The Archive Lady: Should I Keep the Envelope?
Sherry in New York asks: “I have over 200 handwritten letters that belonged to my great-grandparents. They wrote to each other before they married. I have learned from you to unfold the letters and store them in archival sleeves, but should I keep the envelopes as well, and do I put them with the letter or put them in a separate sleeve?”
Sherry asks a very good question that I get all the time about old letters. First of all, she has a treasure trove of genealogical and historical records with over 200 handwritten letters from her great-grandparents. Anyone who has letters written by or sent to their ancestors has a true genealogical treasure that should be preserved.
The envelopes that these letters come in should also be saved and preserved. There could be important information on the envelopes themselves. This information may not be useful when you first see it, but it could become very useful over time.
Important Information Found on Envelopes
Some important information that could be on envelopes are:
- Postmark: The first postmark, called the “Bishop Mark,” was introduced by English Postmaster General Henry Bishop in 1661 and showed only the day and month of mailing in order to prevent the delay of the mail by carriers. The postmark on the envelope could prove to be very important when trying to locate where someone lived. The postmark usually includes the city and state when the letter was mailed from. It also includes the date of when the letter was postmarked and mailed. If the letter inside the envelope is not dated, using the postmark date could be crucial in dating a letter.
- Addresses: Hopefully the envelope includes mailing addresses. There could be one for the addressee and then there could also be one for the return address. The farther back in time you go the more likely the address will only have a name, city and state. Using a full street address with city, state and postal code was not required until much later. The return address could be in one of two places, at the upper left-hand corner of the envelope on the front or it could be located on the envelope flap. The addresses help us to track our ancestors and those from whom they received letters from as well as to whom they wrote letters. These envelopes may be the only place these addresses are found and should be preserved.
- Stamps: The first stamps were used in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on May 1, 1840 as part of the postal reforms that were being introduced. The postage fee was paid by the sender and not the recipient. Postage stamps on letters could help date the letter if there is no date on the letter and no postmark. By referencing an online stamp catalog like the one at Stamp World (https://www.stampworld.com/en/) any stamp can be identified and dated.
How to Preserve Envelopes
Preserving the envelopes that our old letters come in is quite simple. I always recommend that they be put into the archival sleeves with the letter to which it belongs. This way the envelope is not separated from the letter since it could potentially get lost. Archival sleeves can be purchased at any online archival materials store (see list below)
Archiving and preserving our old letters and their envelopes is something we should all be doing if we have them. They not only contain family history and information, but they could also reveal stories of local history that may not be recorded anywhere else.
Online Archival Material Websites
Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival sleeves for letters can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Archival Products
- Light Impressions
Legacy Family Tree Webinars and Quick Guides
To properly preserve old family letters and envelopes, please watch my Legacy Family Tree Webinar Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist or read my Legacy Family Tree QuickGuide on this subject:
Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist Webinar
Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist
Legacy Quick Guide
PDF version: http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1283
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
©2018, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.