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The City and County of Washington Pennsylvania
Washington County Pennsylvania History and Families
"Letters Left at the Post
By Judith Florian
A genealogist is an historian, archeologist,
sociologist, psychologist, detective or investigator, analyst, compiler, writer,
editor, diarist, journalist, educator, theorist, documentalist...
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
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.