This article is by my dear friend and single-digit Letter Writers Alliance member Elizabeth Laney. Elizabeth is an accomplished historian and community outreach co-ordinator. I'm grateful to have her advice on this topic and so many others. Elizabeth has written other articles for us in the past regarding the importance of the post in the historical record for genealogical research.
Just about everything is digitized these days. I’ve spent most of the last five years digitizing my family photos, but completely forgot about the birthday cards, letters, diaries, memorabilia, and more that is just lying around my house being exposed to humidity, poor storage, folding, paper clips and more! Even more horrifying if a fire or other natural disaster occurred, I’d lose it all.
I decided to start with one of my most cherished collections – letters written to me by my brother while he served overseas with the Marines. I have letters from several of his deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. I really cherish these letters – from the hideous spelling of his early letters to the duct tape letter that I knew was coming a day before it arrived (a friend’s mother saw it come through the post office and because it had duct tape all over it she took a closer look and saw my address).
Anyone can digitize their own letter or memorabilia collection. All you need is a scanner.
Just remember four things:
#1 Pay attention to the condition of the document you’re scanning. If it is a modern letter you are probably okay but if it is an older letter it may be quite fragile. Scan it carefully and then place it in an archival quality plastic sleeve for safe keeping.
#2 Scan at a high resolution – 300 dpi or higher. This makes it easier to zoom in on hard to read handwriting and allows you to reproduce your digitized correspondence at a high quality.
#3 Don’t forget to scan the envelope! The stamp, postmark and addresses are just as important as the letter itself.
#4 Store a cd of your new digital correspondence collection in a safe place and somewhere removed from where you store the original documents and your computer. If a disaster occurs, it is best to have an offsite copy so that you don’t lose everything!
I’ve got plenty of correspondence to move onto after my brother’s war letters and a lot of memorabilia. Last year, I even scanned a dance card my grandmother used in 1934! You can digitize just about anything. Once you are done you can share copies with family, friends or donate copies to a museum or archival collection. Once I digitize the letters my brother sent me AND the ones he has that I sent him. I plan to donate the digital copies to “Write to the Front” a program developed by the SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. You can find out more about the program here: http://www.wftf.sc.gov/
She makes it sound so easy! Thanks for the tips and direction, Elizabeth. Anyone want to volunteer to digitize my correspondence archive? And we're always looking to share your letter news and projects here on the blog. Keep us posted through the mail or send us an electronic note!
In this era of instantaneous communication, a handwritten letter is a rare and wondrous item. The Letter Writers Alliance is dedicated to preserving this art form. Prepare your pen and paper, moisten your tongue, and get ready to write more letters!
The L.W.A. was established in 2007 by Kathy Zadrozny & Donovan Beeson. These two ladies manage every aspect of the Alliance, from design, to packing orders, to maintaining the website. The L.W.A. is a labor of love and we are happy you have joined us in sharing a love for letters.