Piles and Piles of Letters – JOY!

Just a small portion of the letters.

In early December I was given all of the boxes of photos, journals, albums, letters, and memorabilia that had been kept by my Grandmother.  It was a joyous day and the joy has just kept spreading itself all over my genealogy loving heart these many months.

I was given the boxes, in part, because I was looking for a handful of specific photos to complete my family Christmas gift.  I was in a hurry and quickly went through every single box gathering what I needed.  It was almost painful to be in such a hurry.  There were soooooooo many unbelievable treasures in those boxes and I wasn’t able to soak much in.  I had a deadline.  As I was digging I found a shoe-box of letters.  I gave them a cursory look and thought, “Awesome, Grandma and Grandpa’s letters from WWII and their missions.  I can’t wait to go through these later.”

Well, in early Spring I pulled that box out and was devastated when I realized that it contained letters from my Grandpa’s friends and extended family.  Don’t get me wrong.  I knew they were special too.  But I know that my Grandparents wrote to each other for 5 years and that my Grandma kept all of those letters.  Where were they?

I was stressed.  I wondered if a box had gotten lost or if someone had pulled out the letters thinking they would do something with them.  I asked my uncles.  No one knew anything.  I decided before I completely panicked I needed to comb through all of the boxes again.  Much more carefully.  Just in case.

So last week I started going through the boxes again.  I found and rediscovered so many cool things.  Several boxes in, I found a binder filled with letters.  But they were from the 1960s while my Grandpa was getting his doctorate.  A cool find to be sure, and something I was hoping hadn’t been lost, but still not the letters I was searching for.

As I worked my way through every box, I got down near the end and pulled a box onto my bed and was completely baffled about the fact that it was taped shut.  What on earth?!  Somehow I had totally missed one box.  My heart started to pound.  I noticed a note on the side that said letters.  Could it be?

I opened the box and started shouting for joy!  Total and complete joy.  I was staring at 4 shoe-boxes FILLED with letters.  Plus several bundles that weren’t in shoe-boxes.  There are hundreds and hundreds of letters.

Sweet relief!

I am a bit embarrassed that the letters had been in my bedroom for a few months and all that time I had been worrying about them being lost forever.  Oh boy.

Once they were discovered, I started organizing.  It wasn’t hard because my Grandma had already bundled them by months.  I just had to get the months in order.

Next I started filing the letters in my new Hollinger boxes and folders.  I filed away until I ran out of paper folder inserts.  I need to order more.  Lots more.  It’s going to get expensive.  I wonder if my family members would want to chip in…?  I’m going to need so many before I am finished.  But I digress.

The letters cover a 5 year time period beginning when my Grandpa went off to basic training for the Marine Corps.  They follow his service in the Marine Corps and then cover the time while he was serving an LDS mission in New Zealand.  During his mission my Grandma also served a mission in California.  There is also an entire shoe-box of letters from my great-grandmother Naomi to my Grandpa.  I was so surprised and delighted by that discovery.  She left no journal, no personal history, and she died very young.  I feel like I’ve been given such a gift.

I plan to digitize the letters and share them with my family.  I may post them here, I need to ask my uncles how they feel about that.  Once everything is digitized, I will publish a book for my family members.  Well, maybe more than one.  It’s A LOT of letters and may need to be broken up.

Here are my questions:

1 – Should I include all of the letters in one collection chronologically?  Or, should I separate them and have one collection of letters between my grandparents, one collection of letters from my great-grandparents and one collection from extended family and friends?

2 – If I separate the collections for the purposes of the books I will compile, should I still share the letters online in one collection?

3 – Do you have any tips for dealing with a collection of letters this large?


I can’t wait to get started!  Happy Monday.



25 thoughts on “Piles and Piles of Letters – JOY!”

  1. What a wonderful trove you’ve got. Were it me, I would keep the letters by who was writing to whom. All the ones from your grandparents etc. It makes for coherent reading when you have the first letter from one followed by the first from the other. Having everything from a bunch of people jumbled together is confusing. I was hoping my parents had kept ther letters during WWII but none survive, sadly. I know my mother told me the ones from my father were all cut up and blacked out which she found annoying. She mentioned one where the word “love” was carefully cut out of the whole letter. That’s a lot of transcribing you’re looking at too. Have a grand time going through it all.

