google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html A Lost Genealogy Resource : The Hand-Written Letter! | The Armchair Genealogist

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. 


abbyb (desperategenie) said...

I think about this alot! The letters I have from my great grandfather to my great grandmother are priceless. I still can't believe my great grandmother, my grandmother, and my father saved these letters for almost 100 years! My husband's grandmother celebrates her 100th birthday this year and they still exchange letters, I make sure to save every one! I hope someday my legacy of preserving family history will be known to my descendants. Very insightful post!

Cassmob said...

Thanks Lynn-a perceptive and thoughtful post. One question I ask myself from time to time, is why do we feel the need to leave something behind? Is it to have some level of immortality or is it because, as family historians we wish that we had these treasures from our family's past? I have a few but not many, and none that are very old. I hope my "52 weeks" blog posts might be something I can leave for my children -in printed form!. I've also left them some themed stories on my life -but ultimately will anyone care? Pauleen

Lynn Palermo said...

@Abby, that is amazing that they still exchange letters, what a treasure. I'm very jealous.
@Pauleen, for me it is because I wish someone had left me these treasures so I am attempting to be more proactive. Of course they will care, I think that is the very reasoning many did not leave anything, and yet there are so many family historians out there searching, so yes leave a trail someone will care!

Linda Gartz said...

Hi Lynn,
I've often thought the same thing as I read my Dad's handwriting in his diary entries and hear his thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and joys. It's fun reading what he writes about me as a baby! As you know, I'm posting the letters between my grandparents from 100 years ago (1910-1911), and to see them as 20-somethings when I only knew them as grandparents, has been a joy. My Granpa wa REALLY persuasive to get my Grandma to come 5,000 miles to marry him! I also got to know my uncle, whom I never met ,through his World War II letters, as well as another side to my grandmother I had never known. I find connections between the written stuff and photographs, making deeper connections that seem almost magical. I don't know what will happen to all this when I'm gone, because there's just so much. You'll by happy to know I've re-written a major section of my family history, a little after your challenge. Thanks for reminding everyone the importance of leaving behind the written word.

Lynn Palermo said...

@ Linda, you were my inspiration for this post, the letters and diaries you have been sharing with us have really convinced me more then ever that they give us go much more then just a genealogy and where we ever find the equivalent today. Keep on sharing and writing.