Today’s post comes to us from Bill.
Lately, I’ve been going through the boxes of genealogical and inherited material, some of it originally collected by my grandparents and even more accumulated by my parents. It’s the sort of thing I never found the time or will to do prior to Covid. My general aim is to separate the detritus from the meaningful and to secure the meaningful—I use the term generously—archivally in mylar sleeves in 3-ring binders so that they can all fit in a compact space.
The detritus includes photos even I can’t identify, duplicate and triplicate copies of images, a lot of printed dot-matrix family trees from the days before the internet, albums of really bad Instamatic photos my parents took on vacations long after I had left home and just generally stuff that is no longer meaningful. So far so good.
Among the items in the boxes my Mother left behind was a packet of letters from a life-long friend of hers. I knew this friend and her family when I was young, no more than twelve or thirteen, but I have a distinct impression of her. She was smart and witty, outspoken and, I think, unhappy—probably stifled by her circumstances. The letters were written at a time when she was in the process of getting a divorce and still had two dependent children. She wrote to my mother as a trusted confidant.
I considered discarding the letters, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. Her letters are funny and frank and expressive. At the time she wrote them, she was still in her early forties, which seems quite young to me now. They offer a perspective into her thoughts that she would have been unlikely to share with her children at the time—comparable to a diary. I can’t say I’ve ever had a similar glimpse into my parents’ unguarded thoughts.
Using my Ancestry account, I was able to ascertain that this person’s daughter also has an account and has posted a family tree. I wrote her a message, telling her about the letters and asking if she would like them. I told her I wasn’t sure if it would seem intrusive or inappropriate (and I apologized if it seemed that way), but I just couldn’t throw away the letters without asking her first. The letters were written over fifty years ago and the letter writer has been dead for thirty, so it seems safe to let those private thoughts out. I haven’t heard from the daughter yet.
Would you have discarded the letters and let their sentiments stay private? Have you ever been in possession of family secrets? What did you do with them?