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Archive for the ‘Letters’ Category

What to do with literally hundreds of old letters?

What do I have:

  • All of the Christmas letters described in a previous post
  • Letters that my uncle sent to his parents while serving in World War II
  • Letters exchanged between my parents before they married as well as some intermittent correspondence in their early married years
  • Letters between Dave and me during our courtship and our early married years while Dave was in the military
  • Letters Dave and I sent to family and friends during our three years in Germany. It is probably very unusual to have copies of all the letters sent, but I had a typewriter in Germany and had access to carbon-sets… these consisted of 6 sheets of paper with carbon paper between the sheets. I typed a letter every week and sent copies to family members, retaining the final carbon copy for our own records. At least three family members also saved all of the letters sent to them, and now we have those copies, as well. Many times, I wrote individualized notes at the end of the letters to family members, so we now also have those notes.
  • The letters Dave and I received from family and friends during our years in Germany
  • Many letters my aunt sent to my parents over the years
  • Other miscellaneous letters that my grandmother saved from her family

    The plan: sort, scan, place in archival sheet protectors, and transcribe.

    Priority: All (including envelopes) need to be sorted, scanned and placed in archival protection ASAP. Especially important is being sure we have additional copies in case disaster strikes the originals!!!

    The transcription process can be done later.

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  • Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008. 735 pages with acknowledgements, sources, etc.

    A novel! Me read a novel? This is almost unheard of. I generally read biographies and histories.

    A friend recommended it and our daughter-in-law had recently read and loved it… The friend said I might appreciate the way the author handled old letters and diaries found in an attic. Well, that certainly caught my attention! Daughter-in-law agreed. Okay, I’ll give it a try.

    Wally Lamb had done thorough research. Then he told his story through imagery, flashback, graphic detail, language, sympathy, anger, and other writing techniques: far-out connections and unlikely happenings, sex and family secrets. While I’ve known of some strange “soap-opera” real-life scenarios, I kept thinking no one could/would ever live this kind of life, but the author kept me going anyway. Even the fictionalized biography that was pieced together from the old diaries and letters seemed far-fetched, yet I kept reading.

    This book would appeal to a variety of people, including educators, women’s rights advocates, mental health specialists, historians, clergy, and, yes, even genealogists. Particularly significant are the issues dealing with people suffering from trauma and other psychological issues: those caught in situations beyond their control and surviving. Topics include the Columbine shootings, Hurricane Katrina, prison life for women, troubled teens, divorce and love, income struggles, and coming to grips with family history. Even though the setting is very 21st Century, the author even weaves in Civil War medical treatment, Samuel Clemens and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Through all of this, readers come to understand the complex maze of life. The author accomplished his goal.

    I read the entire book, in a very short time. Lamb captured my attention and I devoured.

    As a family historian, I especially appreciated Lamb’s underground river “too deep for chaos to reach” allowing for ancestral connections. And, with all of the house cleaning I’ve been doing, I appreciated his ability to “unyoke” himself of family property and move on.

    I’m glad I read this novel.

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    What to do with piles and piles of Christmas cards received over the years?

    We’re talking about many of the cards my mother has received in recent years as well as the cards Dave and I have received over the years.

    The good news: most cards are bundled by year, either secured with a rubber band or placed in separate plastic grocery bags; not helter-skelter in boxes.

    More good news: I have a plan: save all letters and extensive notes written on cards from relatives and special friends and verify the year is written on the letter or note. (You might be surprised how often people do not include the year when they write.) Then file them in my genealogy files under the name of the sender.

    The cards with mere signatures: recycle. A group at our church saves postage stamps for a mission project; a couple grandchildren will help us cut the stamps off the envelopes and we will donate them; the remainder of the envelopes: recycle.

    The not-so-good news: I estimate I’m only about half way through the collection that I know about; this doesn’t include the ones I will find as I go through more boxes.

    Remember, I’m still in the sorting stage with all of our boxes. For the most part, I have not started scanning. I’m chipping off the iceberg, one piece at a time.

