History in the Mail
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“History in the Mail,” Ensign, Sept. 1995, 71

History in the Mail

Keeping a family history always seemed like an overwhelming chore to me. With limited time and funds, I wondered how to gather information from relatives across the country. The more I thought about what I should be doing, the more discouraged I became.

Then one day after I had finished reading a letter from my sister in Massachusetts, I went to file it in my letter box. As I did so I realized that I had a wealth of family history collected in that box. And better yet, each letter was a firsthand account! Many of the family’s big events were recorded in those letters—the birth of my cousin’s baby girl, my dad’s call to the bishopric, plans for my wedding, and more.

The letters obviously don’t make a complete family history, but they are a good starting point. The best thing about them is that they’re full of life. They show personality and emotions that may not be obvious in traditional family histories. Better than recording that my parents love the outdoors is the letter they sent written on tree bark they found during a hike. Better than my writing that the family missed me when I left for college are letters and greeting cards in which they say it.

In order to make the letters more accessible to future generations, I slipped each unfolded letter into a clear plastic page and then into a binder. I also wrote the full name of and my relationship to the writer at the top of every letter. I have also learned to keep copies of letters I write. Many times these accounts are more lively than the personal history I keep in my journal because I’ve tried to make them exciting for the reader.

Now when I write or receive a letter I add it to my binder hoping that someday my great-great-grandchildren will read this collection with curiosity and delight.—Emily Maitland Gilliland, Redding, California

Photography by Jed Clark