The Postal Service does not comment on how many pieces of mail are considered undeliverable each year. Reasons for such mail include that the recipient is deceased, an attempted delivery could not find the addressee or the address is illegible.
Pieces of mail that can’t be delivered are returned to the sender, the service said.
Lost mail can turn up at the Mail Recovery Center, the lost-and-found department of the Postal Service. Once called the Dead Letter Office, the center works “to reunite undeliverable packages and letters with either sender or recipient,” according to the service.
If the service can’t deliver the items or return them to senders, they are then donated, recycled, discarded or auctioned off. People can visit the Postal Service website to find missing mail.
Ms. Keech said that if she could not find a relative of the McQueens, she planned to present the letter to a local museum.
The letter is not the only one to have a decades-late delivery in recent years.
In May, an Indiana woman named Janice Tucker said she received a letter from her brother sent during his time in the Vietnam War. Ms. Tucker, told WHAS-TV that the five-page letter was not in its original envelope, which had a 5-cent stamp, but was postmarked May 10, 2020, instead. “Someone found this and found out who I was,” she told the station.
Last year, a woman and her brother received a Christmas card postmarked from 1937 and sent by their late grandmother, according to The Billings Gazette in Montana. The letter was believed to have been stuck to the bottom of a canvas mail bag before a postal worker tracked down the relatives of the sender, according to the paper.
In 2011, a Brooklyn couple received a postcard that was dated 1912 with a 1-cent stamp. The card had been mailed in 2011 from Denver, where there had been a show featuring collectible postcards, but it was not clear where the postcard had been for almost a century.
Alain Delaquérière contributed research.