Saturday, May 13, 2017

Off the Shelf:
Letters From Walter

Several months ago, I decided I would explore the books out there, written by family historians seeking to share what they've found in their research. I purchased several examples, and even posted reviews on some of them in past "Off the Shelf" posts.

Then, life happened, and I detoured, following the ever-shiny new book to read. Granted, some of those books were worthy reads. Or at least kept me occupied on cross-country flights. Each one served a purpose—usually tying in with whatever project currently consumed me.

It's time now, however, to migrate back to that original intent: to explore the books fitting in the category of the kind of book I can see myself writing, based on my own genealogical explorations.

Since one of those books aligns nicely with all the World War II letters home which I transcribed five years ago from my father in law in the Pacific arena, I thought I'd grab this particular book—finally!—for this month's read. Not to mention, since this is May, and we are headed towards Memorial Day, it's a timely selection, despite its publication date over four years ago.

The slim volume I slipped off my shelf and into my travel bag for this month is Doug Eaton's tribute to American military veterans for "the service and sacrifice our veterans endured in order that we may enjoy all of our freedoms." When I was originally in pursuit of examples of how others had written up a family history—or personal experience during times of significant military history—someone had recommended this book to me.

The book is called, simply, Letters From Walter. A story of one serviceman and his family, the narrative is built around a collection of letters sent to an aunt and uncle in Indiana by Walter Hawes, assigned by the U.S. Army to Italy and northern Africa during World War II.

Around the core of those letters, author Doug Eaton relied upon the input of family members to create a biographical sketch of the subject, Walter Hawes, including that of Wilma Hawes Connely, Walter's sister.

While I'm interested in the letters, of course, I'm also taking a long look at the text to examine how others go about handling the blending of letters home with the memories of the family members who received them. I've tried to select an assortment of treatments—from simple to complex, brief to extensive—as I attempt to inform myself about what works and what doesn't, in the writing of family history.

Before reaching any conclusions, I suppose it would be helpful to survey the reading public about which formats worked best, in their opinion, and why. While I certainly don't have the resources of any slick marketing firms to access a wide and random sampling, I do have friends and fellow readers—like you, of course—who could provide input. Have you read any family history examples of letters home from the war front? Do you have any to recommend? If so, why?



  1. No I have not read any. Just accounts of soldiers when they were interviewed. A book filled with letters sounds awesome to me :)

    1. Agreed. Letters may meander, but they tell the story like no other form can.

  2. Replies
    1. Oh! Thank you, and the same to you. Hope you had a special day, Far Side!


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