Essential Reading

'I have been a family historian for more than 40 years, and a professional historian for over 30, but as I read it, I was constantly encountering new ways of looking at my family history....Essential reading I would say!' Alan Crosby, WDYTYA Magazine

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Your Ancestors' Letters: Tips for Research 7: What can you learn from the addresses ?


Do the addresses on your ancestors' letters still exist as homes or businesses today? Do they reflect differences or similarities between the social class of the sender and of the recipient?

You can check whether old addresses still exist by visiting www.royalmail.com. But be careful, houses in a street may have been renumbered and streets might have been renamed.

You might also look at local maps online or at historical maps of the locality in local libraries.
See  Local maps in the National Archives UK

Trade directories for local areas can tell you for what purposes buildings might have used in the past and, in some cases, who might have lived and worked in them.
Historic Trade Directories held by Leicester University

Postcodes did not exist at the time the first national British Postal Service started  (ie 1840). They were developed gradually over the 1850s and 1860s, starting in London. But, they were not as long and complex as they are today. In fact, the type of postcodes with which we are familiar did not come about until 1974.

More Information on Postal Heritage UK





The Welcome Letter by George Hardy, 1879. From Wikimedia Commons


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Monday, 4 May 2020

Your Ancestors' Letters: Tips for Research (6) Who licked the stamp?

From their first issue in 1840, postage stamps had an adhesive backs but still required wetting or licking. Today, it is theoretically possible - though expensive - to have the back of an envelope or a stamp tested for DNA. To work, the stamp or envelope would have to be carefully preserved and removed from sources of contamination. The DNA would need to checked against that of a living descendant of the putative stamp licker.


Image: Penny Black stamp - first issued in 1840. From Wikimedia Commons.

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Your Ancestors' Letters: Tips for Research (5): Why was a letter always more than a letter?


Did your ancestor leave a letter?

Tips for Research 5

What can you learn from the physical aspects of your family letter? Ask questions about its length, the type of paper upon which it was written, the existence of an envelope, the way it was sealed, its overall look and feel.

Letters were the embodiment of a significant relationship between a sender and a receiver. The overall look of a letter was thought to be an indicator of the social standing, character and personality of the person who sent it. Holding a letter - even kissing it - was fancied to be a way of getting close to the person who had last held and sealed it.

Tracing Your Ancestors Through Letters and Personal Writings





Image: Penning a Letter by George Goodwin Kilburne, 1839. From Wikimedia Commons.


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Friday, 1 May 2020

Your Ancestors' Letters: Tips for Research (4): Why was this letter written at all ?


What was the main purpose of your ancestor's letter? What were its secondary purposes?

Is your family missive primarily a conveyer of news, or a letter of condolence, love, rejection, recommendation, thanks, congratulation, consolation or commiseration. Each of these kinds of letters had its own special characteristics and in the Victorian period, there were published books advising people how to set about writing letters of each kind. Letters also rarely served one purpose only, so look out for the moments where the purpose of the letter changes.
It is always very helpful when examining a letter from the past to read it out loud - especially if the purpose isn't immediately obvious.

Tracing Your Ancestors Through Letters and Personal Writings



Image: Woman reading a Worrisome Letter from her Husband, Once a Week, 1863, by George Swain via Wikimedia Commons




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