    1. Thank you for the tips and insights. I’m so sorry your letters didn’t survive! I am excited to get working and figure out what makes the most sense for my collection. I appreciate your thoughts.

  2. A great find and gift. I cannot answer your questions. However from reading your blog I am sure you will do what is best for you and your family. I look forward to reading about them more on your blog.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and reassurance. Sometimes that is all we really need. 🙂 They really are a gift. I just can’t stop smiling every time I think about them.

  3. Wow! That is so wonderful. I am thrilled for you. It’s hard to know the best way to catalogue and arrange them without reading them. I think once you start reading them, you will know what to do. I’d be inclined to take those between your grandparents first and arrange them chronologically so you can read them as an ongoing dialogue between them.

    Do you follow the Genealogy Lady’s blog? She has been doing this with her parents’ letters during World War II. She posts a letter a day on her blog, and she has also published at least one volume in book form. She might be a good person to ask for advice.

    1. Thanks Amy! I do read Deborah’s blog too. So far I have organized the physical letters in two groups – 1 (or 2 if necessary) folder with my grandparents letters for a month and year and then a second fold with all of the other letters for that month and year. All letters are arranged chronologically within the folders. I haven’t been able to read a lot of them yet. It’s summer… I never get much time before I’m interrupted. 😉 I don’t have as much of a feel for the letters as I would like to. The letters from others are far less frequent by writer with a few exceptions – his mother, and his best friend. The organizer in me has thought of so many different ways to organize and present them… I just need to chill and start scanning and reading. I think digitally I will just present them chronologically since I have noticed some of the authors will say things like, “I know your Mother must have told you about this already so I won’t go into too much detail.” or “I know Margaret told you about this too.” It seems from that aspect the letters will make more sense in one large collection. After I have begun digitizing and transcribing I think you are right that I’ll have a better idea of the best way to organize them for the purposes of books.

  4. Hi – that’s so fantastic! I am always deeply, deeply jealous of people who have such a wonderful treasure trove of information in their family…! Sadly, when my grandmother died one of my uncles decided to throw out all the information/personal letters/papers to do with her first marriage and divorce (i.e. to my mother’s father) before my mother and her sister arrived to sort out the house and whatnot.

    I think it’s great that you plan on transcribing and compiling a book (series …!) on those letters. What an amazing gift to future generations. I could make an argument for doing this a number of ways – such as doing one concentrating on their relationship through the years, followed up by “Further Correspondences”. I think a good example is looking at the way the estate of Vera Brittain handled her letters throughout WWII with her family & friends. But I have no doubt that the end result – whichever you choose – will be sensitively handled and well thought-out!

    1. Thank you for your kinds words of encouragement Dominic! I’m really excited to dig in and find my way. I have a feeling things will become clear as I read more and start scanning. I’m so sorry about your document loss! Ouch. My Grandma on the other side threw away a lot of things over the years. Sometimes my mom or aunt will mention some item like a journal their Grandma kept and when I ask my Grandma about it the answer is usually, “Oh, I threw that away a long time ago.” Sigh…

  5. I would separate them into the 3 groups – grandparents, greats and extended family/friends and then order them all chronologically. I think that would make it a lot easier if you wanted to locate one particular letter.

  6. Yeah – What a wonderful resource! If they were my letters I think that I would quickly skim through all them – and then see what ideas popped into my head. It might be interesting to do it chronologically, though the content might strongly suggest another organizational schema.

  7. Amberly I am so jealous. The importance of saving letters hit me hard when I was talking to my Mom recently about an event in the family. I have a very vague remembrance of reading about it in one of my relatives’ letters to my Mom. She offered to look through her stash of letters but said, “I think I threw out all of so-and-so’s letters after they died.” I’m going to have to ask her to let me look at what she’s kept…..

    1. Oh no! That is heartbreaking. One of my grandmas threw away so many treasures – old tin types, journals, photos, letters. And now she unintentionally teases me by saying things like, “I know my dad kept a daily journal while he was caring for my mom when she had cancer. Did I give that to you? No? I guess I threw it away.” Ouch. I hope you find some treasures still in your mother’s care.

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