Sherry Stocking Kline
first published in Wichita Eagle’s “Active Life” magazine – February 2005
This Valentine’s Day after you stuff, lick, and stamp your Valentine’s cards and drop them in the mail, don’t forget to rummage through your drawers, boxes, and attics for those old Valentines you’ve saved.
If you are a packrat (or lucky enough to have a packrat ancestor) you may find several old Valentine’s with hidden clues to your family’s history.
Old Valentine’s may contain clues…
One of Virginia Downing’s favorite genealogy classes to teach is Valentine and old letter research.
According to Downing, Education Chairman for Wichita Genealogical Society,old Valentine’s may contain clues to births, deaths, marriages, and more.
“You can find addresses of where people lived,” said Downing, “and dates on the envelopes.”
Downing bought a collection of postcards at an antique shop and said she was able to connect the dots between several members of a family even though she did not personally know them. Downing read the postcards, checked addresses of senders and recipients and paid particular attention to the notes written inside and the way the cards were signed.
Checking addresses may yield surprising results…
Knowing where your ancestor lived at a given time allows you to do further research in area newspapers, libraries, and other town records, so checking those addresses may yield important clues for further research.
According to Ancestry.com, return addresses that don’t match the postmark location may mean the town was too small to have its own post office or your ancestor may have been on vacation or visiting relatives.
Besides learning the location of family residences, Downing said the notes or letters included often contain clues about family relationships, occupations, and daily life. “A lot of times they may sign the card “‘Aunt Vita’ or ‘your cousin,’” Downing said. “If Aunt Vita mentions in the letter that ‘Uncle John is out feeding the cattle’ you have clues to the family’s occupation as well.”
Downing said some collectors can tell the date of a Valentine without seeing a postmark. “Some people can look and say that was an early 1900 or that was a 1930’s Valentine.” Downing said, adding that if you aren’t one of those people a little research at your library may help you narrow down the dates.
Take one more trip through your keepsake boxes…
According to Ancestry Daily News, even though you may think you have all the family information out of your own cards, one more trip through those keepsake boxes may reveal facts you forgot, photographs you missed, and memories worth preserving for future generations.
The popularity of e-mail may mean your descendants won’t have as many letters to find when they go searching through your old boxes and files according to Ancestry Daily News, so after you check out those old Valentines, be sure and save them for your genealogist descendants to find.