Although the holiday newsletters sent out to family and friends this time of year are frequently mocked, I’ve always enjoyed reading them. Now I also write one, and over time I’ve come to appreciate their more lasting value for family historians.
I never considered writing a holiday newsletter before I had kids. In my pre-parenthood days I had more time to write individual notes and I also had less information to share. My twin son and daughter were born in January of 2004, and by the time December rolled around, I had lots of news to impart and very little time. So I wrote my first holiday newsletter and sent it out with a family photograph. I can’t say how well my letter was received but I was glad I’d documented at least a few facts from that blurry first year.
After five years, I realized that I had never given any thought to keeping copies of my letters or holiday photographs. (And, yes, I work at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and have been doing family history since I was about fourteen.) So I began the painful process of trying to reassemble what I’d sent out. The computer I composed the first letters on had died, and I had to ask various relatives if they had kept my letters. Fortunately, some had, and were willing to return them. Two of my early holiday photos still were “saved projects” in Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly websites. I was pleased about this — except that I had to order ten copies of each photo so I could get the one copy of each I actually wanted. My final missing piece, the 2004 family photo, was found when I went to Minnesota and my mother let me look through my grandmother’s papers. My grandmother, who died in 2007, had indeed saved that holiday photo.
The effort I put in was worth it. I purchased a nice album and inserted all the photos and letters, and for the last few years I’ve simply added a new photo and letter. Earlier this week, after inserting the latest additions, I flipped through my eight years of documentation with some satisfaction. I am sorry to say that I didn’t journal about my kids’ early lives or fill baby books with great detail, as my mother did for me. But I am glad to have this record, which offers a yearly snapshot of our lives. I asked my kids if they wanted me to read them the first one, and they said yes. I thought they would be interested but I did not expect them to be as enthralled as they were. While I read, they laughed and blushed and asked lots of questions — and the questions continued long afterwards.
Historians often express concern that there will be fewer written sources to preserve from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries than in previous eras. It seems to me that the preservation of holiday newsletters, a unique source that originated and flourished during this time period, would make future genealogists very happy. I rather like the idea of a descendant getting to know me through my holiday newsletters.