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Has Anyone Tried To Return Old Mail To A Family?

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Valued Member
United States
29 Posts
Posted 09/24/2016   8:12 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add Rephil to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
About 25 years ago I came across a letter sent from a US soldier stationed in England to his fiance who lived in the St. Louis area. It covered a lot of details of the wedding they were planning after the war was over.

Out of curiosity I tried find out if the couple were still alive and living in the area. Sure enough, I found the woman and discovered her husband--the writer--had died recently after almost 50 years of marriage. She was overjoyed to tears to get the letter back and couldn't thank me enough.

Philately can have some odd rewards.
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Pillar Of The Community
United States
977 Posts
Posted 09/24/2016   11:39 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add GregAlex to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I have not tried to do this, but IkeyPikey's post gave me a reason to think through the pros and cons.

First, I don't think there's any obligation to return mail to the family -- it's not the "right" or the wrong thing to do; there is no expectation by anyone that the letters would be returned. In some ways, it seems rather self-indulgent on the part of the collector, who is simply curiosity seeking and perhaps hoping for an "attaboy" from the family member.

But I also see little potential for harm. The chances seem very good that whomever tossed the letters decades earlier will not be the same person who receives them. So the creepiness factor seems an unlikely argument. There may, in fact, be some enlightening family information that could answer a long-unknown question. I think the potential benefits outweigh the risks of this practice.

Allow me to pose another question, though -- who do you return the mail to, the sender or the receiver? The "rightful owners" would seem to be heirs of the recipient, but I would think the heirs of the sender would find the most value in the letters.
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United States
4046 Posts
Posted 09/25/2016   09:48 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add ikeyPikey to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
... whomever tossed the letters decades earlier ...


I recently came into a small pile of correspondence going on one hundred years old.

Researching the address, it seems that the granddaughter of the correspondents recently passed away, and an estate sale held.

One year from now - or ten years from now - how would any member of that extended family feel getting their discards back?

Sure, if you've got letters that you know have been out of the family for decades, any embers will be cold, and their return might well be a treat.

But if you don't know when something was tossed, you don't know who felt what, how recently they felt it, or how much they want to be reminded that there are pieces of their life floating around ... and being googled.

My cousin's "hobby" was helping adoptees find their birth parents. It may not have always worked-out well, but at least he began with one motivated party.

I'm glad that those of you who have returned correspondence have had only happy results.

Cheers,

/s/ ikeyPikey
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8270 Posts
Posted 09/25/2016   10:33 am  Show Profile Check 51studebaker's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add 51studebaker to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I guess that while surviving family members might be grateful it seems to me to be the wrong thing to do. The reason is simple; no one is speaking for, or understands, the original letter owner's wishes.

As ikey pointed out, is that the original owner may have intentionally tossed the letters away; not wanting the other family members to ever know its contents. So while remaining family members are thanking you for returning the letter, the original owner might be spinning in his grave?

So in my opinion the 'feelings' of surviving family members are not as important as the wishes of the original owner. If the desire is to be respectful, be respectful of the original owners wishes.
Don
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United Kingdom
4963 Posts
Posted 09/25/2016   11:14 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add GeoffHa to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Reminds me of my Mum, in her old age, deciding to destroy the letters she'd received from my Dad during the war. I said that I'd rather like to see his descriptions of his time in the US and Canada, where RAF training took place. I didn't.
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Valued Member
Canada
12 Posts
Posted 10/11/2016   12:56 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add starlight to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I recognized a cover (no contents)sent from Vietnam from an older military acquaintance, while looking through covers on a dealer's table. It was strange to see a name of someone whom I actually new still living sent almost 50 years ago. I purchased it, and offered to give it to him the next time I saw him. Although he thought it was interesting, he absolutely didn't want it as it was sent to his ex-wife, and he was still trying to expunge all memory of her......he really made me laugh.
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Valued Member
Ukraine
14 Posts
Posted 10/13/2016   03:09 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add Mestear to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
To be honest, I was thinking about such possibility, because there is one interesting piece in my collection that really bothers me. Some kind of old USSR postcard from year 1954. But unfortunately I know only one thing, the name of person, to whom this letter was adressed and the writer. And there is no full name.
But you know, this postcard is true treasure for me, it holds so much in those words that has been writen on it.

I will try to translate:

(And by this mail, Uncle Oleg (Olezhik) I congratulate you with that award you received, and I'm sending you this beautiful animal. Have you met this kind of animal (Lynx) in the summer forest? Probably, he is a scout just like you, the only difference is that he is a predator, and you are guardian.
I really like those pictures that you send me. But Granny (or that "baba" could mean father? Which is more likely, because of the next sentence, but by itself it makes no sense) doesn't know the tale about "Steady Eagle" (That is, how he called him).
I will certainly learn to skate.

Big kiss.
Vova.)


So the question is, what kind of tale they were talking about? "Steady eagle"? I have no idea.
And the other question is, how are they, Vova and Oleg? I hope everything was great in their lives. I Really do.



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Pillar Of The Community
Canada
650 Posts
Posted 02/20/2019   4:24 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add canadianphilatelist to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
You might be interested in this story https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47299554 It's a letter from World War 1 trying to be repatriated to the family or might be placed in a museum.
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Edited by canadianphilatelist - 02/20/2019 4:24 pm
Pillar Of The Community
United States
4773 Posts
Posted 02/20/2019   5:32 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add floortrader to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
I have on a few occasions mailed old letters and envelopes to the Historical Society of the mailing town or to the receiving town . Usually I will call first and if there is a interest I forward the letter. These are 150 years or older, mostly stampless letters and have received a thank you note or a mention in their newsletters even had a article written by a society member who continued the story beyond what I found on the internet .
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