Genealogists are thrilled when finding primary sources. They are particularly useful since they were recorded near the time that an event occurred and were recorded by someone who was involved in the event. Primary sources are more reliable than secondary ones because they usually contain fewer mistakes. Letters are especially fascinating for they provide a personal glimpse of an ancestor’s life that few records can match.
When on a genealogy trip around Missouri a few years ago, I met a distant cousin who had three letters that had been handwritten in pencil by our great-great-grandmother, Leah (Capps) Quick, over 50 years earlier. Her letters did not have perfect punctuation, nor did they have all the words spelled correctly. They were difficult to read, for they were quite faded. They were, however, poignant letters written to her sons and daughters at a time when she was quite elderly and was suffering from pneumonia. She yearned desperately to see her children again. Her letters exemplified her strong religious convictions, her sincerity and her love of family.
From Leah’s letters, I learned that her husband, Bazlith Henry Quick, had died, and she had moved from north-central Missouri to Gravette, Arkansas, to live with one of her daughters on a farm. The letters describe the type of farm where they lived and what their neighbors were like. I learned the names of the other sons and daughters, where each was living, the type of work that each did, what they enjoyed doing in their spare time and the names of grandchildren.
Another example of an extraordinary letter was written by Glenn Parmley, a distant cousin who grew up in Parmley Hollow west of Camdenton in the area that is now covered by Lake of the Ozarks. Several years ago, I learned about Glenn from Linda Cyrus, another Parmley descendant. Linda learned about Glenn when she was going through an old cedar chest that had belonged to her grandmother Frances Eidson. The chest contained a letter Glenn wrote to Frances 30 years earlier. He had done extensive research on the Parmley line and offered to share his information. Bless her heart, my great aunt Francis never replied to his letter, but she did save it. After finding the letter, Linda Cyrus replied. Amazingly, Glenn was over 90 years old, still lived at the same place and was still quite sharp. He invited Linda to visit him, which she did. When Linda told me about Glenn, Jim and I also drove to Arkansas City and visited with him. We spent several marvelous hours that day listening to Glenn discuss his childhood memories and his research. His work pulled together Parmley family history extending back to Tennessee.
Have you inherited old letters? Have you copied them and shared them with other descendants? Have you contacted your cousins and asked whether they have old letters? If you are fortunate to inherit or receive copies of old family letters, you will discover they are priceless treasures.