One of the best ways to learn about families is to read their personal papers: letters, diaries, and wills. Letters and diaries give specific information about people as well as revealing their attitudes, beliefs, feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams. Both are very personal documents, letters generally intended for an audience of one, diaries often completely private records of thoughts, ideas, and reactions. Frequently families keep collections of correspondence between their relatives. Wills can be helpful in similar ways. While the main purpose of a will is to give instructions about the distribution of assets, they can give clues about the private functioning of the family, and communicate what is most important to the deceased. Wills, with a copy of the estate inventory and often a copy of the death certificate, can be found in the local probate court archives. Both of these types of documents can be very informative, but good researchers will consider them in the context of what they know of the history, and already understand about the family.

We learned from reading Anna Tirocchi's last will and testament that the beneficiaries of her life insurance policy were her sisters Laura and Eugenia and the two children of her brother Frank. After expenses, the remainder of her estate was placed in trust for the support of her sister, Laura. Laura's daughter, Beatrice was the executor of the estate and inherited the residual when her mother died.

Family letters helped us to understand that Dr. Cella remained close to two of his sisters in California, who were also clearly fond of his wife and sister-in-law. Many of the family letters were in Italian, the language the older family members were most comfortable using.

We also located a diary kept by one of the Tirocchi clients and used it to glean information about the social context of the lives of the Tirocchi clientele. The diarist made extensive notes of her social engagements, parties and functions she had attended, other guests.

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You can find information gleaned from wills, letters and diaries throughout the Family and Clients pages