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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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    Thursday
    Apr042013

    Treasure Chest Thursday: Old Letters; What Do You Do With Found Ephemera?

    One of the biggest products of daily life seems to be paper. It's stacked up around my house, and it's one of the first things to deal with when you inherit a home after someone passes away. 

    A Cure for Rheumatism

    My mother-in-law saved envelopes for scratch paper. My aunt repurposed them by cutting off her name and address for a kind of DIY return-address label. And, nearly 100 years ago my Grandmother Arline used an envelope to write -- "Gum-go-wack, get enough for one qt. whiskey for rheumatism. one oz. 3 times a day."

    Envelope recipe blog

    Letter from E.B. Kinsel, Ruth, Nevada to Mrs. A.A. Parker, Wilder, Kansas

    The letter was sent from E.B. Kinsel, Arline's father. I know that Eliphaz Bigelow Kinsel worked for the railroad and was rarely at home in Kansas. In 1926, my grandmother Arline was married to Charlie Parker but she must have been living either on E.B.'s farm in Wilder or on Parker's farm.

    The other address noted at the top of the envelope -- R.W. McCleery of Benton is new to me. Looks like another clue to follow. 

    So, what exactly -- as a family historian -- do you do with "Found Ephemera" when you acquire a collection of papers?

    Digitize, Transcribe, Preserve

    Some folks would throw it away. Some might read the letter first, and then toss it. I tend to just keep on saving it. I unfold the letter, scan it and place it in an acid-free paper folder. The folders are filed by author and date in an archival vertical file box. I use the scanned image for transcribing. Any genealogical data like names, dates, events, and vital records such as neighborhood gossip (*smile*) are entered into my genealogy database program with the letter cited as the source of the information. 

    When I'm lucky, information from these bits of "found ephemera" help build a chain of evidence for a claim such a date or place of birth, marriage, or death. These tidbits are not uncommon. My ancestors lived at a distance from close family members and news traveled by letter; those letters were passed around like chocolates after dinner. They were read, re-read, and savored. Unlike the game of "Telephone" where a whispered message quickly becomes garbled and often reshaped as it makes it's way around a circle, the news found in letters doesn't change when the letter moves from hand to hand.

    I'm looking at the photo of this envelope today and wondering what the letter inside is all about. . . or if there is a letter inside. I'm also wondering if one ounce of whiskey three times a day really does help rheumatism. . .

    On April 12, 2013  I'll be talking with Caroline Pointer of 4YourFamilyStory.com about finding and caring for ephemera for Caroline's What's Up Genealogy show on Google+ Hangouts. Join us! 

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    Reader Comments (3)

    Abolutely, it's a must to save both letters and envelopes, at least to me! You learn where people wrote the letter from, what the relationship was like, and all sorts of information bits! In my 3rd cousin's huge stash of genealogy documents and photos (which he gave me to go through and archive), I found a letter written from Africa by a missionary within our family-by-marriage. I blogged about it, and I wouldn't trade that letter for anything! Thanks for your post!

    April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMariann Regan

    Hi Mariann! I think we're kindred spirits -- I love reading other people's mail too! Lucky you to be the recipient of your cousin's stash. Old letters tell such wonderful stories. I do think real life can be even more interesting than fiction.

    April 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

    I think the envelope says somebody's "name-go-work" as if the person works where they sell liquor.

    September 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarilynn

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