The Letters on this List are Close to Dead

Newspapers often published lists of unclaimed letters in the local post office. Think about what appearing on that list means about your ancestor:

  • someone thought your ancestor lived in that location when they mailed the letter
  • the person lived near enough that post office so that sending a letter there made sense

Your ancestor could also have been dead by the time his name was published in the paper on the list of unclaimed letters. Appearing on the list is not hard evidence that he was alive on the publication date

Your ancestor probably did live in that location when the letter was sent. But, if their name on that list is inconsistent with other known information, there could be a very plausible explanation.


3 thoughts on “The Letters on this List are Close to Dead

  1. Mary W. Hammond

    I’ve found my great grandparents’ names on several such lists, mostly in San Francisco in the early 1870s. Sometime in 1873, they left the Chicago area and headed west, passing through Ogden. They were on the move until 1879, when they were in Tacoma. For the 1880 census, they were in McMinneville, Or. My great grandfather, a railroad contractor, was always on the move, and never really had a permanent home. No doubt, when they left the Midwest, they told family to contact them in San Francisco, or later, at Portland, OR.

    The lists I’ve found don’t make reference to “dead letters,” though, and have no deadlines for pickup. I attribute that to the rapidly fluctuating population on the West Coast in the 1870s – lots of transient folks, who hadn’t quite decided where to settle.

  2. toni

    There may not have been postage on the letter and the receiver would have had to pay to get the letter. Without home delivery you had to go to the post office to get a letter. If you weren’t expecting one, would you go and ask if there was a letter for you?


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