Perhaps there were envelopes, with stamps from far off places, and you read the franked marks that provided dates from the WWII era. Gently, unfolding the first letter, you recognised your Dad’s handwriting as you read his first words, “My Darling Sweetheart, My thoughts are of you constantly as I…” When you looked more closely at the other letters you realised that you were holding a precious family heirloom in your hands, the love letters your Dad wrote to his sweetheart during his service abroad during WWII.
The dilemma faced by many Story Keepers is what to do with family letters, especially love letters expressing the intimate expressions of love between your parents/grandparents. Obviously, some sort of sensitivity is needed, especially if the letter writer is still alive. Here are some points to consider:
• If the letter writer is alive, talk to them about your discovery and ask, gently, about the times when they were written? Where and how the letters were written? How often did he write?
• Ask whether they want to keep the letters private at this stage? What are their wishes about passing the letters on to the family story keeper for inclusion in the pages of the family history?
• Do they wish to censor them in any way? Were there any other letters, perhaps, Mother’s replies to Dad’s letters?
Preservation of Heritage Documents
Archivists suggest the following methods for preserving paper documents like letters:
• Using a high quality scanner to digitise the letter (which enables all family members to retain a copy);
• Mylar page protectors provide a barrier from scratches, oils, fingerprints, dust and other pollutants and will not interact with either the paper or ink of your document;
• Collector-grade ring folders of Library quality will safely hold the Mylar page protectors without the problems such as image transfer or acid migration encountered with cheap vinyl-clad school folders.
• Portfolio boxes are useful when presentation is as important as preservation as in the case of sketches or water coloured accents on the paper, as they are both rugged and well sealed against dust and other contaminants.
• Document boxes are the most widely used container for letters of all kinds, with a hinged lid and provide a safe, acid and lignin free container for long term storage.
Treat your discovery of family love letters with the care and respect they so rightly deserve by preserving them for future generations. In this current, high tech era of text messages, mobile phones and emails, what tangible evidence will remain from today’s young lovers?
A love letter, the kind that crooners sang about in earlier days, is a precious heirloom to be retained in a safe and secure place as it reveals the innermost feelings of the writer, showing family members an intimate facet of the writer’s personality, perhaps no longer evident in the elderly parent/grandparent before you.
“I have spread by dreams under your feet; Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams”
William Butler Yeats, ‘When You Are Old’.