The Archive Lady: Preserving Old Family Letters



The Archive Lady: Preserving Old Family Letters

Tammy from Florida asks: “I just inherited about 100 old family letters from my Grandmother’s estate. I want to preserve them so that they do not get damaged or deteriorate over time. Can you please give me some practical steps on how I should store these precious old family letters?”

Tammy asks a great question and probably the question I get asked the most as an archivist. Many genealogists have old family letters that they have inherited or received from other family members. The information contained in old family letters is priceless and should be preserved.

This week at Abundant Genealogy, Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, lends valuable advice on preserving old family letters.
Mrs. J.H. Stockard Letters, ca. 1940’s, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Preserving old family letters doesn’t have to be a difficult or intimidating process. Using the right archival materials and understanding the need to protect these records will insure they are there for future generations to enjoy.

First and foremost, each letter and envelope should be scanned and digitized. This is the ultimate form of records preservation because if something were to happen to the originals, the information contained in them has been saved. I recommend using a flat bed scanner like the Epson line of scanners that can be purchased through Amazon or at any office supply store. Do not use a self-feeding scanner because there is always the possibility of damage to your documents with these types of scanners.

It is very important to save the digitized images in at least three separate places and one of them being outside the home. I recommend saving the images to your computer, to an external hard drive, to a thumb drive and to a cloud-based system like DropBox. It would also be a good idea to place a copy of the digitized information in a safe deposit box and give copies to family members for safe keeping.

To archive and preserve the actual letters themselves, it is important to have the correct archival materials. Archival sleeves and an archival box is all that is needed to preserve old family letters. These materials can be purchased at any online archival materials store (see list below). Remove any metal that is attached to the letters. Items such as paper clips, staples and anything made of metal should be removed so they do not cause damage to the letters.

This week at Abundant Genealogy, Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, lends valuable advice on preserving old family letters.
Encapsulated family letters in archival file folder, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Place each letter and envelope in one archival sleeve. It is recommended that only one letter and envelope be in one sleeve. It is important to keep the envelopes because the information contained on them could prove useful in future research. Once all the letters are in their sleeves, they can then be placed in archival boxes.

Label each file folder with information that will allow you to know what is in the folder and so that it can be retrieved easily.

This week at Abundant Genealogy, Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, lends valuable advice on preserving old family letters.
Family letters in archival file folders and archival box, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Lastly, it is important to store old family letters and any genealogical records in a cool, dark, and dry place. The temperature and humidity levels need to be consistent without major fluctuations. Sunlight can damage documents to the point of erasing images off of photographs and writing off of documents. Do not store genealogical records, including old family letters, in attics, basements or anyplace where the environment can be detrimental to your records.

Old family letters are a treasure trove of genealogical information for any genealogist. Archiving them and preserving them for future generations should be at the top of our to-do list.

Online Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival sleeves for letters 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.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars and Quick Guides

To properly preserve old family letters and envelopes, please watch my Legacy Family Tree Webinar Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist or read my Legacy Family Tree QuickGuide on this subject:

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist Webinar

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist Webinar

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist Legacy QuickGuide

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist
Legacy Quick Guide

PDF version:

You Can Now Follow The Archive Lady on Facebook

Follow Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, on Facebook


If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to:

Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

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. 

©2018, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.


PLEASE NOTE: The post content above contains affiliate links. This means the author makes a percentage of sales via these links. This does not INCREASE the price you pay as a consumer. 

Amazon Associates Statement:  The author is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.


2 Responses

  1. Irene Fallon

    9 August 2018 5:32 pm

    I have copies of letters written to my father. What is the best way to preserve them?

  2. Marcie Ritter

    10 August 2018 10:29 am

    I have many letters written on both sides of thin, air-mail stationery that used to be popular many years ago. Any tips for scanning these to minimize the interference from writing on the opposite side? Any tips for scanning writing that is faint or faded? Thank you for providing such wonderful information!

Comments are closed.