Historical Research

My ancestors in Pawlet, Vermont, kept treasured family letters and diaries from the 1830s through 1929 in several hope chests in their farmhouse.

Blakely farmhouse 1900
Blakely farmhouse 2000

A family of sentimental packrats, living in the same capacious house for several generations, keep heirlooms and mementos for posterity.   Letters and diaries are easy to keep in an attic and emotionally difficult to dispose of after the death of a family member.  They were packed away in hope chests, kept but not read, until I inherited them and started to read them and get to know my ancestors.

My 2nd cousin and I only got to know each other as middle-aged genealogists & family historians.  We have each inherited heirlooms & documents from this branch of our family tree.  We discovered that our grandmothers, who were sisters-in-law, wrote letters to share their experiences of being newlyweds and young mothers, and each saved the letters from the other.  In our generation, we discovered our shared collection!  We have accepted the responsibility of telling their stories and describing their place in history by writing a series of articles and booklets. 

In 2015, we started to focus on one branch of the family that had lived in Poultney and Castleton, Vermont, and wrote many letters to the homestead family in Pawlet.   We did some background research to learn what further information to look for, and In the fall I flew to Vermont to visit my cousin.   We explored the historical society archives in the small towns where our ancestors had lived.   We scanned and preserved documents and old photographs.  We discovered new information about who these ancestors were.  We held fine linen cloth that had been spun & woven by our g-g-g-g-great grandmother in 1775!  

We enjoyed the discoveries and the companionship of working on this project together.  I long to return and share more of this historical adventure with her.  For now, I have plenty of material to work with, and we can share our insights long distance.  I’d like to complete a small project, at least, to justify another research visit.  But each letter raises more questions, which requires more background research.  Who is this person?  What are these objects being mentioned?  How does this family issue fit into the larger historical context?  

It's easy to become overwhelmed by the scope of this whole project.  Whenever I do, I focus on a smaller project that I can complete in the foreseeable future.  That's why I’m focusing now on a very small collection of 1867 schoolgirl letters home.  Reading & presenting even this small set has entailed a lot more research than I ever imagined.  And the questions raised are fascinating!

As soon as I make a new discovery, I’m eager to share it.  I hope that sharing these stories a tidbit at a time will not spoil the completed publication.  I’m ready to try it.  Let’s find out.

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