The letters you have access to through this site represent a number of different types of personal correspondence. Some were written between family members and friends, some were written to conduct business, and some were written between individuals who did not know each other but who were hoping to share information for personal or professional purposes. Each of these type of letters contribute unique information to our understanding of this case. Every letter might help us to understand the relationship between the writer and the recipient of the letter, as well as offering us insights into things as wide-ranging as language skills and popular slang of the time, thought patterns and moral assumptions, and the concerns of the writer. As letters are often the only ‘first-hand’ report we have from the people concerned, letters are invaluable for showing us what the writer was thinking at the time they were written.

Before the advent of the telephone and electronic means of contact such as e-mail, letter writing was the primary means of communication. A letter can tell us much about an individual. Spelling mistakes, for instance, are common in letters written by individuals with little education. Almost all of the letters reproduced here were handwritten and some were very difficult for researchers to decipher. As the paper the letters were written on is very fragile after almost one-hundred years, some letters were only available as photocopies or microfilm reproductions. These processes can also challenge researchers’ capacity to ‘translate’ handwriting. Some of the authors clearly had a lower level of education than others – and by reproducing spelling and grammar as it appears in the letters, we hope to help you understand more clearly what it is like to conduct research using such documents.

More generally, private correspondence constitutes one of the most useful types of sources in social history. Unlike official documents, private letters are not systematically kept in archival collections, unless they are part of the private files, or ‘fonds’ of a relatively well-known figure. The personal letters written by "ordinary" people can nevertheless be of great use for those who want to understand the nature and the content of friendly, family, and even romantic relations of a bygone era. Many of the letters reproduced on this site are part of the collections of the Library and Archives Canada, stored in files devoted to Tom Thomson and Blodwen Davies.