Thursday, April 9, 2015

Another Reason to Write Letters — History

There are a couple of books out right now that illustrate a great reason to write letters — historical record. Of course, we have newspapers that record history. And, many people use various social media sites, email and other electronic resources for marking events in their lives.

But, who knows how long each of the electronic devices will be around and accessible (how many people even remember the passwords to their old social media accounts?). I just found out recently that the little portable USB flash drives for digital data (sometimes they're called "jump drives" or "thumb drives") aren't "forever." Obviously, they can be easily lost or damaged, but, also, the devices are only expected to last 10 at the maximum before they start to deteriorate and you lose your data.  The same holds true for camera cards and most types of personal digital storage devices. Everything we've done — all the pictures we've taken, emails we've written and received, documents we've written — is in danger of vanishing from the digital devices on which we've stored it.

On the other hand, we still have letters and other documents that were written dozens, hundreds,  even thousands of years ago, depending on your definitions of "document" and "writing."

The new books I recently read about tell historical stories based on letters. Please note that I haven't read either of these books; I've only read about them. But, just their existence speaks volumes about the power of the handwritten letter.

According to the Beaver, Pennsylvania, Times Online, former teacher Jay Paisley tells William H. Huffman's story through his eyes via letters he wrote to his family and friends back home in Darlington, Pa., during the Civil War. "The Huffman Letters: Civil War Letters to Beaver County, Pennsylvania," is an in-depth look at the soldier who served in the Union Army with the 100th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers from 1861 to 1865. The newspaper story (click the link at the beginning of this paragraph) gives a little bit of information about where you might be able to find a copy of the book.

The MinnPost website reports that, in “The Crops Look Good” (published by Minnesota Historical Society Press) Sara DeLuca weaves the Williamson family letters into a larger portrait of the war years and Depression, followed by midcentury prosperity and the decline of the family's Wisconsin farm. "The Crops Look Good" is available on and other booksellers.

I hate to sound like a hoarder, but not only should we write letters,  we should save them, as well. We should preserve the letters that we receive, and if we think that there is some significance to the letters that we write, we might want to make copies of them before we mail them and save the copies.

We should write letters full of details about our daily lives and the things that are happening in the world and how they affect us. We need to be specific in our letters, writing complete dates at the top, including place names and people's names. We need to write for the intended recipient but with the idea in mind that others might read the letters, tomorrow, next year, in 100 years.

Write letters for the ages, as well as for one.


Southern Dreaming said...

Nice post. Thanks.

Melanie said... there are so many things in this post that I want to comment on I haven't even read the entire post. I HAD to get over here and comment. :) I'm going to look up that book. I have farming family in the midwest (NW Ohio) so it seems like good reading. I too save all my letters and cards. do you keep or organize your saved letters? I start by ordering them chronologically but some of them are ordered by sender. I'm afraid none of them are store in a way that will preserve them so your ideas will be appreciated (maybe a blog post?). To regress a bit, I, too, set a goal for myself of one letter per day (equivalent) in 2013. I also met my goal and enjoyed every minute of it. In 2014, I slacked off but will sent around 280. I'm back on track in 2015 and I hope that I will continue for years to come. Sorry for the long back to reading the 'rest' of the post. :)

~JarieLyn~ said...

Love this post. I agree that we should save our letters and write with details to show future readers of said letters what it was really like in daily life.

M said...

There are quite a few people in the penpalling/correspondence world who do not keep letters they receive (some even throwing them out before writing a reply letter), which is such a shame.

On the Antiques Roadshow recently, a woman brought in a collection of postcards her father had made during World War 2 in 1943 in Egypt, with drawings because she couldn't read all that well. She said letters and postcards were microfilmed (this being lighter than the weight of all those letters and postcards) and this was sent and in Britain, the film processed and the postcards/letters sent on to the addressee. Airgraphs.

Christina said...

I think it is such a lovely thought to think of the future of our own letters while writing the content of them! I'm going to really think about that with my next letter!

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