Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

5/8/2004

Warletters.Com

Although an american Website it does give very useful tips on the perservation of documents and letters. In Scotland advice can be obtained from the National Museums of Scotland or from the Scottish National Archives. For further information go to http://www.warletters.com/preservation/

Tucked away in attics, closets, and basements throughout this country are millions of letters written by men and women who have served in the armed forces. Their letters are irreplaceable documents that provide future generations with insight into what life was like—both on the front lines and the homefront—during times of war.

Many of these letters are historically significant, offering eyewitness accounts of famous battles or encounters with prominent military leaders. But even the more personal correspondence, especially love letters written wartime, humanize the men and women in uniform and remind us of the individual sacrifices they have made.

Tragically, many of these war letters are being thrown away, lost, or irreperably damaged. Safeguarding these letters is not difficult, and it is an excellent way to learn about your family’s—and this nation’s—heritage. Different letters need to be cared for in different ways, and it may not be possible to follow all of the recommendations listed below, but the following basic suggestions should help you begin the process of preserving your old letters. (Although this information is under copyright, we encourage you to share and distribute it, so long as it is not used for any commercial or for-profit purposes.)

Quick Tips
One of the most important ways to keep your letters in mint condition is to handle them as little as possible.

For example:

do not staple, paper clip, glue, or laminate your letters
do not put post-it notes on them
do not secure them with rubber bands
do not write on them
Over time, paper clips will leave rust marks and indentations, post-it notes and rubber bands may cause discoloration and/or tear the paper, and the laminating process is irreversible and will ultimately ruin the paper.

Although some professionals allow for the use of plastic paperclips, the Legacy Project does not encourage it. We also strongly discourage using any form of adhesive tape, even if it is marked “document safe” and/or “acid-free”. The adhesive will discolor the paper and may damage it in other ways. If you have already taped, laminated, or stapled your letters, do not attempt to undo what has already been done. This may only cause more damage.

Instead of writing directly on the letters or their envelopes, it is best if you mark and/or label the container in which you are storing the materials. (For more information on this, please see “Storing & Displaying Your Letters” below.) It is a good idea to record the dates the letters were written, biographical information about the person who wrote and/or received the letters, as well as other essential information. Identifying the letters will help other family members, who may find them at a later date, recognize immediately that these are valuable memorabilia and not just a “box of old letters” to be thrown away.

Although the Legacy Project recommends not writing directly on the letters, professional archivists allow it—but only if it is done lightly with a No. 2 pencil. Never use a pen, and never put stickers or labels directly on the letters.

If you need to repair or restore your letters, consider contacting a professional conservator. To find a conservator near you, contact:

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
1717 K St., NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006-5342
(202) 452-9545

The AIC has an automated phone system for callers looking for a list of local conservators. You can also find information about the AIC on their web site:http://aic.stanford.edu
Storing & Displaying Your Letters
Make sure to keep your letters in a place where temperature, humidity, and circulation are all moderate and constant. If the air is too humid, the letters will deteriorate and possibly develop mold. If the air is too dry, the letters will become brittle and fall apart.

Letters should be stored in temperatures around 70° or less and in relative humidity of approximately 40-50%. (Some archivists recommend a cooler—though not cold—temperature, if possible. It is important, however, that the temperature does not fluctuate dramatically.) Avoid keeping your letters in attics, storage sheds, garages, or other poorly insulated areas where environmental conditions fluctuate dramatically.

Keep your letters in areas safe from water, heat, light, dust, grime, and pests. Letters should not be stored on the floor (where flooding can ruin them), near food (which attracts insects and rodents), under pipes, or next to radiators or heating vents.

Do not store your letters with newspapers (for example, old clippings announcing the end of the war or some other momentous event), which are highly acidic and may stain your letters.

If you have a letter that is of particular value—such as a firsthand account of a historic event or a letter by a famous military leader—you might want to consider keeping it in a safety deposit box. Just make certain that other family members know where the letter is stored and that is is accessible.

It is understandable that you might want to showcase your correspondence, especially if you have something historically or personally significant. But sunlight and even household lamps will fade letters relatively quickly, and the damage is irreversible. Interior closets are often an ideal place to store letters, so long as the letters are kept in an archive-safe container and not stacked under other items. It is best to store your letters flat (unless you have old, brittle letters that might “break” if unfolded), and it is important to check the materials occasionally to make certain no unexpected or gradual damage is occurring.

Instead of framing or mounting your letters, consider making a good color copy of the letter and displaying that instead. (Although it will not cause significant light damage to letters if you make duplicates on a copier machine a few times, doing so excessively will fade the letters. It is also best not to duplicate a letter if it is so fragile that unfolding it and placing it flat on a copying machine will cause the paper to tear.) You might also want to consider transcribing your letters if they are handwritten. It makes them easier to read, and you will then have an available copy to share with family members and other loved ones.

Do not display or store your letters in scrapbooks with adhesive (sometimes called “magnetic”) pages. Anything with a sticky surface will ultimately damage your letters.

Ideally, you should store your letters in archival material. What you use will depend on whether you have only a few letters or stacks of them. Although many office supply stores stock products labeled “preservation safe” or “museum quality,” these terms are not uniform and these materials may, in the long run, actually damage your letters. There are many mail order companies that specialize in archival material, including those listed below.

Sources
Please note: The following contact information is provided free as a public service. The Legacy Project is not affiliated with the for-profit companies listed below that sell archival materials. If you wish to purchase supplies from these companies, we recommend that you request additional information directly from the companies themselves. (Many of these companies also provide detailed brochures and hand-outs on letter preservation.)

Archival Products
PO Box 1413
Des Moines, IA 50305-1413
1-800-526-5640
archival.com

Conservation Resources International, L. L. C.
8000-H Forbes Place
Springfield, VA 22151-2203
1-800-634-6932
conservationresources.com

Gaylord Bros.
PO Box 4901
Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
1-800-448-6160
gaylord.com

The Hollinger Corp.
9401 Northeast Dr.
PO Box 8360
Fredericksburg, VA 22404
1-800-634-0491
qshost.com/hollingercorp/

Light Impressions
439 Monroe Ave.
PO Box 940
Rochester, NY 14063-0940
1-800-828-6216
lightimpressionsdirect.com

Metal Edge, Inc.
6340 Bandini Blvd.
Commerce, CA 90040-3116
1-800-862-2228
www.metaledgeinc.com

University Products
517 Main Street P
O Box 101
Holyoke, MA 01041-5514
1-800-628-1912
universityproducts.com

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