Providing practical, down-to-earth advice for family historians since 1995, online since 1985.
Old letters, postcards & telegrams
Archivists will tell you the best way to store
paper items is:
Here are my recommendations:
1. Determine if the pages will crack if placed flat. If so, then we must address the issue of increasing the humidity to "gradually" open them. This DOESN'T mean spray them with your steam iron -- THAT would make the ink run.
I recommend contacting your county historical society for recommendations on local archivists. Alternately, you can find out about archival products from www.lightimpressionsdirect.com and look for books on archival methods through your local public library.
2. Scan or color photocopy each item and use these copies from now on when transcribing the handwriting.
3. Place each photocopy in a top-loading sheet protector and place in chronological order in a 3-ring binder for display.
4. Following each photocopy, place the printout of the word-for-word transcription. If you have pages where there is no writing on the back, try to place the original on the left-facing page, and the transcription on the right. In this manner your reader can directly identify with the handwritten page as he is reading your interpretation of the handwriting.
5. Observe normally-accepted transcription guidelines, i.e.
-- Do not add or subtract any letters.
-- If you MUST make comments, do them on a separate sheet, and clearly label them: [NOTES FROM TRANSCRIBER] or some such.
Well, let's talk about what the experts do. I am thinking back to my visit to the Georgia State Archives. I ordered a particularly large Confederate Civil War file from the vault. It had letters sent home from a soldier in the field, and included a small suede-covered 2"x4" notepad of sorts, with perhaps 10-12 pages.
-- The file came to me in an acid-free box with
acid-free folders inside.
You can purchase acid-free folders through Light Impressions.
As for sending the originals to a state archive, why not consider eventually sending them to the US Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania? http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usamhi/ Include with your submission, a report of the Uncle, his service unit, etc.
Your uncle's collection will be catalogued by his name AND his service unit.
From a genealogical point of view, this makes it easier for others who had ancestors in the same unit to find his letters which were actually reports of his life and times over in Germany during the war.
When I think back on my Civil War ancestors, I have yet to discover a diary or letters. I've learned only a little about their days in service from their pension files. However, I've learned a lot about one of the soldiers because a much has been written in diaries and official entries about his unit. By comparing dates of service, I know that the driving rain described by another soldier was also endured by my ancestor, as they were both privates. That other soldier described the meager provisions, lack of adequate food, and the fact that they were camped on a river bank, with the waters rising. The want of one egg to eat was a major theme.
I am so grateful that the family of that other soldier made those personal letters available to the public. A little note here and a sentence there helped me picture what my soldier ancestor was going through on that stormy night's camp by the riverside.
Your large collection of letters with seemingly personal comments is a very valuable eye-witness report of what life was like during WWI and during his service in Germany. Whether you chose to create a website and keep the originals, or share them as I have suggested, do consider how important it is that people learn what happened to your Uncle and his unit while they served in the military.
Happy family tree climbing!