Family Letters

Jennifer Isasi Cover image for Family Letters

About the project

The Family Letters project preserves, digitizes, analyzes and makes public a collection of the correspondence and other personal documents of a Mexican American family that migrated from the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, to the states of Colorado and Nebraska in the US during the first half of the twentieth century.

What are the stakes?

Because the experience of Latin@s in the Midwest of the United States have remained mostly forgotten, our hope is for this project to teach about their life and language as well as the impact of migration on their everyday life. The project is a door for sociolinguistic research, high school heritage language teaching, and history studies in general.

What have you learned doing this project?

Too many things to post here. We want to point out two outcomes: First, it served as training for undergraduate and graduate students while at the same time documenting, preserving and analyzing the social and linguistic experience of an understudied group. From the an infrastructural perspective, we learned how to patiently create a bilingual project. It took longer than usual as we were digitizing, curating data, creating lesson plans and, at the same time, translating everything to English or to Spanish, and the technical team had to accommodate two languages for the first time.


The project is a combination of scanned visual and textual objects, metadata files, lesson plans and a website, thus, we used several tools. For instance, the team used TEI to encode letters and other textual information and Photoshop to edit visual material. The technical team used the Cantaloupe Image Server and IIIF to display images and CDRH Orchid (a Ruby on Rails Engine) and Elasticsearch for the website (this can be consulted on our website). Most importantly, we used “tools” from linguistics, education and the humanities at large to organize the information to live in the digital cultural record.

Source material

The collection has materials from Juchipila, Huapamacato and Churintzio in México; Lincoln, Rulo and Havelock in Nebraska; Fort Lupton, Denver, Longmont, Brighton and Camp Carson in Colorado; and also from La Grange in Illinois. Members of this family still live in México, Colorado and Nebraska, and the physical collection lives in Davey, NE.


This was a multi-year, cross-departamental project and, as such, it owes to the labor of many voices working at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Principal Director Dr. Isabel Velázquez is from México and she made sure to offer the opportunity to participate in the project to undergraduate students whose heritage is related to that of the project; Adoni Faxas, Janette Avelar, Brenda López and Sara Reyes are from in Nebraska and Kate Mendell from Iowa. The group of graduate students that worked in the project is international: Sarita García and Veronica N. Duran are from South Texas, Marcus V. Barbosa is from Brazil, Luisa Carolina Julio comes from Colombia and Jennifer Isasi is from Spain. All the members of the Center for the Digital Research in the Humanities, Katherine Walter, Karin Dalziel, Jessica Dussault, Greg Tunink and Laura Weakly, are from the United States. Last but not least, Jane and Steve Shanahan, from Davey, Nebraska, provided their private collection for the project.

One of the main points of this project was to create a learning space where students with different backgrounds could use their bilingual skills and cultural fluency as an asset. And, most importantly, that they could learn skills that they could take into their professional lives regardless of their major (majors represented in the research team: global studies, Latin American studies, Spanish, psychology, English, history, educational administration).