I took a week off to direct a play I wrote called, “Boomer’s Legacy,” which just finished this past Saturday. I was proud of the cast of dancers, actors, and singers who did a fantastic show. Now, I’m back to continue where I left off–finding the “Hidden Story.”
On my last writing, [Finding the Hidden Story-Location, 3/5/18] I remarked that going back through time made location an important way of finding part of the story. Today, I will talk about the importance of letters.
A hand-written letter is a tangible time machine to the past. Letters were important to maintain communication with friends and family who lived long distances. Letters would have valuable information to family development and issues, upcoming events or visitations, and clues to their education.
The first thing to examine is the type of paper used. Depending on the time, paper size and material could give us a glimpse into the importance of the communication. Even today, we don’t use the paper from our printers to send out wedding invitations. If a job interview is important we will buy quality paper to print out our resume or proposals.
Handwriting style. Was the writer right or left handed. In addition, to the hand writer’s hand, graphology, the study of handwriting, can give us important impressions to the emotional state of the writer at that moment. We also investigate words chosen, vocabulary, spelling, and how grammar was used.
Cursive writing or printing? Cursive writing helps to also determine age, health, and education of the writer. It can also give us information in justifying the period of the writing. Today, we have so many fonts to choose from on our computers, but handwriting styles changed slowly through the decades.
Not all letters were delivered in envelopes. Many letters were written on one sheet of paper, folded into an envelope format, addressed, stamped, and sent. Envelopes were sealed with wax or glue. Postage stamps and date stamps helped in determining where the letter came from and where it was going. This is also good for determining location.
Don’t discount digital copies. Having the original letter is what everyone strives for, but digital copies hold all the information above excluding maybe the fingerprint. Digital copies are also an asset in doing close-up examinations of the letter slants, heights, and valleys in the handwriting. You can also use digital copies to compare other writings that might be related to your ancestor’s handwriting.
One last thought, diaries are important too! Because diaries contain more than just the handwritten samples they include the personal perspectives, insights, and ideas of the writer’s thinking. Letters and diaries provide new puzzle pieces to add to your ancestor’s picture.