I'm writing in response to "Stuck for an Answer," whose wife found a box of letters written by her late mother to her father. She didn't know whether to read or destroy them.
If Mom had wanted the letters destroyed, she would have already done it. As a genealogist and historian, my advice is to keep them in a safe place for future generations. I have correspondence between my great-great-grandmother, her daughters and their daughters that dates back to the 1870s and extends through the 1940s. I also have her diaries, her daughter's autograph book from high school graduation in 1880, and diaries written by her granddaughter that date from the time she was 16 until her death at the age of 90 in 1998.
I am sure my great-great-grandfather never thought I'd be reading the letter he wrote to his brother during the Civil War in 1865, mentioning all the women in the city he was going to spend some time with! Abby, "Stuck's" wife should cherish the letters she found, even if she never reads them. They are precious heirlooms for future generations that will teach them about the impact of World War II on young love.
- Historically Speaking
DEAR HISTORICALLY: I suggested to "Stuck" that reading the letters would allow his wife new insight into her parents' early life. Many readers agreed and offered personal anecdotes.
DEAR ABBY: My dear friend "Zack's" father left him letters he had exchanged with Zack's mother during World War II. In one of them was the information that Zack had a half- sister in Italy! If he had not read those letters, he would never have known about this member of his family.
"Stuck's" letters have survived 60 years. He can rightfully suppose that his mother-in-law saved them with the intent of passing them on. Those letters have tremendous historical significance. There are few firsthand documents like these remaining. I'm sure the World War II museum in Washington, D.C., would love to have them. Every firsthand story helps us construct our history. Can you imagine what we would have missed if 15-year-old Anne Frank's diary had remained unpublished?
- Well-read in New York
DEAR ABBY: My mother asked if my sisters and I wanted to read the letters Dad had sent her during the war. We declined because we felt the letters were private. Mom requested that they be buried with her when she died. When she passed away, we could not immediately locate them. Then, just before interment, my sister found the letters. The funeral director allowed us to seal them in a box to be placed in the ground with Mom's burial urn. They are now, once again, close to her and Dad, and everyone finds that knowledge comforting.
- Beverly in Albany
DEAR ABBY: I knew growing up that Mom kept letters from my father in her lingerie drawer. When she died in 1996, I placed them with her in her casket. When my sister-in-law asked if I had read them, I said, "Absolutely not - they were for Mom's eyes, not mine." My advice to "Stuck" would be to destroy them.
- Donna in Maryland
DEAR ABBY: When our parents died 22 years ago, we also found letters he wrote her while in the Army. My sisters and I pored over them - laughing, crying, learning new things about them. It allowed us a glimpse into something we never thought we would see - our parents as a young couple, newly in love and afraid about the war. The letters are a family treasure. Of all the things we have acquired since their deaths, they remain the most precious of all.