This morning I woke up too early and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was drizzly and gray at the window, and the coffee pot needed only a flip of the switch to brew a full pot. It seemed like a perfect time to look through old letters.
When I was a growing up, one of the rules in our house would have made the United States Postal Service proud . . . we never ever ever opened or read mail addressed to another person. Letters were private affairs, akin to a conversation whispered between best friends on a shared schoolbus seat. That, I understood.
Of course, letters are a research mainstay for genealogists. But it’s one thing to read a letter for the purpose of extracting names, dates, and places, and quite another to just sit down and, well, read someone else’s mail a bit like you are peering over their shoulder. At times, I still feel just a wee bit guilty of snooping.
When my Mom’s older sister phoned yesterday with a “genealogy question,” as she put it, I knew the answer would be in Grandmother Arline’s old letters, and to find what Auntie wants to know I would need to just sit down and read her mail. Permission to snoop — granted.
Mercy Winsor Kinsel MacPhee
Auntie was reading a new book that caught her interest because the theme touched on the life of her own Aunt Mercy (Arline’s sister). Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, by Dorothy Wickenden is the story of two Smith graduates who leave their privileged world to teach school in the wilds of 1917 Colorado. Mercy Kinsel never went to college, but she too was a rural schoolteacher in Colorado in the early 1900’s. Reading the book had brought back old memories and Auntie wanted to know exactly when and where Mercy had taught.
Sounds like a good reason to get into other people’s mail.
When I inherited my grandmother’s papers, the boxes included dozens of letters from her sister, Mercy. Somewhere, I recalled, were at least a few letters from the time Mercy was teaching in Colorado. I am looking for letters from the years 1905 to about 1920 when Mercy was married and living in California. I wonder what I will find?
Thanks for all the encouragement. I am drowning in paper and can’t decide which story to start with. They are all better than daytime soaps. Stay tuned!