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History

Ancestor Diaries, Letters, and Artifacts

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What should I do with these primary documents and artifacts?

Civil War soldiers wrote millions of letters home to loved ones. They spent hundreds of hours pouring over diaries, as they chronicled one the of the pivotal events in American history. On the home front too—family members wrote back to their loved ones in the army and kept diaries as well. 

Over the years we have received countless inquiries from descendants that have access to these precious documents. They too, have access to some of the items that the soldiers carried on the battlefield, and brought home after the war.  They want to know what they can, and should, do with them. Here are a few frequently asked questions on this topic, as well as some advice as to what you can do with your documents and artifacts. 

 

Can I donate my collection to the Civil War Trust?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. We do not have an archival facility. These documents and relics require a great deal of care, and sometimes treatment, to keep them in good condition. They also can take up a large amount of space, which we do not have in our offices. 

 

Where can I donate my collection to?

There are a large number of repositories that you can donate your collection to.

  • Local historical societies.
  • Local museums.
  • Research universities such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, Yale University, to name a few. 
  • State and national battlefield parks.
  • In rare cases, the Smithsonian Institution. 

 

If I decide to donate my collection to an institution, is the donation tax deductible?

You will need to work those details out with the institution that you are making the donation to and/or speak with a tax professional.  

 

I want scholars to have access to the documents that I have, but I do not want to give the originals away, what can I do?

In this digital age it is easier than ever to gain access to primary documents. Museums, historical societies, and other repositories are digitizing thousands of pages of documents per day. Many would be happy to simply have digital copies of what you have, and you can retain the physical documents. 

 

I would like someone to write a book based on the documents that I have, how can I go about doing so?

This is a complex question.

To start, most primary documents are written by common soldiers. While there are sometimes great accounts sprinkled into the text, few collections are large enough to warrant a manuscript length book. The majority of letters and diaries tell of the monotony of army life, refer to hometown folks that are unknown to a wide audience, and do not have the ability to simply be published on their own—with little or no supporting text. What you have is very important to you and your family, but it may not be enough to warrant a book. 

Please keep in mind, that writing a book is a time consuming process.  A publishing house is a business and they have to make business decisions based on the topic that you present, their audience's wants and needs, and the number of books on a particular topic that will be released during  the business year. If you would like to know if what you have is book-worthy, you will need to contact a university historian, a museum, or publishing house. They will be able to review what you have and give you guidance. 

If you would like to forge ahead with you project on your own you will need to:

  • Fully transcribe all of the documents that you have. 
  • Research your ancestor, their unit, any commander under which they served, other members of the unit that are mentioned in the documents. 
  • You will also need to research any major battles in which they fought, cities or camp sites that are mentioned, as well as any major wartime events (military, political, social) that tie into your ancestors story.
  • Decide if you are going to simply publish the documents and annotate them in the text or footnotes—or if you are going to take a story telling approach, with the primary documents supporting the story. 
  • Write an outline of the proposed book and a book proposal. 
  • Contact a publishing house. Please note: Do not expect an immediate answer. Some publishing houses take 6-8 weeks just to respond that they have received your manuscript. Others will not accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors without an agent. 
  • If your book receives the green light your publishing house will guide you the rest of the way. 

 

I have a manuscript that I have written and would like to have published, how do I go about doing that?

  • Write an outline of the proposed book and a book proposal. 
  • Contact a publishing house. Please note: Do not expect an immediate answer. Some publishing houses take 6-8 weeks just to respond that they have received your manuscript. Others will not accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors without an agent. 
  • If your book receives the green light your publishing house will guide you the rest of the way. 

 

I have a gun, a sword, a uniform, or some other Civil War artifact; what can I do with them?

We strongly recommend that you have an antique appraiser verify that that artifact(s) is real, and have them appraise it. Once you have the value of the piece you have a wide variety of options—including, but not limited to—donating the artifact to a museum or battlefield park, donating the artifact to an historical society or institution of higher education, or you may sell the artifact. 

 

I would like to donate my artifact to a battlefield parks, how do I choose the right one?

Most battlefield parks only acquire documents and artifacts that are directly related to their battlefield. If you have an artifact carried at Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam, or on any major Civil War battlefields, reach out to the park administration staff directly. They will put you in touch with the right department. 

 

I would like to sell my collection, how do I go about doing so?

We suggest that you contact an antique appraiser and have your collection appraised. From there you have many options—from selling to private collectors—to employing an auction house to sell your wares. If you decide to keep your collection consider having it insured. You will have to have an appraisal of the collection done prior to applying for insurance. 

Please note: The Civil War Trust will not purchase your documents, collection, or relics.