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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    « Saturday Fun: Finding Secrets in Other People's Mail | Main | NEHGS Film Wins Telly Award »

    Reading Other People's Mail

    This morning I woke up too early and couldn't go back to sleep. It was drizzly and gray at the window, and the coffee pot needed only a flip of the switch to brew a full pot. It seemed like a perfect time to look through old letters.

    When I was a growing up, one of the rules in our house would have made the United States Postal Service proud . . . we never ever ever opened or read mail addressed to another person. Letters were private affairs, akin to a conversation whispered between best friends on a shared schoolbus seat. That, I understood.

    Of course, letters are a research mainstay for genealogists. But it's one thing to read a letter for the purpose of extracting names, dates, and places, and quite another to just sit down and, well, read someone else's mail a bit like you are peering over their shoulder. At times, I still feel just a wee bit guilty of snooping.

    When my Mom's older sister phoned yesterday with a "genealogy question," as she put it, I knew the answer would be in Grandmother Arline's old letters, and to find what Auntie wants to know I would need to just sit down and read her mail. Permission to snoop -- granted.

    Mercy Winsor Kinsel MacPhee

    Auntie was reading a new book that caught her interest because the theme touched on the life of her own Aunt Mercy (Arline's sister). Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, by Dorothy Wickenden is the story of two Smith graduates who leave their privileged world to teach school in the wilds of 1917 Colorado. Mercy Kinsel never went to college, but she too was a rural schoolteacher in Colorado in the early 1900's. Reading the book had brought back old memories and Auntie wanted to know exactly when and where Mercy had taught.

    Sounds like a good reason to get into other people's mail.

    When I inherited my grandmother's papers, the boxes included dozens of letters from her sister, Mercy. Somewhere, I recalled, were at least a few letters from the time Mercy was teaching in Colorado. I am looking for letters from the years 1905 to about 1920 when Mercy was married and living in California. I wonder what I will find?

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    Reader Comments (6)

    I so LOVE it when you talk about "those" letters. It was the first thing that drew me to read about you and your class project.

    Had the same rule in my house growing up and even today, I never open anything addressed to my husband.

    I understand the snooping feeling, but it is for a good cause - greater understanding. Looking forward to the post with the answer.


    June 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterfootnoteMaven

    Yes, I can hardly wait... ;-)

    We had the same rule about reading other people's mail and I know the feeling. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your old letters.

    That is a lovely picture of Mercy with her posed look back over the shoulder. It is not often we see a pose like this especially in this era (it would reveal to many double chins :)

    Good luck with your search...

    June 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Miller (Luxegen)

    Lovely post. My response will be very unconventional. Your Mercy looks very much like an old fashioned Leighton Meester. Fascinating. :)

    June 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn Hall

    Same here, never open anyone else's mail, except maybe the garbage that comes to my daughter, at MY house, when she lives in Tennessee!

    June 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl Palmer

    Same here, never open anyone else's mail, except maybe the garbage that comes to my daughter, at MY house, when she lives in Tennessee!

    June 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl Palmer

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