Collecting and sharing letters and other memorabilia from family members can provide family historians with valuable insights to the personal lives and thoughts of their ancestors. Recently I have been trying to put some order into my rather small collection of family letters written in the first 50 years or so of the 20th century, and it is interesting to see how much detail they contain about a time when most contact was by post.
A letter my grandmother sent to her sister a couple of days before her son’s death from measles complications reveals her distress and anxiety. She begs her sister to hurry home to help her with the crisis.
Another letter from my great uncle to his father from the Western Front during World War 1 talks about how “the land around here looks a lot like home". He goes on to say "it would be really good for wheat growing “. In the same letter he mentions a cousin who “bought it” and he states that there is nothing you can do if your number is up. Uncle Martin, along with thousands of others, was killed late in the war, in the month before the armistice.
There is also a collection of letters exchanged between my older brothers and sisters and my parents during the early 1960’s. They include the usual and expected snippets of family gossip and day to day happenings, along with some other details of train journeys to the country, involving changes of train, missed connections and assorted catastrophes. I can’t imagine parents of today, including myself, sending two primary school aged children on such a journey alone.
Now, of course, hand written letters are rare and we now share details of our lives with family and friends via email, Facebook, Twitter and numerous other social media sharing platforms. Hopefully some of this information will be available to future generations so that they too can gain some insight into our lives.