In 200 Years of Family Letters, a Nation's Story

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Beginning more than 200 years ago, Mr. Cowan's family has kept the messages — people called them letters in those days — written to one another, as well as correspondence with eminent outsiders like Ralph Waldo Emerson, sermons given by preachers in the family and multipart essays sent home while traveling.

The collection, at least 75,000 documents totaling hundreds of thousands of pages filling 200 boxes, is one of the largest private family troves that has turned up in recent years, genealogy experts say.

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