Five Reasons to Save Handwritten Letters

Old handwritten letters are like a time capsule – when you open them, you’re transported to an earlier age and another place where people who may not be around anymore are pouring out their thoughts to you. While I don’t save every handwritten letter, I’ve kept special ones over the years.

Five reasons I save handwritten letters:

1. They’re personal.
Not only do they only contain the writer’s message and style, but also the writer’s penmanship, which gives additional clues about their mood, their well-being, and maybe their state of health on that day.

Even everyday stuff makes good memories.
Even everyday stuff makes good memories.

My Grandma Myers (Lora Frances Stevens Thomas Myers – my mother’s mother) was a fantastic and faithful letter writer with old-fashioned, beautiful, and consistent handwriting. Although she may never have seen herself as a writer, she kept a daily journal and frequently wrote letters. And she wrote to me. But one day in October of 1993, I received a letter in which her handwriting was a tiny bit wobbly and uncharacteristic. Ten weeks later, at age eighty-five, she died. Today, I’m thankful to have letters from her.

Grandma Myers holds the microphone for her great-grandson.
Grandma Myers holds the microphone for her great-grandson.

2. They reveal a connection.
Handwritten letters attest to a relationship between the sender and the recipient. For two years, I got to be pen pals with my niece’s daughter, Emma, and we had fun with the word “great” as she’s my great niece and I’m her great aunt. If my brother Blake were living, he’d be her grandfather, and I got to share fun stuff about his and my childhood.

I keep the envelopes, too.
I keep the envelopes, too.

3. They’re unchangeable.
Handwritten letters are as fresh as the day they were written and reveal what was important to the writer that day. When I was a kid and started writing letters, I did what I saw my mom and grandmother do: I sat down and started writing, trusting that I’d think of something. My letters often started with “How are you?” – “I am fine,” and other mundane phrases. But even the commonplace tells us about the writer’s daily life.

In a letter dated December 3, 1990, Grandma Myers wrote:
I just had a nice nap this afternoon, so should feel in the mood to get something done. This morning, your Mother took me to town to do some shopping. I got some Christmas cards and some stamps – so now my work is cut out for me. Guess I am late getting in the Christmas mood. I did not get out all week last week, only to church on Sundays, so it was nice to get out this morning.

4. They’re primary sources of genealogy information.
Handwritten letters can contain family history and details about the era in which they were written. I wrote to my Grandma Myers, asking her how she and my grandfather chose the names Lorena Louise and Loretta Eloise for my mom (Lorena Grosenbach) and her twin sister, born in 1927.

Grandma wrote:
I got Lorena from my name Lora. I don’t know about the Louise, just liked it and thought it went well with Lorena, I guess. The Mother of a friend of mine was named Loretta. We liked that name, too, but decided to stay with our first choice. At that time we did not know that there were twins. But when the second one arrived on the scene, we said, “Loretta,” and Eloise seemed to come naturally. I don’t know where we had heard it. But I always liked both names.

A Handwritten Letter ~ a Primary Source
A Handwritten Letter ~ a Primary Source

In another letter, Grandma said she had worn middies, and I asked her about them. I love her use of capital letters.

She responded:
You asked about Middies. They are tops such as the Navy men wear – or used to wear, at least. They are a blouse worn outside the skirt, have a large square collar in back, usually trimmed in braid, and they lace up the front a little ways. Hope you get the description.

5. They’re keepsakes.
Special handwritten letters are a tangible legacy of a person who has passed from this life to the next. I’m glad my kids can see that their great-grandmother loved music, just as they do.

Grandma wrote:
Yes, I used to sing in the choir – many years ago. I always loved to sing and I still do, but can’t do it any more. My voice is about gone. I do manage to sing also in Congregational singing part of the time, but can’t reach the high notes very often any more. But I have a song in my heart even tho’ I can’t get it out.

If you’ve saved letters written long ago, you know that reading them is like a trip to the past. Getting a handwritten letter at any time is such a blessing! Kind of makes a person want to sit down and write a letter, doesn’t it?

Posted on November 10, 2015

8 thoughts on “Five Reasons to Save Handwritten Letters

  1. Just yesterday I was sharing in my “Creative Journaling” presentation about the importance of saving old letters. The most touching letter I shared was one where my dad wrote to Mom during WWII and began, “My Beloved, Greetings, my sweet blossom of my heart…” This from a fellow with very little education.

    And then there was the note from my granddaughter on her first day ever at summer camp. “Hi, I just got here at Camp Semore. So far it is boring. I got to go. Bye. Love, Grace” (I corrected the spelling so you could read it.) Both are precious letters I will keep.

    By the way, you could scan the letters and keep them in a computer file if space or deterioration gets to be a problem.

  2. For many years I saved your letters from overseas, Norma. I may still have some despite having had to clean out a lot of old letters twice in the last 15 years. One thing I remember about them: your interesting, chatty anecdotes and your beautiful handwriting.

  3. Thanks, Norma, for sharing some of mother’s history and the great picture of dad and mom. We commented that dad was smiling. Great picture. You asked some good questions and I heard again some things that have been forgotten. Sure wish I would have saved more letters but didn’t have the foresight to do so. Such a wealth of history in them.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Lynda. I chose this photo because of the smiles. Too bad we can’t see Geoff’s little face – I imagine he was saying something that struck them as funny as he talked into the microphone your mom was holding. I, too, wish I’d saved more letters. But I have hopes that everything will get sorted out in heaven.

      By the way, I got another comment that was intended for this blog post, from Lynn and Gail:

      Wow. We so enjoyed seeing through your eyes the value of our Mom’s (your Grandma’s thoughts and letters. We also learned a number of things we didn’t know.

      Thank you for this. You warmed our hearts, and our souls!

      Bless you!
      Lynn and Gail

      My reply:
      Your feedback made me smile, Lynn and Gail. Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

  4. I have many old letters still to be read by me. I’ve thrown many away after I read them. I have my cousin’s letters from years and years ago. As I read them, if there is no important information, I throw them away. So, maybe I’ll save the rest, as I read them, good info or not! Thanks for sharing about old letters!

    1. If your letters are anything like your blogging style, I bet they’d be good reads for your off-spring. Thanks for reading and commenting, Anita!

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