©2020 Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2020-05-19.
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Abstract:  Letters give different insights into a family than journals or official documents, but of course only give information when some member of the family is away so people are corresponding.  My family has compiled, edited, transcribed, and posted online more than 200 family and personal letters of Erastus Snow.  This presentation will show how we found and worked with the collection, the freeware programs we used, how we titled the letter files so they are easy to find and search, and interesting things we learned about Erastus Snow and his family from them.  The notes for this class, as well as related information in other classes and articles, all with active web links, are posted at  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html


  1. Instructor is Donald R. Snow (snowd@math.byu.edu) of Provo and St. George, Utah.
  2. The notes and related articles and classes, all with active internel links, are posted at  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html .
  3. Tips:  (1)  To put an icon on your desktop for these notes, or any webpage, just drag the icon from in front of the address in your browser onto your desktop.  (2)  To open a link, but keep your place in these notes, hold down the Control key while clicking the link.
  4. The problem for today: How to compile and work with a collection of letters and learn interesting things from them.

  6. Erastus Snow --> Erastus Beman Snow --> Eldon Stafford Snow --> Donald Ray Snow
  7. Don's Dad, Eldon Stafford Snow, grew up in St. George, Utah and knew his grandfather, Eratus Beman Snow, but not his great grandfather, Eratus Snow, but some old letters have come down to us from those families. 
  8. Our Erastus Snow letter collection
    1. Several hundred photocopies of letters to and from him
    2. We have only worked on the family letters, not his official church nor business correspondence   
    3. Our sources have been family, libraries such as the Church History Library, BYU Special Collections, U of U Marriott Library, Utah State Historical Society, and newspapers
    4. Have given all originals we had to libraries for preservation
    5. Still need to determine sources of some letters and some are in typed form passed down in the family and we don't know where the originals are
    6. Our famiy has transcribed more than 200 famiy letter, but much editing is still needed to identify individuals and places mentioned
    7. Transcriptions are posted on Don's website (above) and are every-word searchable -- see the Google search box at top of Don's FH Notes Page
  9. More details on this are in other notes and articles on Don's webpage

  11. 1856-05-31 - Artimesia (SLC) to Erastus (St Louis) - resigned to living alone since Erastus traveling until he dies
  12. 1851-06-24 - Erastus (Liverpool) to Artimesia (SLC) - talking via letters, takes 10 months to get answers
  13. 1885-07-19 - Erastus (Mexico City) to Elizabeth (StG) - keep all my letters since not writing a journal
  14. 1851-04-06 - Erastus (Copenhagen) to Artimesia (SLC) - pleasant visits with Joseph Smith in his dreams
  15. 1860-11-18 - Erastus (St Joseph, Missouri) to Elizabeth (SLC) - telegraph wires to go from Nebraska to SLC, if "Union don't burst up" [Civil War]
  16. 1886-10-11 - Erastus (Mexico City) to Edward H. Snow (mission in Virginia) - about how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with Seer Stone
  17. 1868-01-25 - Erastus (SLC) to Elizabeth (StG) - shudders at thought of returning to StG like a "sore back horse at the sight of the saddle"
  18. 1851-04-06 - Erastus (Copenhagen) to Artimesia (SLC) - "the old cow did not eat up the grindstone"
  19. 1851-04-06 - Erastus (Copenhagen) to Minerva (SLC) - "keep the light side of the picture up"
  20. 1884-03-14 - Erastus (Milford) to Elizabeth (StG) - "busy as a ________ and happy as a ________ in _________"
  21. 1855-01-14 - Erastus (St. Louis) to Family (SLC) - offers bribes to get the kids to learn
  22. 1881-03-14 - Erastus (Colorado) to Elizabeth (StG) - hopes someone will teach Herbert how to write better
  23. 1887-02-11 - Erastus (Mexico) to Edward H. Snow (mission in Virginia) - about Julia spending too much
  24. 1884-07-21 - Erastus (SLC) to Elizabeth (StG) - Arthur has to get his homework done to be able to go to the ranch
  25. 1882-12-22 - Minerva (StG) to Erastus (Arizona) - about death of Artimesia

