How To Preserve Old Family Letters

The MyHeritage Blog has an interesting article about preserving old letters:

“If you are fortunate enough to have a cache of old family letters, you are sitting on a gold mine. Letter writing has gone by the wayside since the invention of the telephone, e-mail, texting, Twitter, and Facebook, just to name a few ways of modern communication. Those old letters in your genealogy records collection should be preserved for future generations. Whether you have 100 letters or just one, they are important to your family history and add to your family story.

“Some you may have in your collection could include war letters. These are not only important to your family history but to world history, especially if your ancestor wrote about the war in their letters. Love letters are a great resource for genealogy information and to learn how your ancestors met and fell in love. Some of my favorite letters are migration letters, those letters written by family members who migrated to different parts of the US or from one country to another. Preserving their experiences is essential to ensure the information is not lost.”

You can read the full story at:


BUT… It may be possible to extract DNA from envelopes (and stamps), so don’t handle them or unseal them if they are sealed!!!!


Interesting article – as far as it goes.
What about scanning the letters and transcribing the contents? The latter seems even more important these days with their not teaching cursive writing in schools. Even among us “old folks,” reading old cursive isn’t always easy.

Liked by 1 person

I am in the process of scanning all these old letters and other documents that I have collected as pdf files, and I will put them on flash drives to give to my family members. No one wants my 8 file drawers and 30 -3-ring binders, so this seems the best way to pass on the information to my family. The actual physical items are available for whomever wants them. As I have been doing this, I have found items to donate to county museums where the family lived through the years.


I have several letters written from 1888 to 1889 by my ggfather to his future wife (my future ggmother). I had them scanned onto photo quality paper, then put the originals in sleeves which I will replace with archival sleeves, thanks to your article. The copies are also in sleeves plus I typed each letter which are in sleeves, making them easy to see and read. They are digitized, making it easy to email to family members.


I have World War 1 letters and postcards from my great-uncle — along with the letter from the Red Cross about his death in Vichy, France. I always wondered why he never received a purple heart, and my local Congresswoman helped with contacting the folks in the Department of the Army. I am happy to say that because of those letters, I was able to finally have him recognized posthumously with the purple heart. Many World War 1 records are missing, and without those letters he would have never received the recognition he so deserved.


I have been questioning this very topic because I inherited about 15 years of letters between grandma (in PA) and my mom (in western US). Reading them chronologically is like listening to them talk in the kitchen. Any and all topics are covered. They had their own shorthand for who and where they were discussing, which will be lost after my generation because I was the oldest kid and grand kid on mom’s side and used much of the same shorthand when I wrote letters to either or both of them. I have been trying to figure out how to transcribe the letters (and not use the shorthand) and also keep the original letter. A huge project since they wrote each other at least once a week.


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