Researching Family History with Photos and Digitizing Handwritten Letters

If you’re researching family history, you know that photos and newspaper clippings are great sources of information to collect and share.

But there’s another part of family history that we should never overlook … family letters. Letter writing is becoming a lost art and a lost chronicling of history due to the practical speed of email and now texting.

Heartfelt letters, though, are important in documenting family history but how do you collect them to share with your family now and in the future?

Read on to learn about digitizing and storing them.

Let’s look into the importance of letters.

 

Why personal letters reveal history so well

Personal letters before email revealed writing from the heart. Trying to write, edit, and write again just wasn’t the same as it is now. Think of how easy it is now to write an email, delete what you don’t like, and finish your sentence or paragraph with a new thought.

Not so easy for letter writers of the 20th century and earlier.

Personal letters are an honest window into your family’s history and relationships. They help us understand what was happening during each decade.

  • What was day-to-day life like in the 1930s compared to the 1950s or 1960s?
  • What worries, hopes, and dreams surfaced during World War One and World War Two or the Korean, Vietnam conflicts and, yes, the Gulf War of just a few decades ago?

Letter writers were usually sharing for an audience of one person or one family. They weren’t trying to look their best on social media.

Yet, letters give us clues about the people and the time they were living in, as described in this write-up from History Matters, a service of George Mason University (the link is at the end of this post):

… almost any individual diary or letter resembles others from the same time and place. All were created and exchanged by classes of literate people who had the time and means to reflect and correspond. Consequently, in any given era, diaries and letters tend to follow certain shared forms or styles.

 

How to use letters in your family history

Think of everything we have, or may have, to research and chronicle our family’s story through the decades:

  • Photos
  • 8mm home movies
  • VHS videos
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Oral histories from living elder friends and relatives

And we also have personal letters.

But how do you chronicle them and store them for future generations?

I’ve been a photo coach for almost 30 years with a passion to help families organize and preserve their stories. That’s why I named my company Safeguard Your Memories (a division of Photo Solutions with Melody, LLC).

My work for my clients was always helping them keep their family history and story safe, even in the days of traditional scrapbook albums. Now, I can do that using a specific platform.

 

A Permanent Storage Solution for Family History Files

There was never a permanent solution until I found one several years ago and it’s one that I personally use and have with my clients use as well: FOREVER®, a complete memory-keeping solution where all of your older memories and the ones on your phone or other device are all stored in one place.

Here’s why FOREVER® is so powerful.

You can digitize all older media files, including fragile hand-written letters, and permanently store them. Storage is guaranteed for a lifetime plus 100 years and beyond.

I’ll gladly share how the guarantee is made.

Let’s look at a real example of letters being shared digitally.

On the FOREVER® blog, there’s a post by Roxanne Buchholz about letters her grandparents wrote during World War Two titled One Letter at a Time:

“I was able to relive history – portions of my grandparents’ lives that I had never known….These letters had traveled between the Aleutian Islands where my grandfather was stationed; Bellingham, Washington where my grandmother lived; and Niagara Falls, New York where my great-grandparents lived during World War II between 1942-1945. I always had a very close relationship with my grandparents, but now for the first time ever, I truly understood them. I could feel them with me even though they are now gone. Their recognizable handwriting often brought tears to my eyes as they told of their first meeting, courtship, wedding day, and birth of their first child.”

You can see the letters and how they’re included in an album that is set to public viewing. The albums allow you to restrict viewing to private, with specific family and friends or make public. Here’s a screenshot of the album:

Screenshot of letters stored in digital album
On the FOREVER blog One Letter at a Time.

Now let’s take a look inside a FOREVER album and the letters as stories.

Cindy Marks is a friend and photo coach. She’s building Family Stories, Forever Saved and uses FOREVER® to store family stories.

Here’s a photo of her family from 1963. Cindy is in the middle and her older sister Holly, left, now living in Florida; younger sister Sheri, now in Texas; and her parents Stan and Fran Slater.

Cindy's family with her parents and sisters

Cindy has digitized letters that her grandmother Lorene Box wrote after traveling from small town Texas in August 1959 to San Francisco with Cindy’s mother Frances Slater and Cindy’s older sister, Holly, age 4. They were on their way to meet Cindy’s father Stan who was in the Navy. They arrived just in time to see his ship sailing into San Francisco Bay.

“I love how Grandma describes her first impressions of California and of seeing Daddy’s ship enter port! Grandma was just a small town farm wife who came to live with my family after her husband died. I was the middle daughter and she was like a second mother to me.”

Cindy and her mother having fun in recent years

 

Here are Cindy and her mother, clowning around in recent years.

You can also read more on Cindy using photos in stories in this post:

How to Use Photos in Writing Your Family Story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s one letter, four pages long and is stored in Cindy’s FOREVER® account. The handwriting is light but Cindy transcribed each page in the Description section of her album.

Here’s a page on motel letterhead describing a portion of their travels:

Family letter digitized
Thanks to Cindy Marks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This page describes the ship sailing in and a mention of San Francisco traffic:

What does this tell us about FOREVER®?

All older media files are digitized through FOREVER®’s facilities in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Customer service is outstanding because, like Roxanne writes, the digitization team took great care in handling the letters.

Once files are digitized, then users can place them in their FOREVER® account in a main holding section called the Library. From there, the files can be organized into Albums as you can see in this screenshot.

They’ll complement family photos. Imagine if you have the letters and photos of great-grandparents. The digital files can be used as truly creative gifts like photo books and given as Christmas presents or mementos at any time of the year.

Or the photos and letters can be arranged on wall art, and everyday items like mugs, and calendars.

 

Store your family research–permanently

Are you researching your family’s history? There are plenty of free resources to help you get the information you need on particular individuals or towns. But if you’re stuck, FOREVER® also has professional researchers who can uncover hard-to-find records.

The researchers are especially helpful if your family immigrated from another country. Language barriers may make it hard to access needed records or gaps in your research, especially if that information is in newspapers that shut down long ago or in pre-world war local records.

FOREVER® has the tools needed to chronicle a complete family history.

The albums can be shared with future generations well into the next century and beyond so your grandchildren—and their grandchildren—can enjoy the photos, videos, and personal letters that tell the story of your family.

 

I’m here to help

Adult daughter with her senior mother
Me and mom today

Let me know how I can assist you. If you have questions on FOREVER®’s services like digitization, storage, photo books, family research, and more.

I invite you to try the service yourself with 2 free GB of storage space so you can see how easy it is to upload images and organize them in albums.

Check the Events page on my website to make new friends and join others who are writing their family stories in their FOREVER® albums.

Contact me with any questions.

And if you have an interest in becoming a photo coach, let me know and I’ll share about my experiences.

 

Read more about writing family stories with Cindy Marks in this post:

How to Use Photos in Writing Your Family Story

Here are links used in this post:

FOREVER blog: One Letter at a Time

History Matters, a service of George Mason University

 

 

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At Safeguard Your Memories, we go beyond mere photo storage. We empower you through personalized photo coaching, guiding you through the process of photo digitization, organization, and creative printing solutions.

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