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A Genealogist In The Archives: Preserving Your Ancestor's War Letters and V-Mail

Monday, October 30, 2017

Preserving Your Ancestor's War Letters and V-Mail

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.

WWII V-Mail Correspondence, Houston County, TN. Archives

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 from 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.

Correspondence in Vertical File, Houston County, TN. Archives

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.

V-Mail Correspondence, Houston County, TN. Archives

An additional way to preserve military correspondence is to transcribe all the letters and save those transcriptions electronically. So, if you have letters, postcards and V-mail from your ancestors when they were in the military, be sure to properly preserve them.



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Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist


  1. Great tips, Melissa. As it happens, I'll be writing soon about not only finding that my WAC aunt's letter was printed in a compilation of WWII letters, but also about contacting the archives where the author's letters were donated--and getting a speedy answer to my questions! So you are's not all online, and archivists are delighted when they can help genealogists solve mysteries.

    1. Marian, sounds like what you are writing is exciting! I love old letters of any kind! Thank You for reading my blog!

  2. Thank you for these tips! With multipage letters should each page be put into a separate sleeve or should I put all pages into one sleeve to keep them together?

    1. You are Very Welcome! I recommend that you put all pages that belong to one letter in one sleeve. That way they don't get separated from each other. Thank You for reading my blog!

  3. I have hundreds of my father's letters to my mother from 1942 to early 1946. I am scanning the letter and Vmail. I did put each page in a separate sleeve but I put the envelope last to designate the end of the 'file.' I put them in binders. I'll reread your post. Thank you so much good information. I have so much genealogy - letters from my grandfather's families in Italy and South America from 1900-1950; photos, post cards, letters to families asking questions, my house is like an archive.

    1. Angie, you are so fortunate to have your archive of genealogy records. There are so many of us that have so little an wish we had more! Thank You for reading my blog!