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Our Ancestors Communication – By Writing

Old LettersEveryone has wished they could speak to a certain ancestor to learn more about them. Since that is not possible in most cases, the best way is through what our ancestors wrote. Not all, but most of our relatives from decades ago communicated by writing. Either by penning their thoughts in a diary, letter or journal more can be learned about that individual by hearing from them directly. Before videos, cassette and digital recordings most people related their ideas on paper and that is considered in the ‘first-person’, the most reliable source.

Over the years many of the diaries, letters and even oral histories have been collected and preserved. The site “In the First Person” has amassed such as collection and made it available in a high quality format. There are some 700,000 pages of full-text writings from about 18,000 people.

Some of the examples in the assemblage are letters from a Civil War soldier and then veteran to his wife covering 1861 to 1869. Included are some 2,300 memoirs and letters from the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Of special interest are writings dating back to the early 1500s and going into the 1700s. Some of those deal with the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years War, the Salem Witch Trials, the French and Indian Wars and the Boston Tea Party.

There are several ways to search the accumulation of writings. The documents can be searched by subjects such as Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election, Kentucky history, the Florida Seminole Wars, gold mining in California, all which are referred to and related to a person’s first-hand account. Once selecting an interesting person or topic a belief summary is provided.

Some of the stories are based on oral histories and and provided in a text format. Others are in an audio format. Many of the writings are scanned copies of the original letters, journals or diaries. Those documents can be enlarged for easy viewing.

To look for a certain person, the advance search of the documents allows you place individual names, locations and time periods. Putting in the surname ‘Wilson’ produced some 311 documents. There were oral histories from several individuals named Wilson taken from the 1930s Federal Writers’ Project and Civil War letters. The surname ‘Franklin’ located 2,510 documents with diaries, letters and oral histories.

At the First Person site are collections of writings held by the Library of Congress, the California Digital Library, the Columbia University oral history research, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Smithsonian Institution and the Texas Women’s University, to name a few. It is a web site worthy of the time to possibly find our own ancestor’s written vocal.

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