What benefits do you get from using letters, diaries, and autobiographies to help with family tree history what bebefits do you get from using letters, diaries, and autobiographies to help with family tree history?

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To me, letters and diaries are a way of actually getting to know a person beyond facts, dates, and geography.  Consider for example the diary of Anne Frank.  What is it we teach, read, think about and discuss about this diary after all these years?  We all know when, where...

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To me, letters and diaries are a way of actually getting to know a person beyond facts, dates, and geography.  Consider for example the diary of Anne Frank.  What is it we teach, read, think about and discuss about this diary after all these years?  We all know when, where and why the diary is written, but what comes to us through the years are Anne's feelings and emotions--anger with her mother, confusion over her feelings for Peter, impatience with the family's impossible situation.  These things prove to us, as the best literature does, that as human beings, we are more alike than different.  Anne's experiences in Nazi Germany--a young girl trying to grow up--aren't all that different from any girl that age struggling to grow up today. 

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While accessing personal journals, letters, etc. are not essential to locating one's ancestors, it seems that an intrinsic part of the desire to trace one's ancestry stems from wanting to know what and who one is.  By learning one's nationality(ies), for instance, one learns why one has certain characteristics.  Even more so, when one reads diaries, letters, autobiographies, of one's ancestors/relatives, one may discover something of oneself.  This sharing of hearts and minds is a comfort to many as they locate relatives.  After all, what is the point of knowing that you are related to someone if you cannot find a commonality between you?

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In researching your family, you are doing genuine historical research. Letters, diaries, and autobiographies are considered primary sources in researching history because they are original sources, not the results of someone else's research. Primary sources are also very valuable in research because they have not been interpreted by others. Here's a link that talks about primary sources in historical research. Notice that there are numerous kinds of primary resources. Good luck with your study!

http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rusa/sections/history/resources/pubs/usingprimarysources/index.cfm

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Reading and examining letters and diaries is an excellent way of discovering your family's history.  Through reading diaries and letters, it is almost as if you are able to step back in time and live that moment.  It not only gives you a personal account of the events of that particular relatives life, but you may it may also give you an insight as to what was going on historically during that time period.

For example, if someone grew up during the Civil Rights movement, then certainly his or her letters or diaries would give us further insight as to what was going on during that time period.  It would be much more meaningful than just reading about it in a history text book.

Furthermore, in history and in literature, we learn about historical figures and the time period in which they lived by reading letters and diaries.(for example Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis etc.)

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I think that the first hand accounts rendered in letters, diaries, and autobiographies can help in many ways with family tree history.  In my mind, the most obvious help they offer is chronology and placement.  First hand accounts can help surveyors of family history place events and people in their proper context.  They can also help with relational issues, in terms of better understanding connections and links between individuals.  Since assembling family history does not really have an authoritative voice or a plethora of secondary sources, it seems that the primary source or first hand account offered in letter or diaries become critical in being able to understand one's family history and its breadth and depth.  On a more intimate level, I think reading these first hand accounts can also help the person assembling the lineage to better understand those people of the past.  For example, reading a diary entry from someone of an individual's past helps the modern day reader understand their genealogy better and can allow them to match emotions and perceptions with an actual person.  Reading a letter allows a modern day reader to examine the writer as an actual person, with real feelings and experiences, as opposed to a set of years.  This might be especially useful with younger people who are seeking to better understand their own past, making first hand accounts found in letter, diaries, and autobiographies almost essential to the family tree historical process.

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