This project has made it clear that assembling a personal history is going to involve "doing genealogy" as well. The students wanted to know who's who immediately, they wanted to know dates and relationships to help them understand the people they were reading about. We found little gems of information buried in the letters, now I have to pull out those nuggets and add them to the overall family tree.
One of my favorite comments turned up in a letter from one sister to another, "I told the boys when they woke up that today was their Aunt Minnie's 50th Birthday." Checking the date on the letter and Minnie's death certificate verified that date, but it was so much more personal to read that a little sister still remembered her siblings birthday when they were both grown women with children of their own.
My mom has been researching her family line in earnest for many years and she is now very pleased to have drawn me into the net. It looks like I will be taking her to the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree later this month. . . or maybe she is taking me!