Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, shares her proven strategy for preserving old letters and envelopes!
Jackie from Minnesota asks: “I have a number of letters and envelopes from my Dad to his parents and my Mother that I saved from a box in the early 2000s. My Dad served in the Navy in WWII. They are in good shape and I keep them in a keeper-trapper inside a banker’s box. They are also (mostly) scanned and saved in the cloud. However, I want to make sure I can save the actual paper as well, so what do you recommend for long-term archival storage of old envelopes and the letters inside? Should I keep them together or display them separately? None of these items are particularly fragile, fortunately, but I am sure they will be come so with time. Thank You Archive Lady!”
Marie Stockard Son’s WWII Letters, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
I love answering these types of questions! Jackie has a true treasure trove of old letters and the envelopes they were mailed. Old letters – whether they are personal correspondence, war time letters or even love letters – are some of the most important records that as genealogists we can preserve. Old letters are records that could contain family information not found anywhere else. These letters could also contain historical information about local or world events that historians don’t even know about that could help tell the truth about an event like a battle during WWII. Our old letters should be protected, preserved, and shared so the information contained in them never disappears.
Jackie has her old letters protected because she has them in a banker’s box but preserving these old letters should go a step further. The paper that these letters are written on are deteriorating daily, it is just the nature of the paper the letters are written on. All paper products deteriorate and the fiber in the paper breaks down every day and the steps we take to preserve them will help slow that deterioration.
Old Letters, Marie Stockard Manuscript Collection, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
The letters, with their envelopes, should be placed in archival sleeves. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes of archival sleeves to accommodate any size letter and envelope. The archival materials stores (see list below) have archival sleeves that can be easily purchased. It is extremely important that Jackie saves and includes the envelopes the letters were mailed in the archival sleeve. The information on an envelope can be invaluable to genealogy research so I always encourage genealogists to keep the envelopes and archive them right along with the letters themselves. Once Jackie has all her letters and envelopes in archival sleeves, she will then need to place them into an archival box. I recommend Hollinger boxes like these:
Hollinger Box, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Once Jackie has all her letters and envelopes in archival sleeves and boxes, it is imperative that she store them in a cool, dark, and dry place. Genealogical records should not be stored in an attic, garage, basement or anywhere the temperatures and humidity levels fluctuate. Consistent environmental levels such as temperature and humidity will ensure our genealogical records will survive for our future generations to enjoy. A dark closet or dark room in your home is a perfect place to store genealogical records.
If you have old letters and other correspondence from your ancestors, make the effort to preserve them correctly for the future.
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If you have a question for The Archive Lady, please send them via email and I could use your archival question in an upcoming edition of The Archive Lady column. Melissa Barker, a.k.a. The Archive Lady E-Mail: email@example.com
Archival Materials Websites
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Light Impressions
- Archival Methods
- Print File Archival Storage
Melissa Barker’s Webinars and QuickGuides
Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist Webinar
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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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