Preserving Military Correspondence 2


On November 11, 2017 the United States will observe Veteran’s Day. On this day, we honor our military veterans and their service to our country. From the Revolutionary War up to today and Afghanistan, correspondence is very important to collect and preserve from the members of our family that were in the military.


Many genealogists have letters from their ancestor's during their time in the military and especially letters that was sent to family members during wartime. These letters can include handwritten letters, postcards and V-Mail. Also, among genealogical family papers could be Western Union Messages that was sent by the soldier or by the U.S. Government to advise the family of the death of their family member or other information.


So, how do we preserve this correspondence? Whether these letters date back to the Revolutionary War or as recent as last week you received a letter from your son serving in Afghanistan, the process is the same and very easy for the genealogist to accomplish.

The archival materials you will need purchase:

  • Archival document sleeves to put the letters and documents in, these come in all shapes and sizes to accommodate the various sizes of stationary
  • Archival file folders, to put the documents that are in archival sleeves
  • Archival boxes, to put the file folders full of correspondence


I am asked all the time about whether or not the letters should be taken out of their envelopes and my answer is a resounding YES! Each and every letter should be removed from their envelope, unfolded and flattened. Place the letter and the envelope in the same archival document sleeve. This keeps the envelope with the letter it belongs to and doesn't get mixed up with other letters. Be sure to fold down the flap on the envelope where the glue part is located. Even if there is no glue remaining, it doesn't need to touch the letter. Unfolding the letter is very important. The act of folding and unfolding any document can cause creases and those creases can become weak and eventually will tear into pieces.

Take the letters, postcards and other correspondence that you have put in archival sleeves and place them in archival file folders. You can put more than one letter in a file folder but I wouldn't put more than ten letters in one file folder. It is up to you how your label your file folders, however, a suggestion could be to put the file folders in chronological order.

Once the correspondence has been put in archival sleeves and file folders, the folders then need to be stored in archival Hollinger boxes. Some like to store their file folders in filing cabinets and that is also acceptable. Be sure to label the Hollinger boxes so that it is known what is contained in them. Store the letters and any other genealogical records in a cool, dark and dry place. This place should also have temperatures and humidity levels that are consistent and do not fluctuate. Storing genealogical records in attics or basements is not recommended.

An additional way to preserve military correspondence is to transcribe all the letters and save those transcriptions electronically. You could upload the transcribed files to a cloud based database, on thumb drives or on a separate hard drive. I would also suggest that you give copies of the electronic files to other family members for safe keeping.

So, if you have letters, postcards and V-mail from your ancestors when they were in the military, be sure to properly preserve them for future generations.


About Melissa Barker

Melissa Barker is a Certified Archives Manager for the Houston County, TN. Archives. She also lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. She writes her own blog and has written articles for several publications. She is affectionately known as The Archive Lady. She is also a Professional genealogist that works with clients researching their Tennessee ancestors.


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2 thoughts on “Preserving Military Correspondence

  • Larry Naukam
    Larry Naukam

    Another thing to do, is contribute a digital version of them to a larger (statewide) project , such as New York Heritage (my state). I scanned and transcribed several soldier’s Civil War records from areas near me, and those are now housed on multiple servers and are available for anyone to download.