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

Thursday, March 7, 2024

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 were 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, 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. 
You can purchase these on Amazon at this link:

-Archival file folders, to put the documents that are in archival sleeves
You can purchase these on Amazon at this link:

-Archival boxes, to put the file folders full of correspondence
You can purchase these on Amazon at this link:

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.



Want to know more about preserving old family letters?

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Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist


  1. After putting them in sleeves, I put them in binders. I'll need a staff to transcribe the letters. LOL

    1. Yes, transcribing them can be time consuming but so well worth it! Thank You for reading my blog!

  2. Hello Melissa. Thank you for this post. I have done this with all our letters. However, i have considered donating them to the canadian war museum, and their archivist told me that their preference would be that the letters be in the original envelope. At least, because i have used your method, they will be easy to put back in the envelopes!

    1. Thank you for your comment and thank you for preserving your genealogical records and considering donating them. When records are donated, they can be seen by everyone for generations to come. Thank You for reading my blog!