  27. Letter collections only discuss events and family life when someone is away -- hence not a complete picture
  28. Collections are never complete and you may find others later; you don't usually know if some were destroyed, inadvertently or on purpose
  29. For an ancestor you may find that family members have letters or copies of them
  30. Look in libraries and archives, especially near where the person lived or that would apply to the person, e.g. Church History Library 
  31. May find letters published in newspapers, especially small-town newspapers, e.g., St. George, Utah newspapers published letters from U.S. Army soldiers during WW I -- example of Don's Dad, Eldon Stafford Snow's letters in the Washington County Times newspaper during WW I in France and Germany
  32.  For Utah newspapers the website  http://digitalnewspapers.org/  by University of Utah Marriott Library; financed by grant from Library of Congress to digitize all Utah newspapers -- not complete yet, but is a major source now, completely searcchable ; other states have similar websites 
  33. Keep track of where you find the letters for atributionn and permission later, if needed

  35. Scan the letters so you can work with scans and not the originals -- donate originals to a library so they will be preserved
  36. Family History Centers have good scanners and most have settings to even remove some of the background splotches, e.g. the Lexmark scanners -- go to Settings and turn on Remove Background; I didn't discover this until after I had scanned all my own missionary letters and found some were unreadable without removing the ink bleed-through from the back.
  37. Scan them to a flashdrive and rename the files when you get home -- see below
  38. I recommend scanning to pdf (Portable Document Format) at about 150-300 dpi (dots per inch) -- pdfs are readable by many free programs  
  39. If photos are included, or if it is from a newspaper and has pictures, scan at higher resolution -- rule of thumb from the Library of Congress: Scan at about 250 dpi for each inch of the final product -- so scanning a 2x3 inch photo to print at  4x6 inches (twice the size), scan at 500 dpi; scan a 1 inch high slide to show at 10 inches high at 10 x 250 = 2500 dpi; otherwise you get pixelation (breaking up into little squares) when looking at it larger  
  40. Newspapers are already about the size you want later, so scanning at 150-300 dpi works well -- some scanners have newspaper settings to remove some of the background lines in newsprint
  41. If there is color, scan in color; otherwise scan in black and white.

  43. With the letters scanned you can show them in various programs to transcribe them -- There is no program yet to transcribe the handwriting, so you have to do it yourself -- various ways to do this
  44. Transcribing by reading aloud -- use a voice recorder on your smartphone or computer and read the letters, saying "period", "comma", etc. -- works OK, but then needs lots of editing later and for me that takes as much time as typing them in the first place
  45. Transcribing by using a program like TRANSCRIPT--  https://www.jacobboerema.nl/en/Freeware.htm Free for personal use and has a panel to show the scanned image and a panel to type what you read; will not transcribe handwriting; you have to type what you see; works well and when you press Return, it moves the image down, too.
  46. Can type the lettters into a program like EVERNOTE -- https://evernote.com/ -- free version; helps organize them and will sort them in order, if you label them correctly; can then export them into various formats, including html (hypertext markup language which is computer jargon) for posting on a website
  47. Type each letter into a separate file or note so you can move and/or correct them more easily and automatically insert new letters where they belong chronologically by just naming them correctly
  48. Computer scientists are working on transcribing handwriting, but it's not there yet

  50. File naming is the key to sorting and finding what you are looking for
  51. My system -- more details in other classes and articles on my website http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html
  52. Example:  ESLETTER-1884-09-03-From,SnowErastus,MissouriStLouis-To,BemanArtimesia(Snow),UtahStGeorge .
  53. ESLETTER at the start makes these all sort together; the date in International Date Format YYYY-MM-DD makes them sort in chronological order regardless of when you transcribed them; the locations and people make it so you can find what you want
  54. Naming system works in general files or in a program like EVERNOTE
  55. The freeware program EVERYTHING, available from  http://voidtools.com/ , will find, sort, and show all files on your computer, regardless of folder, in order so these all sort where they belong
  56. EVERYTHING can be used to move files or edit file names, if needed
  57. If the collection is moved into a separate folder, they will be sorted there in chronological order without EVERYTHING

