©2016 by Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2016-05-28.
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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 got and worked with the collection, the freeware programs we used, how we titled the letter files to make them easy to find and searchable, and interesting things we learned about Erastus Snow and his family from them.  The notes for this class, as well as related information in Don's Freeware Corner and other articles, all with active web links, are posted at  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html


  1. Instructors are Donald R. Snow (snowd@math.byu.edu) of Provo and St. George, Utah and his daughter Linda Snow Westover (linda.westover@gmail.com) of Orem, Utah.
  2. The notes and related additional information in other article is posted at  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html , all with active Internet links.
  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 problems for today: 
    1. How to compile and work with a collection of letters
    2. Example: What we learned about Erastus Snow and his life and times from his personal and family letters


  5. Erastus Snow => Erastus Beman Snow => Eldon Stafford Snow => Donald Ray Snow => Linda Snow Westover; Don's Dad, Eldon Stafford Snow, was in first graduating class of Dixie College, 1913, St. George, Utah
  6. Collection is of several hundred letters to and from Erastus Snow and his families; we work with photocopies; have transcribed about 225 personal and family letters (several hundred single-spaced typed pages); still have more than 300 business, official, and LDS Church letters to transcribe
  7. Sources of originals where transcriptions are posted online
    1. Have given all our originals to libraries for preservation
    2. Have copies of letters from -- BYU Special Collections, Church History Library, U of U Marriott Library, Utah State Historical Society, etc.
    3. Still need to determine sources of some letters; have some in typed form passed down in the family with no copies of the originals
    4. Much editing still needed to identify individuals and places
    5. 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
  8. More details on our procedures in other notes and articles on Don's webpage
  9. Letter collections only discuss events and family life when someone is away, so not a complete history of the family, but Erastus Snow was away a lot
  10. Letter collections are never complete since there may be many others, some may not have been saved, and some may have been destroyed on purpose.

  12. 1856-05-31 - Artimesia (SLC) to Erastus (St Louis) - resigned to living alone since Erastus traveling until he dies
  13. 1851-06-24 - Erastus (Liverpool) to Artimesia (SLC) - talking via letters, takes 10 months to get answers
  14. 1885-07-19 - Erastus (Mexico City) to Elizabeth (StG) - keep all my letters since not writing a journal
  15. 1851-04-06 - Erastus (Copenhagen) to Artimesia (SLC) - pleasant visits with Joseph Smith in his dreams
  16. 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]
  17. 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
  18. 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"
  19. 1851-04-06 - Erastus (Copenhagen) to Artimesia (SLC) - "the old cow did not eat up the grindstone"
  20. 1851-04-06 - Erastus (Copenhagen) to Minerva (SLC) - "keep the light side of the picture up"
  21. 1884-03-14 - Erastus (Milford) to Elizabeth (StG) - "busy as a ________ and happy as a ________ in _________"
  22. 1855-01-14 - Erastus (St. Louis) to Family (SLC) - offers bribes to get the kids to learn
  23. 1881-03-14 - Erastus (Colorado) to Elizabeth (StG) - hopes someone will teach Herbert how to write better
  24. 1887-02-11 - Erastus (Mexico) to Edward H. Snow (mission in Virginia) - about Julia spending too much
  25. 1884-07-21 - Erastus (SLC) to Elizabeth (StG) - Arthur has to get his homework done to be able to go to the ranch
  26. 1882-12-22 - Minerva (StG) to Erastus (Arizona) - about death of Artimesia

