Preserving a lot of WWI-era papers?
January 6, 2009 2:23 PM   Subscribe

I have a big box of very old papers (and other things) I'd like to preserve in a way that facilitates viewing. What's a good way to go about this?

I have a quite large box (I'd say it weighs in around 20 lbs.) full of letters, binders, photographs, and various small paraphernalia belonging to a private in the US Army in France in World War I. Most of the letters are dated around 1918, so this stuff is verging on a century old. Right now it's all pretty much unprotected, and I hate the thought of all of it disintegrating and being more or less forgotten. I'd like to preserve it as best I can (though I'd also like to be able to look at it from time to time) and maybe digitize it in the long term. Is this feasible? If so, how should I do it?
posted by Nomiconic to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can scan and photograph most of what you described. That should be the stuff you go back and look at when you're curious about the soldier and what not. I scanned my g-grandfather's WWI letters on a regular flat bed scanner and it did a fine job. The letters were quite sturdy, but of course, be gentle regardless. For the items that won't scan, take photographs. You can then print those things out, put 'em in a binder, and have an easy to view source for this collection (as well keep them on computer for viewing there).

I would get acid free envelopes and folders (archival safe) and store everything Hollinger boxes.

Then store those boxes in a climate controlled area (i.e. no basements, no attics!).
posted by Atreides at 2:45 PM on January 6, 2009 everything IN Hollinger boxes, that is.
posted by Atreides at 2:46 PM on January 6, 2009

p.s. If it's neat'o stuff, consider making website or blog about it!
posted by Atreides at 2:46 PM on January 6, 2009

I'd be inclined to contact the National World War One Museum, in Kansas City, or the Imperial War Museum, London.
posted by davemack at 2:59 PM on January 6, 2009

I hadn't heard of Hollinger boxes, those sound ideal for the preservation part, if maybe a bit small.

I had considered putting it all on the internet somewhere, just for ease of viewing, although I'm not related to the soldier in question and I haven't had any luck finding whatever family he may have, so I'm unsure if it's, I don't know, something of a faux pas to put somebody's ancestor's personal effects on the internet?

And I hadn't thought to look for a World War I museum, that could be useful too. Thanks to both of you.
posted by Nomiconic at 3:09 PM on January 6, 2009

If the paper is still in good shape, you could look into borrowing / buying a sheet-feeding scanner. Otherwise, just start scanning a few items each day, or spend an hour or two on the weekends.

Just wondering, if you're not related to the chap, how did you get them? I'm just intrigued, as a box of old papers is an odd thing to come across.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:23 PM on January 6, 2009

My dad bought them in a pawn shop a long time ago, the story goes. It's fairly likely this was in Kansas City, which makes me wonder if they might not have been related to the museum to begin with? But it's probably a coincidence.
posted by Nomiconic at 3:51 PM on January 6, 2009

scan it all in and put it on flickr, along with identifying details so google can find them—you might be surprised at how and why and what people will turn up, including family members.
posted by lia at 4:49 PM on January 6, 2009

I don't believe it'd be a faux pas to post this information on the internet, especially as they're papers concerning a war that has only one surviving American veteran. Heck, there are younger documents/photos that have passed into the public domain. I also concur with lia, in that it'd be wonderful to be a descendant of this individual and to discover that documents existed.
posted by Atreides at 5:26 PM on January 6, 2009

I'm currently doing this for more than 300 family V-Mail photostats and letters on high acid "composition" paper. The Hollinger boxes are great, particularly the 5'' ones. I'm using Gaylord for purchases as they are a little cheaper. Because of the paper my letters are on, I need the buffered boxes. I use a full-tab buffered file folder for each letter and for the WWI era letters (of which I have a few) that are particularly brittle, I'm using buffered tissue leaf between each sheet. Everything is being scanned in at 1600 dpi jpegs (also scaled down for web), transcribed, and burned onto Sony DVDs. As soon as I have a critical mass of transcriptions and images, I will throw them up on Wordpress. I'm sure there is a better tool that I don't know how to use, but I have everything pretty well coded with metadata, so someone can search the site by tags with information like data, location, names of authors and people mentioned in the letter, etc. The DVDs will go to my family and the web resource is for anyone else out there who might be interested or looking for information.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:10 PM on January 6, 2009

@mrmojoflying - Just an FYI: jpeg is a lossy format; you might want to consider scanning in as .tiff for your master files and then saving separate .jpeg copies for the web and other uses.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:50 PM on January 6, 2009

LuckySeven, you are in good company with my wife (who is the data person for a photo archive). My situation is that I can't afford storage space for 8+ terrabytes of data at the moment for the close to 1000 pages of documents. Hopefully that will change in the future.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:08 AM on January 7, 2009

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