures hidden in libraries and archives is to search the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. You can search it free through WorldCat.
From the September 2012 Family Tree Magazine.

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