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A Lost Genealogy Resource : The Hand-Written Letter!


I've read many a family history blog where the author has shared with his or her readers some precious letters they discovered in the bottom of an old box or trunk. Letters that were exchanged between family members’ centuries before. These letters are often a window into the state of mind and relationship of a past ancestor. They often reveal an intimacy that is invaluable to one’s family history research. There may be remarks to world events going on around them, or to personal events taking place in their lives, all very priceless to a genealogist looking for clues and attempting to put an ancestor’s life into perspective.

Just as hand-written letters are a lost art, these same letters are also doomed as a resource to future family historians.

How many letters did you write in the last year?

I'm not sure the millions of emails that are a line or two long, constitute a resource for future generations (assuming you saved them). With computers, cell phones, Skype, email, You Tube, and Facebook, there is no longer a need or a desire to write long exhausting letters expressing all our concerns of the day.  Our messages and thoughts are scattered throughout the world of technology, diluted in a dozen different formats, no longer concentrated in one place, in one form.

Today's communication is immediate, it is brief and to the point. It is gone as fast as it came. We are an instant and disposable society..... and that includes our thoughts.  The letter was a resource, that was cherished and saved, it notably has revealed so much about past generations, their relationships and how they coped with the world and family events of their time. What do we have today that is equivalent?

Do you want your family to know your thoughts and feelings about a world event? Do you want to share your joy over the birth of a child or grandchild?  Do you wish to convey to your descendants how you dealt with a personal crisis in your life? Are you leaving a trail for your future descendants?

Will there be enough clues for others to understand who you were and what your life was about? Alternatively, are your thoughts, words and messages lost in the technology world of Skype, cellphones and email? Don’t get me wrong, I fully embrace all of these methods as a means of communicating with the living. However, how will you communicate with the living once you are gone? What have you left behind that conveys your thoughts and feelings as clearly as a hand written letter to a loved one.

I’m certain when our ancestors wrote these letters, it was their only means of communicating with family separated over long distances. They didn’t realize the impact these letters would have on future generations, how they would help to tell a story to descendants. However, we do understand the value of those letters today ... and yet; we have nothing that equates to it, knowing the worth it holds for future generations. 

Therefore, we must give some thought to what we will leave behind for descendants. How will future family historians discover you? Have you considered a journal, a diary, writing a memoir, or creating a video diary, all great methods of recording your life in the current world of technology?

 What kind of trail will you leave behind?  

Moreover, if all the above methods still feel too overwhelming and cumbersome, you still have the option of writing a letter.