Interesting what you’ve found so far. Should the paper be publishing these letters? With my current project I’m not publishing anything written by someone who hasn’t been dead at least 70 years. If they don’t know who the heirs are, who holds the copyright?
Craig was kind enough to answer my question with another post: Should Newspaper be publishing "Love Letters"? From what he says, the letters that I have would fall under the 1909 copyright law rather than the current law, which I wrote about here. After reading Craig's explanation I feel I can publish some of the letters that I was only planning to excerpt. I doubt very much that there would be any repercussions should I publish any of the letters irregardless of the copyright but for me it's about doing it right, not what I feel I can get away with.
Be sure to read his entire post as he addresses not only the copyright issue but also privacy and ethical questions. The ethics question is a tough one for me, on the one hand I have no qualms about publishing the letters of my long gone family members. On the other hand, I know my mother would be livid at the thought that I might publish her letters from the 1940's shortly after her death. Stop over and tell Craig what you think.