1 linear foot
In general the letters are filled with "mundane" family news: births, sicknesses, deaths, marriages, visitors, crops/business, money/debts, school, and chores. Sickness and death receive the largest single share of attention, including references to medical care and doctors. There are scattered, but illuminating accounts by youngsters of their schooling, including several letters ca. 1890-1894 by teenager Vera Barton in Big Rapids. As a whole the collection is a good source for discovering the role and attitudes of "average" American women in the late 19th century. The majority of letters are written by women and often to their sisters, daughters, or mothers.
The folder labeled "1862-1865, Joseph and Matilda" follows their courtship during Joseph's service in Company A of the 6th Michigan Cavalry during the Civil War. The "1862-1868, Family" folder includes more wartime letters from Joseph and letters from Matilda's brother, George (who served in Company A of the 10th Michigan Cavalry), and Matilda's father, Andrew (who fought Indians in Dakota territory). The descriptions of military service tend to be brief and laconic, though there are interesting references to hospital life and the brotherhood of Michigan volunteers.
As noted in the contents list, other folders include correspondence concerning the divorce of Lida Nellis Burshaw from her husband John, Lida's death, and the raising of the Burshaw children by the Nellis-Douglass family. The correspondence of Joseph and Matilda's daughter Belle (Belinda) through her late teens and early adulthood, including her courtship with her husband Will Anderson, form an interesting part of the collection. Joseph Douglass died March 2,1894. Many of the letters after that date shed light on Matilda's widowhood.
When deciphering the penmanship in this collection, it is necessary to be aware that many of the correspondents were poorly educated, so that spelling is extremely erratic. Also, the legibility of the copies varies greatly, due to the yellowed paper and faded ink of many of the originals.