Family Letters Over The Past 200 Years

The New York Times has an awe-inspiring article by Kirk Johnson – awe-inspiring because it’s about a family that held on to their letters over the past 200 years, to the tune of at least 75,000 documents (we are talking hundreds of thousands of pages) that cover everything. When many of us scramble for every little bit of correspondence we can find, these people were having to find all kinds of places to store all of this.

Excerpt from the article:

Beginning more than 200 years ago, Mr. Cowan’s family has kept the messages — people called them letters in those days — written to one another, as well as correspondence with eminent outsiders like Ralph Waldo Emerson, sermons given by preachers in the family and multipart essays sent home while traveling.

The collection, at least 75,000 documents totaling hundreds of thousands of pages filling 200 boxes, is one of the largest private family troves that has turned up in recent years, genealogy experts say. It has been stored in attics, sheds and storage lockers over the years, and most recently in the Cowans’ home here in Boulder, where they were interviewed on a recent morning. Its contents cover the scandalous (a relative jailed for embezzlement), the intriguing (a runaway slave seeking refuge in the North) and the historic (the settling of Chicago).

Simply amazing. They are working on donating it to a historical society. The amazing thing about these (in addition to the numbers), many of them are series that were kept as intact as possible – while most letters we inherit skip around – they are kept because of a few things, many of these letters made up series of events, allowing wide-ranging stories and events to be told.

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