From the Ancestry
Letters from Near and Far
In an era of email and instant messaging we forget that our ancestors' communications with their distant family and friends likely was done on paper via mail. Have you considered what written materials your relative might have left behind? This week's column discusses letters, postcards, and journals and how they might offer you with an entirely different view of your family.
Reading Between Johann's
Unfortunately, I do not know if the letter exists; the only proof of its existence is a translation appearing in an old family history. Like many such letters of this era, it was short and did not contain vast amounts of genealogical data (after all, Johann had not married yet and the family already knew everything there was to know). The purpose of the letter was to let his family know he had arrived in America safely and was settled with his sister's family, not to leave a record for his descendants. Johann ends the letter by saying he does not have much time to write and that he who does not work "will have as much money as he weighs."
The Lindblom Letters
Carl Victor Lindblom and his wife Johanna Sund immigrated in May of 1881 with six of their children. On 21 August of that same year, Johanna died and Carl Victor moved shortly after to Davenport, Iowa, leaving some of his children with others in Ottawa. The letters he wrote home detail his struggles in America and his desire to see all his children together and doing well. Carl's letters home stop when he is killed in an accident in May of 1883.
Finding These Items
If your great-great-grandfather wrote letters to his first cousin, those letters (if they still exist) may have worked their way to your even more distant cousin. Do not assume that such materials do not exist or that your family did not maintain contact with family "back home." In some cases, the ties of family and "home" were very strong and contact may have been kept throughout the immigrant's life.
Even those who were born in the United States and moved across country might have kept sporadic contact with those who did not leave. I recently learned of the existence of a collection of cards and letters written to my third great-grandmother, including one item from my great-grandmother. It can happen. Ask around. Keep your ears open.
Materials may be located outside the family. Local or regional archives may have letters, diaries, and other written materials in their collection. It never hurts to ask. County historical or genealogical societies may be aware of the location of other items of this type.
One of my ancestors wrote over ten letters which were published in an early twentieth-century newspaper. In them he mentions attending the funeral of one of his son-in-law's relatives and the Christmas Eve wedding of his oldest daughter. How were these letters found? By reading the newspaper on microfilm and nearly dropping my jaw when I saw the ancestor's name as the byline.
Consider searching on eBay as well for your ancestor's name. There are always a number of paper items listed for sale, including the occasional diary, journal, or letter. You may find transcribed letters posted online after performing a search of your ancestor's name in a search engine. One relative's Civil War pension file contains letters from two of his comrades. One man apparently wrote the letters himself and discusses helping the veteran's father on his farm in the 1860s. Is it possible that one of your relative's military buddies asked him for a letter in support of a pension application?
Using These Items
Do Not Assume
Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) www.fgs.org. He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
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