  59. Correct typos whenever you see them, since you may not be able to find them later.
  60. Add editorial comments in square brackets [...] such as correct spellings of names or locations, so they are findable and add information about words, e.g. EB in Erastus Snow's letters refers to Erastus Beman Snow (1853-1900) -- this makes the terms findable
  61. Many mispelled words don't need correcting since they won't be searched for and are clear from the context.
  62. The freeware program EVERYTHING will search for words in the titles of files, but not in the text
  63. To search for text content several free programs are available; one is FREE COMMANDER from  http://freecommander.com/en/summary/ -- In FREE COMMANDER select the folder or files you want to search through and click File > Search (or just CTRL+F), fill in the information and press Enter.  Press ESC to stop or when finished.  Clicking on any of the found file names will open the program they need and show them.  It does not show a snippet around the search terms and that would be helpful.  The only way I know to highlight the search terms in the file is to use CTRL+F in the program that opened the file. 


  64. Make a note of interesting things when you see them, e.g. a short note about it and the letter date; can compile these and sort them into categories later
  65. The interesting item list for Erastus Snow has hundreds of items which I categoried later into things like Family Life, LDS Church History, Health and Physical Well-Being, Sayings of the Times, etc.  
  66. Analyzing the collection -- What they tell us
    1. Glimpses into the lives, events, and personalities of the people -- only a partial history of the family since only written when someone was away
    2. Provides a database that can be searched for names, events, locations, etc.
    3. Provides a timeline of the location of family members 
    4. Preserves things like reactions to historical events, language, and sayings of the times
    5. May lead you to family history information about other family members mentioned 


  67. EVERNOTE is a program that I use, so here are helps using it
  68. Set up an EVERNOTE notebook for the letter collection
  69. Put the letters as named above in the notebook and they sort chronologically
  70. EVERNOTE indexes all text in any note, so they are searchable automatically
  71. To print them all highlight the collection and press Print; can print them to hardcopy or pdf 
  72. To export them to post online, for example, use the Export command and save them to separate html files (computer jargon); you get a folder with all the files and an index file to click to go to any one; it runs in your browser and looks like you are online, but you are only on your computer 
  73. Looking at them in this format helps find additional typos and corrections needed; be sure to correct them in the original EVERNOTE file, not just the exported html file 
  74. In html format the CTRL+F Find Command in browsers works to search for anything in the collection
  75. The html files are ready to post online, if desired.
  76. EVERNOTE has a "Presentation" mode in the commercial versions.  To see a single note in presentation mode just click on the Projection Screen icon at the top-right of the note.  To see a collection of notes in presentation mode, highlight them all, right click, and select Present, or click on the Start Presentation button below.  You will see the notes in full-screen with larger text so it shows up well on a projector or even just on a computer monitor for several people to watch.  The mouse wheel, the arrows down and up, and the Pages down and up buttons move you down and up through a note.  When showing several notes, CTRL+(Right Arrow) or CTRL+(Left Arrow) takes you to the next or previous note.  When you reach the last note, it cycles back to the first note you highlighted.  The ESC key takes you out of presentation mode.  This is a simple way to show the notes without having to export them from EVERNOTE, but it is not available in the free version.
  77. To view and search the Erastus Snow letters on my website I have set it up so you can do Google site-searches by clicking on the Google Search link at the top of my website and entering the search terms -- see the "Click Here To Google Search" note at the top of my webpage  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html .

  79. Letter collections can be a major source of family history information and provide interesting glimpses into the lives of you or your ancestors.
  80. They are a major step in "turning your heart to your fathers".

  81. Return to the Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group Home Page or Don's Class Listings Page .
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