Discovery Your Family History

Dont Overlook Old Diaries And Letters

Another fascinating means of finding information for your LDS family search is by reading old letters and diaries from your ancestors. Maybe you have a box of letters bound in rubber bands, or bundled up and tied up with string that were written by your parents, grandparents or some other relatives stored in your attic or in a closet at the back of your house. In that box of hidden treasures you may find an old diary left by one of your ancestors. By reading these old letters and diaries, you will be surprised at the interesting information about your family’s history hidden within the pages.

 The wealth of information written within the pages of old letters and diaries is widely recognized by genealogists all over the world. However, some of you may be wondering what to do if members of your family didn’t keep a diary, or the letters between family members weren’t passed to younger generations. There is hope for you, because the diaries and letters of your relatives neighbour’s will give you the family news and neighbourhood gossip about what went on in their friends’ daily lives. There are several ways to find these treasures for your LDS family search.

 Where to Start Looking

 If you are looking to find diaries and letters of friends and neighbours of your ancestors, a wonderful way to begin your search is by checking out one of several reference guides containing information on published diaries. Here are a few guides to help you begin your search: American Diaries, which is an annotated listing of published journals and diaries, written by Nancy Pries, Laura Arksey, and Marcia Reed, published by Gail Research group of Detroit MI, 1983-1987; A bibliography of diaries, translated into English by Christopher S. Handley, published by Hanover Press, 2008; Covered Wagon Woman: Diaries and Letters from the Western Wagon Trails, Kenneth Holmes publisher unknown, 1840-1890. To find more wonderful resources for diaries and letters, visit the Google books web site at The only downside to reading published diaries is that the editor has often made minor changes to the original text, which makes you wonder what the author of the original journal actually said, versus the edited version.

 Finding Unpublished Diaries

 For your LDS family search, you can also find several diaries that have been unpublished. The Library of Congress produces a catalogue of unpublished diaries called the National Union Catalogue of Manuscript collections, (NUCMC), where you can find an annotated listing of unpublished diaries and letters. Many libraries and collections are making these unpublished manuscripts available online, some by subscription only, and others are located through public libraries and universities. When conducting your online search, it may help you to search these diaries and letters by family name. This is important, because it will narrow down your search results so that you can find exactly what you are looking for. More and More libraries, universities, historical societies and individuals are uploading their diaries and letters to the Internet to make them more accessible to genealogists and the general public. Another great resource for finding family diaries and letters is your local historical society or library, because some people will not publish these items through the LOC or other outlets, because these items are of general interest to people living in a specific geographical location.

 Here is a little advice on reading through these diaries and letters once you have found them. Although some of the information may be written in short notations, instead of complete sentences, it is better to read between the lines, to make that person come alive for you. Even if someone makes a note such as “gathered wood for the fire place,” this is his or her role in the family. Also, use a magnifying glass so you can see the fine print, because paper was scarce in early days, so the person had to write small letters to put as much information on as little paper as possible. Find out if the diaries or letters have been transcribed, because these may be easier to read, although you may want to have the original with you to compare against the transcript.

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