Today I think I will look around my house for some primary sources of history. What I find will not be in the U.S. History textbook sitting on the library shelf. I often open this book to refresh my memory of things that have happened in the past. It supports the years I think I remember in my family history.
I won’t even look on my computer for information. Plenty is waiting there for me to dig out. But the things that inspire me are the true primary sources from past years. Most recently I have been working with a wonderful pack of letters that were recovered from the attic of an old farm house. They are all dated, carefully written, but not edited. They are all signed by the same man, first name only.
I call them a primary source because of the dates and the places from which they were mailed. No one has interpreted their meaning. They were written a hundred years ago and stored neatly in a note card box that had obviously been used for other storage. The edges were worn so here is where my imagination takes hold.
The box must have ben opened each time a newly folded letter arrived. It may have ben opened many times so the owner could reread the letters. These are the things I surmise might be true and make me think of a story. In addition, the contents of the letters share wonderful descriptions of the mining camps and the travels the author experienced. Occasionally he alluded to marriage, but he never just said, “Will you marry me?”
So we wonder if he was shy, afraid of being turned down. If he were in love, why didn’t he declare himself? Or was it not the vogue of the day to bluntly propose? The letters explain some circumstances of the times. Travel by train, ship, and unreliable autos separated people more than putting them together. Most telephones hung on kitchen walls, waiting for rings to come in.
The imagination from a primary source surpasses all information from the work of the historian who puts it in a book. I plan to locate another primary source tomorrow.
Source: Jae Carvel