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    I’m on a roll with sorting and organizing! And the roll has gained such momentum that I want to work on it during nearly every spare moment! This is a good thing. I’ve tried to explain previously the enormity of the project I am facing; only my husband really knows. Let me assure you; it is huge!

    My mother was typical of many (perhaps most) genealogists. She loved to do research and she did a considerable amount. Problems: 1) Mom only documented some of her sources and 2) she had difficulty organizing the information she found. For the most part she used the notebook method, but I’ve found multiple notebooks on the same surname, with much of the same information. To complicate the situation, she created a new family group sheet every time she worked on the family. I find photocopies of the same obituaries in multiple places. And, it isn’t unusual to find information for a completely different family surname stuck in the wrong binder. On top of that, I’m finding Mom was notorious for making notes for multiple surnames on the same piece of paper. Oh, my!

    It isn’t just my mother’s collection I’m dealing with. My grandmother collected and saved, and my mother inherited a collection from her aunt and uncle. So, when I brought home the boxes, scrapbooks, photo albums, and binders from my mother, the contents was the conglomerate from all of these people. As I’ve worked on the materials, I’ve realized that my mother was overwhelmed!

    Filing has never been my favorite activity, but I’ve been spending hours doing just that, and sort of enjoying it. I’m filing everything from Mom’s binders and boxes of loose papers into hanging folders in my file drawers. Some people would wonder “Why!” Why shouldn’t I just enter everything directly into a computer program? I’ve asked myself that question, also. However, I concluded that it is easier to get all of the information sorted using a filing system, first. That way when I enter someone into computer software, I’ll have everything that I know about that person in hand and won’t have to keep flipping from one person to another.

    Mom should have owned stock in sheet protector manufacturing companies. Recently I told my husband that I can foresee the end of using large quantities of sheet protectors. I can see using archival sheet protectors for original documents; not for every family group sheet! I also told him that I foresee the eventual end of using hanging folders.

    I hope I’ll live long enough to get these files scanned and the data entered into computer software. My goal to eventually write several books. Every step takes me closer to leaving something meaningful for future generations.

    For now I need to get back to sorting and filing!

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    Finding more of Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

    State Historical Society of Iowa
    402 Iowa Avenue
    Iowa City, Iowa 52240

    319-335-3916

    http://www.iowahistory.org

    Three of us met with Mary Bennett, Special Collections Coordinator, for a tour of the archives in the Iowa City facility.

    My biggest disappointment is that only about 5% of the special collections items are in the online catalog. It is absolutely necessary to check the onsite card catalog. Mary explained that budget concerns, staff reductions, and time constraints simply do not allow for getting everything done. However, be sure to check the online catalog to get a flavor of the kinds of materials in this phenomenal repository: http://www.iowahistory.org/shsi/libraries/collections/iowa-city-center/major-manuscripts-collection.html.

    As we walked along the rows of shelving, she pointed out the Ruth Buxton Sayre collection, a name I know well. Ruth, a Warren County resident, became an internationally known advocate for rural women, holding various American Farm Bureau and Associated Country Women of the World positions (ACWW). I would have never thought to look in Iowa City for her collection.

    Mary said they have a large collection of women’s organization records and a lot of women’s history.

    They have:
    many documents items relating to the pioneer experience
    an incredible Civil War collection including more than 200 diaries,
    many personal diaries and letters,
    the materials from many clubs, churches and schools,
    approximately 3,000 maps,
    biographical materials for many prominent Iowans.

    In addition they have a World War II clipping project for which volunteers come regularly to work. So far more than 5,000 pages of clippings have been digitized and can be found at: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/search/collection/wwii.

    In 1923 the SHSI and the Iowa Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored an essay contest in which high school students were encouraged to write about their grandparents or their town history. This collection uses 22 storage boxes. I first heard about these essays in 1979 when I was on the committee for writing our town history book, Milo 1880 to 1980. Our local librarian knew of the collection and travelled to Iowa City to see what might help in our book project.

    Mary showed us the fully equipped paper conservation lab that currently has no staff and she showed us damage that was done to materials when a water pipe broke in the basement.

