Written by Wendy Myren on August 26, 2014

The hidden history within letters: the Sinsheimer Family Correspondence

Wendy Myren is a history graduate student (Spring ‘15) completing an internship in Special Collections and Archives. She is working on a project to organize the correspondence of a historic family of San Luis Obispo. This is the first in a series of blog posts in which she shares some of her experiences in the internship and some of the stories she uncovers.


My name is Wendy Myren and I am a history graduate student at Cal Poly.  This summer I am interning at Special Collections and Archives.  In this internship, my duties include: processing collections, preserving material, and enabling access of this material to other researchers.  Upon my arrival at Special Collections and Archives, I learned safe handling techniques and valuable tips on how to preserve these historical treasures.

The Sinsheimer Family

This summer I have been assigned to a specific project: a collection of the Sinsheimer family’s correspondence.  The Sinsheimer family has been a prominent presence in San Luis Obispo since the 1870s and continues to thrive in our community today.  This German-Jewish family emigrated from Germany starting in the mid-1800s, and traveled to America to escape restrictions on Jews prevalent in Germany at the time.  Three of the Sinsheimer brothers–Aron, Henry, and Bernhard–eventually settled in California.  Aron, Bernhard and their families lived in San Luis Obispo and operated Sinsheimer Bros., a successful grocery store with a high inventory of items established in 1876.  Henry, who lived in San Francisco, had a corresponding business with Sinsheimer Bros. and co-owned the San Luis Obispo store for many years with Bernhard, while Aron worked as bookkeeper.  The Sinsheimer Bros. store, located on 849 Monterey St. near the intersection of Monterey and Chorro St., is one of the oldest historical landmarks in San Luis Obispo (see a current street view here).

The Shinsheimer Bros. storefront on Monterey Street in downtown San Luis Obispo, c. 1925 (Sinsheimer Collection, Special Collections and Archives, California Polytechnic State University, 036-8-e-123-05-02)

The Shinsheimer Bros. storefront on Monterey Street in downtown San Luis Obispo, c. 1925 (Sinsheimer Collection, Special Collections and Archives, California Polytechnic State University, 036-8-e-123-05-02)

The collections

The Sinsheimer family donated many of their letters, business records, diaries, and much more to Cal Poly over the past 20 years (See another Sinsheimer collection here).  The family correspondence collection that I am working with constitutes over a dozen boxes full of hundreds of letters between family members.  Most of the letters in these boxes are between Aron Sinsheimer, his wife Nettie, and their nine children.  The letters begin in the 1860s and span well into the twentieth century.  During this time period, letters served as a primary form of communication between family members who were physically apart.  As a result, these letters are not sporadic, but written back and forth between each other regularly.

What these letters may reveal

Although many letters may seem trivial, filled with talks of the weather and general feelings of the day, they can provide a window into important historical events! My job is to organize the letters, document them, and eventually digitize a selection so others can read them online.  So far, I have found letters with talk of the U.S. Civil War, Spanish-American War, William Randolph Hearst parties, scandal, and much more.  Reading through the lives of a German-Jewish family in San Luis Obispo reveals to their sense of tradition and roots to their home country, while emphasizing how national and worldly events affected even the residents of the small town of San Luis Obispo County.  Stay tuned for blog posts about the interesting contents in these letters and learn more about the Sinsheimer family.

Read more on cal poly, History, san luis obispo, San Luis Obispo History, Sinsheimer, and wmyren.

One comment on “The hidden history within letters: the Sinsheimer Family Correspondence
  1. shari says:

    This is fascinating! I visit SLO frequently and hope to live here one day.
    My question is not about the Sinsheimers but about the location that is Sally Loos Cafe at 1804 Osos St. in the Railroad district. Today I noticed two inlaid marble Star of Davids in the sidewalk along the adjacent corner of the building. I wondered if you knew the history of this building and whether or not it had ever been used as a synagogue or shul. I’m a big fan of Antiques Roadshow, so I love history. Thank you.

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