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Letters from the Past

Letters from the Past

July 9, 2020

It is becoming a lost art, but I still love to write letters. If you are lucky enough to have letters from your ancestors, you can learn a lot about their day-to-day life. You can also learn some fascinating things about history that they never taught you in school. Even if you are not fortunate enough to have letters written by your own family, you may find letters written by people who lived in the same community as your ancestors.

The Midwest Genealogy Center has letters in both published and unpublished sources. To find letters published in books, search MCPL’s online catalog. You can get a glimpse into the life of Midwestern immigrants by reading Iowa Letters: Dutch Immigrants on the American Frontier. You may enjoy reading a book about the Civil War from the perspective of a nurse in Letters of a Civil War Nurse. Unpublished letters can be found in MGC’s archival collections.

As I was processing a collection for the Library, I came across several “Prosperity Club” letters. Whenever I am reading a letter and find something I haven’t heard of before, I like to stop and do a little research. I did a little digging and found that the “Prosperity Club” began in 1935. Recipients were encouraged to send a dime, copy the letter, and send it to five of their friends. So many people sent the chain letters that year that it almost shut down post offices across the country! I wonder if my ancestors got caught up in the fad that year and wrote their own chain letters to family and friends.

What have you discovered about your ancestors from a letter?

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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