    I came away with some big questions. In today’s world how can I or anyone else ever use the valuable materials located in this history-rich facility without adequate online finding aids? Why is the state not digitizing out-of-copyright materials and placing them online as fast as possible? Why is a paper conservation lab sitting empty? Will future generations be able to use these valuable resources?

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    Finding Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

    Special Collections and University Archives
    The University of Iowa Libraries
    100 Main Library
    125 West Washington
    Iowa City, Iowa 52242

    319-335-5921

    http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/

    Staff member, Jacque Roethler, explained to us that this collection includes rare books, manuscripts, and the university archives.

    The manuscript collection includes a large variety of items as diaries, Civil War letters, and pioneer documents to Chautauqua, State Hail Insurance ledgers and other business records. Jacque especially encouraged us to use the Resources section of their website to select Collection Guides and Digitized Collections as well as http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/resources/findingaids.html for finding materials. She indicated that we may be very surprised at what we find. For example, if your ancestor was a farmer and purchased hail insurance, he may well be listed!

    The world-renown University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop is held on this campus. So, as we were walking through the aisles, it was not surprising to learn this repository collects books by Iowa authors defined as 1) born in Iowa, or 2) lived in Iowa for at least twenty years.

    Jacque explained that they are beginning to use Crowdsourcing as a means for transcribing many of their popular collections. The university is digitizing Civil War diaries, letters and other items, then letting interested individuals transcribe them. To access the ability to do this, go to the home page of Special Collections –> Digitized Collections –> Iowa Digital Library –> DIY History. She said they have some users who are very passionate about helping with this project.

    The university archives includes Board of Regents items, as well as faculty and staff employment records. Forty-five file drawers contain the latter material, which she said gets a lot of use. To maintain these files, they have a crew of clippers, who continually check area newspapers for university-related articles. In addition they have files for alumni and former students. The collection includes programs from all kinds of university events, i.e., art shows and theater productions to athletic competitions. All things that should be found in an archives associated with an educational institution can be found here.

    Jacque said that researchers can use library scanners and save images to flash drives, or they can bring in a camera. She also explained that soon some enhancements will make text fully searchable on their website. And, finally, she indicated donations to their collection are welcome.

    Genealogists, do not underestimate the depth of this collection even if you do not have a direct connection to the university!

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    Continuing the series of Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

    Mahaska County Genealogy and Historical Library
    Nelson Pioneer Farm
    2211 Nelson Lane, PO Box 578
    Oskaloosa, Iowa

    Phone: 641-672-2989 (phone answered year round)

    Website: http://www.nelsonpioneer.org

    Facility open May through September or by appointment.

    I was very fortunate on the day of my visit. Information I had indicated that the facility was open until the end of October. In reality it isn’t. The curator happened to be working outside that morning and contacted the librarian who was able to come help me.

    The library has numerous county district court docket books, probate indexes and inventories, which have most likely been microfilmed and are available elsewhere. I saw militia registration books, family histories, area newspaper clippings, such as birth, marriage, and a large collection of obituaries and cemetery indexes along with pictures of the stones at Centennial/Dunsmore and Spring Creek Friends Cemetery. Also, don’t underestimate the military collection which includes Civil War and WWI letters. The shelves include Oskaloosa city directories and phone books as well as pictures and year books for schools and William Penn College/University. Mahaska County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee records, pictures, scrapbooks are found here. Also included are funeral memorial cards from Bates, Garland-VanArkel-Langkamp, and Powers Funeral Homes.

    In addition, the library has a large collection of country school records, original cards for WPA cemetery surveys, Quaker yearly meeting minutes, sizeable collection of information on coal mines and some information on underground railroad. I also found early naturalizations, assessors books, and in the back room is a large collection of original newspapers.

    There is no computer in this library and apparently the society has not made any plans to digitize anything. The library is not heated during cold weather except when someone has an appointment to visit.

    This is an exceptional library that needs greater accessibility, more technology, and more climate control with a stonger emphasis on preserving the collection.

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