Saturday, March 8, 2014

47 Years of Letters and Cards

What does one do with 47 years of letters, postcards and cards that one inherits from one's grandparents?

Scan them!!!!!

Well, mostly.

Naturally the archivist in me said scan them all.  But then the realist in me said, hold up there, is it really necessary to scan an anniversary card from 1998 that just has the givers signature in it?

Noooo, I guess not.

So here's what I actually did:

1. Gather all the correspondence in one place from the various little boxes we put them in:

2. Then, because I have no self-control over my OCD tendencies, I put them in chronological order.  The earliest letter was from 1959.  There was a house fire in the family and unfortunately any correspondence earlier than 1954 that was saved would have burned.  :-(

If you look at the photos closely, you will see that there is a handwritten date on every. single. envelope.

Why?  My grandmother wrote the date received on every. single. envelope.

I don't think I've been that consistent with anything I've ever done in my entire life.

3. And here is the hard part:  while putting them in chronological order, I purged.

Oh the humanity!  It went against everything in me but I had to be ruthless.  Store bought cards with nothing but an "I love you" or "We love you" and a signature had to go.  Only items that actually contained written lines were kept.  I did keep an eye out for return addresses though, in case I came across one I didn't already have a record of.

4. Start scanning!!!  I scanned the envelope and each page contained in it.  If the return address was on the back of the envelope, then I scanned the back.  Postcards were scanned front and back.

I used 400 dpi for most everything since it was just text.

I used folders for each year, and in the filename I used YYYY-MM-DD-envelope-from-firstname-lastname.  Then changed out "envelope" for "letter-page-1" and so on.

5.  Keep scanning!

6. Geez, keep scanning.

7. Done!  Oh wait, there's a pile over there I forgot.

8.  Scan some more.

9. Start playing drinking games.  For every time my Great Uncle Tony used a red pen, take a shot.  For every time my Great Aunt Mazie included a recipe, take a shot.

10. Sleep it off.

11. Now we're actually finished!

Yep, that's right - 1 GB total.

Here are the one's that made it through the cull and got scanned:

12. Start burning them to media to give to all my relatives.  Also a backup for myself.  :-)  I don't need to give a GB of files to each relative - for instance my Domelle relatives don't need letters from Aunt Mazie and vice versa.

So what did I get from this experience?

The most wonderful thing is I feel like I know my Great-Grandmother Cornelia Simpson, my Great Aunt Mazie Patrick and my Great Uncle Tony Domelle as real people now - they were people I barely or never met in person and they were the most prolific writers to my grandparents.  It's wonderful to have a feel for their personalities now and I am so grateful that my Mom and Aunt told me to just take those boxes of letters and deal with them.  :-)

I found family recipes - the bread recipe my Great-Grandmother used.

I found a lock of hair stuffed in a letter I sent to my grandparents - not my hair!

Lots of health info that is so valuable - Cousin So-and-so had this disease and Uncle So-and-so had this.

But really it's wonderful to have these handwritten little legacies.  It won't be like this a generation from now - kids and grandkids will see our facebook posts and blogs, but they won't see our actual handwriting that gets worse from arthritis over the years, or see our actual signatures.

Yay for letters!  Go write one today!


  1. That's fabulous! I'm so proud! I hope you started #9 early in the process. That's the only thing keeping me going with the 40,000 photos I have left to scan. Yay!

  2. You are amazing, Leah!!! That was a lot of work and I am very proud of you!! mommie

  3. Wow, that's pretty amazing! Good for you!