The Archive Lady: Preserving Piles of Postcards
Cindy in New Hampshire writes “I loved your Legacy Webinar Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist (see link to webinar below). Along with old family letters I have piles of postcards from a great aunt that was a world traveler. Some of the postcards actually have family photos on them and others have pictures of the places where she visited. The messages she wrote on the postcards are priceless. Can you please tell me how I can preserve these postcards so that my grandchildren and descendants can enjoy them?”
Cindy asks a great question about preserving postcards. Many genealogists have postcards as part of their genealogical records collections. They can be a great way to document an ancestor’s life and travels. A postcard collection can be quite voluminous, but if they are organized and preserved properly, they can be a great addition to your ancestor’s life story.
First and foremost, all of the postcards need to be placed in archival sleeves. The online archival stores have sleeves that will fit postcards and are clear so that you can see both sides (see list of Archival Material Websites below). Even if you have an odd sized postcard, there is most likely a sleeve that will fit it. They also have postcard album pages that will hold four postcards in one page.
Once you have all your postcards in sleeves, you need to decide if you want to preserve them in boxes or in 3-ring binders. The postcards that have been placed in individual sleeves could be placed in an archival box. The postcards that have been placed in the postcard album pages could be placed in the 3-ring binders. Both options are a great way to preserve postcards
Once you have decided which option to use, how to organize the postcards is another decision. If the postcards were sent by one person, it would be acceptable to organize the postcards by date. The date on the postcard itself or the postmark date can be used for this task. Putting the postcards in date order would help with keeping the information contained in them in order. Many times, postcard writers will start a story, message or travel report on one postcard and continue on the next postcard that is sent days or weeks later. This is especially true for traveling ancestors who are recounting their travels. Having those postcards in date order will help the genealogist follow their ancestor during those travels. If you have postcards by multiple ancestors, organize them by surname and then by date.
One last preservation step is to digitize the postcards. Scanning and digitizing the postcards can help insure they are preserved for future generations if something happens to the originals. Be sure to scan both the writing side and the photo/picture side. It would also be a good idea to transcribe the postcards as part of the process. The act of reading the postcards and transcribing them might reveal nuggets of information that was not found during a casual reading of the postcards.
Our ancestors often wrote letters, but they also sent wonderful postcards to tell their family about their adventures, travels or just to keep in touch. If you have a collection of postcards, be sure to preserve them so that future generations can enjoy them.
Archival Material Websites
Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival tissue paper and boxes can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Archival Products
- Light Impressions
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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