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Dead Letter

Published on Tue, 07/09/2019 - 09:32am
Post Office Syracuse KS

July 1 is the anniversary of many postal service “firsts”—first postage stamp, first printed stamped envelopes, the beginning of the Pony Express, the beginning of airmail, and the creation of zip codes. Did you know that important genealogical records could be found in post office records?

Maybe one of your ancestors worked for the post office and served as a postmaster. My grandfather temporarily served as an acting postmaster in Burley, Idaho. I was able to find information about him in U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 in Ancestry Library Edition (in-library use only). Don’t forget to check for women because they were commonly appointed as postmasters in small rural post offices in the late 19th Century.

The mail itself can provide clues about your family too. As a kid, I collected stamps. Who would have thought that one day I would be using letters and stamps to help me with genealogy research? The Library has some great books that will help you figure out how to use some of those old envelopes or postcards as genealogical resources. Try Philatelic Genealogy: Old Envelopes, Letters, and Postcards as Genealogical Sources by James R. Miller or Confederate Philatelist.

Don’t forget to use newspapers to find lists of unclaimed letters at the post office. If your ancestor shows up on one of the lists, it may mean that they were living in the area (or that someone thought they were living in the area). Try searching for your ancestors name in one of MCPL’s newspaper databases to see if they left their letter in the post office. Their dead letter may be a dead end, but it could lead to new discoveries about your family!

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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While researching family history I discovered Dead Letters for Morgan Duke and Mrs Mary Duke at the Town of Columbus, Muscogee County, GA. In 1830. There is the possibility they may be the parents of my gggrandfather Henry N. Duke. Are these letters still obtainable? If so, who do I need to contact?
Bill Duke

In reply to by William Duke (not verified)

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Sadly, dead letters are not kept by the post office. They try to deliver or return what they could. Valuable items could be sold and letters were destroyed. Here is link to a history of the dead letter office (now called the Mail Recovery Center): https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/brief-history-american-dead-l…

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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