Sunday, June 24, 2007


I have been corresponding via email with a woman who is researching a branch of my family tree. I sent her transcriptions of some letters that have survived over 100 years. The content of the letters is mostly news of the latest family illnesses, weather, and Christmas wishes, but there are also some hints at skeletons in the closet to wake up the reader now and then. All in all, they are relatively unremarkable, but by coincidence happened to document a very specific period of time that my new friend was researching. Perhaps that is the reason the letters have survived all these years.

The woman called the letters a "gold mine", and lamented that we don't save correspondence today, especially since the majority of it is email.

This is true for me. I've saved less than 1% of all my emails ever received, and the same is true for my paper correspondence. I don't regret this. Further, I'm not sure that the things I have saved would be any more helpful to future generations in explaining my life. Certainly there are Christmas and birthday letters from Mike, which are lovely and easily interpreted. But also in my collection are letters from various influential persons in my life, and the content only hints at details that are personal to me and would not be easily understood by a future reader. I have saved a note from a friend; the note is completely unremarkable in every way, but became supremely important as my friend had placed it in a secret location and I found it on what was one of the worst days of my life. It reminded me that there was a sweeter reality outside of my current situation. There is no way anyone could derive the significance of the note without my explaining it.

Similarly, there are many documents in my family's collection that are seemingly insignificant. Yet I know that they must have been saved for some specific reason which is now lost to us. Still, I read and re-read the documents looking for a clue.

Previous generations saved only some correspondence. Current generations save even less. But we have newer technology that documents our lives in different ways. Home movies, and now digital cameras document our stories in new and exciting ways. I just learned of a new digital camera with a GPS device placed in it, so that among all the other information stored in each photo file, it now includes the location where the photo was taken. I lament that this wasn't invented long ago!

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