Inspiration from the Past

Yesterday I had the opportunity to decipher a letter written by one of my husband’s ancestors who was in California–a gold rush immigrant–to another family member. My husband remembered listening to his grandfather read the letter to him when he was a kid. The letter was blunt and to the point: “I regrett to write to you at this late date of the death of your father…”

The letter was written five years after the death of said father, and goes on to say that the father had been in debt and the letter writer needed money to clear the debts. It is a glimpse into writing style, family dynamics, and general life in the American west in 1887.

As I transcribed the letter, which has been nearly destroyed with age, all I could think of was what a gift it was. What an incredible source of writing material, and a beautiful starting point for a story.

After I read the transcribed letter aloud, my husband began to laugh. He asked to see my latest book. That story begins with a letter telling of the death of the main character’s father…

The letter had been the prompt for the story, and was written by my husband. Until he heard the historical letter read out, he hadn’t realised what had inspired his story prompt, but the tone and pacing were almost identical.

I’ve squirreled away the transcription, and expect I will bring it out again for inspiration some day. It makes me wonder what scraps of my own life might survive the years and inspire others long after I’m gone.


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