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"Letters Left at the Post
A genealogist is an historian, archeologist,
sociologist, psychologist, detective or investigator, analyst, compiler, writer,
editor, diarist, journalist, educator, theorist, documentalist...
"Letters Left at the Post Office..."
By Judith Florian
Posted to the Rootsweb Mailing List for Washington Co PA
From: Judy Florian
Date: May 4, 2008 7:43 PM
Subject: Re: [PAWASHIN] FW: Help
I'm wondering if there is confusion about "Letters left..."
From the earliest newspapers (nps), every issue carried a list called (some variant of this) "Letters left in the (city name) Post Office as of (date, month, year). Following that was a list of citizens' names. That was the beginning way to notify person's "You've Got Mail !"
Np issues were originally monthly (Washington PA); then weekly; then daily. That progression took years. So, anyone can research the np microfilm at Citizens Library (or wait for the books to be done by Bonnie & buy her extracted version).
ALL the np item is a LIST of names. NO actual letters. NO copies actually existed. NO copies exist today (unless families saved actual letters).
So, what value does a np notice of a List of Letters have -- what value does it have to genealogists to locate "List of Letter" notices in nps?
Consider these points:
1. Because the notice date and the date of the np (often a month difference or more between the two dates), researchers can see X person WAS in the county at that date. However, sometimes they move, but a sender did not know that fact. The letter continues to be posted for months, though.
2. It helps pinpoint where a person lived, by the name of the Post Office. If you don't know an area, ask on a RW List for where Xyz PO was located. ALL that gives though is a BIG AREA -- POs covered many square miles in the early 1800s. But, it helps narrow down a residence.
3. It helps to imagine WHO might be writing to YOUR ancestor. It'll give your fantasy a work-out. Remember, most mail was from private senders -- so, likely family.
4. Often, the same names were on the Lists for MONTHS. Had the person gotten repeated mail? Were they popular? Big family with extra money to mail letters? Was the person too busy on the farm to go get it? Was the person ILL? Had the person DIED possibly, so the mail sat there... repeatedly appearing in the notices? Very interesting if you are good with clues. Example, if you see a letter sitting for months and don't know a death date -- maybe that is a period of time to use in searching courthouse / church records for a death date.
Washington, PA was the major PO. ALL Mail went there before being shipped (first by horse... then by train) to smaller county POs. So search The Observer, The Reporter. (Not sure but The Observer-Reporter is probably too late for these.) Once home delivery started, notices stopped. Also, between the 1930s-1940s, nps started to reduce "personal info" notices / articles (such as the "Locals." People started to dislike the intrusion.
So, in conclusion, yes, "Letters in the PO" notices are nice to find. But, I'd spend my money more on locating "Local Glances" "Personals," "Goings On" and similar columns. They TELL what X person or family DID, WHERE they visited, WHO they saw, and sometimes, relationships. Some "Locals" columns contained births and death dates, too.
Hope this is helpful and informative,
I'll post this to my Genealogy 101 articles on my website.
Genealogy 101 - "Letters Left at the Post Office..." Newspaper Notices
Genealogy 101-New to
Genealogy 101 - Cite Your
vs. Credit Due
Genealogy 101 - Use of
Newspapers in Genealogy Research
101 - "Letters Left in the Post Office" Newspaper Lists
Genealogy 101_Why We do It
Genealogy 101 - HOW FAR
IS TOO FAR IN GENEALOGY? (How many people make a family? How many families make
101 - Marriage Traditions or Trends - In Washington County PA between 1880s and
1940s or so
101 - Where to Research in Washington County PA!
Genealogy 101 -
TIPS TO TRANSCRIBING CEMETERIES OR ANY RECORDS
in Washington, PA
and other Families of "Washpa"
All newspaper items posted with permission of
the Observer-Reporter Oct. 13, 2005.
(c) Judith Ann Florian
Copyright Notice - Data / info. for individuals and surnames
may be reproduced for personal family histories only, but not for any
commercial use or sale. Please give credit to Judith Florian and Catherine L.
Caldwell for locating newspaper items and original documents. You may use J.
Florian's research conclusions if credit is given. No other data or images may
be reproduced without permission. © August 2005-present, Judith Florian,
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