    1. Family members may already have letters, so ask for copies
    2. Check libraries and archives near where they lived or in organizations they were associated with 
    3. Check newspapers, especially small-town newspapers, since when someone wrote back home, it was of local interest; examples are letters from people in the military -- I've found some letters from my Father during WW I published in the Washington County (Utah) Times -- for Utah newspapers the website  http://digitalnewspapers.org/  is based on a grant that the Library of Congress has given the University of Utah Library to digitize all Utah newspapers; all are OCR'd (Optical Character Recognition) so are completely searchable
    4. Keep track of where you found the letters so you can atribute them correctly later.
    1. Family History Centers have good scanners (Lexmark) that scan directly to a flash drive
    2. I scan letters to pdf (Portable Document Format) at 150 dots per inch; pdf format makes them viewable by many free programs and easy to work with; if photos are included I scan at higher resolution
    3. Library of Congress rule of thumb; scan at about 250 dots per inch of original to get the inches you will want in final product; since you want letters and newspaper articles to be about same final size, scan at 150-250; for slides, which are about 1 inch high, to print at 8 x 10 inches, you need to scan at 8 x 250 = 2000 dpi, at least, and I usually scan slides at even higher resolution, so they project well on screen; scanning at too low a resolution leads to pixilation (breaking up into little squares).
    1. Once scanned, the simplest way to transcribe the letters is just to read the scans and type what you see into a text editor.
    2. Using EVERNOTE -- available from  https://evernote.com/ ; can set up a notebook for each collection of letters and type each letter into a separate note; keeps them all together and makes them easy to sort, find, and search 
    3. Using voice recognition software -- read the letter aloud and it converts to text, but my experience has been that it needs so much editing afterwards that it is easier to type them in to start with
    4. Freeware program TRANSCRIPT -- http://www.jacobboerema.nl/en/Freeware.htm -- works like FamilySearch Indexing where you see the image at the top and a place to type the information below; as you type and press the Return key at the end of the line, it moves the image for you.
    5. People are working on handwriting recognition programs, but not available yet
    1. This is the key to being able to sort and find the letters you are looking for.
    2. System I have developed -- more information and details in other notes and articles on my webpage
      1. Example of the name I would give to an Erastus Snow letter
      2. ESLTR (abbreviation for Erastus Snow Letter) adds a code at the start so these letters all sort together.
      3. Date of the letter is next and written in International Date Format of YYYY-MM-DD, so an alphabetical sort makes them sort chronologically, no matter what order you type them in 
      4. The From and To formats make it so that I can easily find all letters from or to an individual and also sort on those locations.
      5. Locations are written from largest jurisdiction to smallest, so everything from each country or state sorts together.
      6. I leave no spaces since some programs put characters such as % in place of spaces and they become harder to read
      7. EVERNOTE sorts these in chronological order and they are automatically backed up to my online account and are available on any of my computers
      8. For text files on a computer the freeware program EVERYTHING, available from  http://voidtools.com/ , finds, sorts, and shows them in chronological order, no matter which folders they are in, and you can list by person, location, date, etc., or move them elsewhere with it 
  32. STEP 5:  EDITING
    1. Finding typos and adding editorial comments is a never-ending process
    2. Put editorial comments in square brackets, e.g. [.......], so people can tell it was not in the original letter; my editorial comments are of full name of person, location, event, etc., and current name of event, e.g. Civil War, since it wasn't called that at the time, so they are recognizable and electronically searchable.
    1. For things to remember I write a short statement starting with the letter date and describing the item.  For example, when Erastus Snow wrote that he wondered if the "Union was going to burst up" (Civil War) I wrote a note that said something like "1860-MM-DD - Erastus wonders if Union will burst up - Civil War" and add that to a list of Interesting Items.  Or when he offers bribes to get his children to study their geography, I wrote "1871-MM-DD - Erastus offers his map to first child to learn the capitals of the U.S. states."
    2. My list of interesting things from the letters is hundreds of items long; I categorize them later, e.g. Family Life, LDS Church History, Health and Physical Well-Being, Sayings of the Times, etc., and copy the excepts into the categories for articles, talks, and classes.
    1. In EVERNOTE I form notebooks for the various letter collections
    2. To export from EVERNOTE use the Export command and save them to separate files in html format (computer jargon); this forms a folder of all the files selected with an "Index" file showing all their names; clicking on the Index file opens the default browser and brings up the html index file; clicking on the title of any letter opens it to view in the browser; looks like you are on the Internet, but it is just in a browser on your computer.
    3. When I find more typos, I correct them in my EVERNOTE collection, so the next time I export it includes the corrections
    1. In EVERNOTE you can search them anytime for any word anywhere; can also add tags to help sort
    2. After exporting from EVERNOTE, to search the file names on my own computer, I use EVERYTHING.  This allows finding all letters that have certain criteria or dates or who to or from or locations in their titles.
    3. To search for words inside the files, after exporting from EVERNOTE, there are freeware programs that help, e.g. FREE COMMANDER from  http://freecommander.com/en/summary/ ; in FREE COMMANDER click File > Search (or just CTRL-F) and you get a screen with search boxes for titles or for content.  To search the content of all files in a folder, enter the name of the folder and include subfolders, if desired.  Then enter the search terms in the content box, do the searches, and you see the titles of all files containing those search terms.  Click on a file title to open it.  The only way I have found to get the search terms highlighted with FREE COMMANDER is to click on CTRL-F and type in the search terms again.
    4. To search the Erastus Snow letters posted on my website go to the top of any of my pages and go to the "Click Here To Google Search" note at the top of my webpage  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html .
    1. EVERNOTE (commercial version) has a "Presentation" mode
    2. Click on the Projection Screen icon at the top-right of the note; to see a whole collection in presentation mode, highlight them all, right click, and select Present, or click on the Start Presentation button below; the full screen view and larger text shows up well on a projector or even just on a computer monitor
    3. To move up or down in a note use the Mouse wheel, the arrows down and up, and the Pages down or up buttons
    4. To move to another note when showing several use CTRL+RightArrow or CTRL+Left Arrow; when you get to the last one, it cycles back to the first note; ESC key takes you out of presentation mode.
    5. Projection mode is a simple way to show the notes without having to export them, but is not available in the free version of EVERNOTE


  37. Can sort and count numbers from and to individuals, locations, etc.
  38. Gives a partial timeline of where people were at given times
  39. Gives glimpses into the lives, events, and personalities of the people, but is only a partial history since only written when people were apart
  40. Provides a database that can be searched for names, events, locations, etc.
  41. Preserves things like reactions to historical events, language, and sayings of the times
  42. May lead to family history information about other family members mentioned 

  44. Letter collections can be a major source of family history information and provide interesting glimpses into the lives of your ancestors
  45. Are a major help in "turning your heart to your fathers"

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