JESSIE: Hello everyone and good evening. Welcome to the National Postal Museum's program In Appreciation of Letters--Their Historic and Personal Value. My name is Jessie Aucoin. I use she/her/hers pronouns and I am the director of the Department of Education and Visitor Experience at the museum.
Before we begin tonight we would like to take a moment to gratefully acknowledge the Piscataway people on whose ancestral lands the National Postal Museum stands today. We pay respect to all Native Peoples past and present and their deep connections to land, waters and community. After our program this evening ends we encourage you to take a moment and learn more about Native American histories within your community. And we invite you to explore the resources available through the National Museum of the American Indian's website, a link to which is in the chat.
A few housekeeping things before we begin this evening. First, we wanted to remind you, if you haven't already noticed, that we are recording tonight's program. Once all the post production work is complete we will post on the museum's YouTube channel and a link to that is also being dropped in the chat for you to review.
We also have a live captioner joining us today so if you have any difficulty in accessing the captions please let us know via the Q&A function so we can better assist you.
Speaking of the Q&A function, that is the only means of communicating to any of our panelists this evening. So whether you have a question or comment related to your technology the presentations you hear tonight, or other connections you've made over the course of the program, please use the Q&A to share it with us.
For your information, our evening will be divided into a few parts. Each of our speakers will present individually on a topic relevant to their work followed by a joint Q&A session moderated by my self. So any of those aforementioned questions that you might submit into the Q&A specifically about the content they will be sharing with us aloud tonight during the Q&A session and be answered. If we don't get to your question before our time is up I will be sharing each of their contact information at the end of the program so please feel free to reach out to them directly if you choose.
And lastly, I will send a follow up email to all of you joining us this evening so if you miss any of the links or any of the speakers contact information or if you are interested in any further resources related to our topic tonight, don't stress all of that will be shared in that email tomorrow.
So with all of that I would like to introduce our speakers. If they can all come on screen for us real quick.
In no particular order, I have Lynn Heidelbaugh, she is a curator at the National Postal Museum. And I am so sorry, I see that you are not seeing her. Let me fix one thing. I'm sorry. It is amazing no matter how many times I do this, I am always going to get something, right.
Lynn, why don't we have each of you come off mic for one second so that at least when you speak, they will be able to hear you. I am so sorry about that. In no particular order--going back to that--we have Lynn Heidelbaugh, she a curator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, specializing in the history of the U.S. Postal Service.
She has published essays and created several exhibitions about military mail, including "Letters Home" in the beautiful publication "Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection" as well as the exhibition "My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I" for which she received a Smithsonian Secretary's Award for Research in 2018 and trust me when I say that that is a very high honor to receive that award within the Smithsonian.
Liz MAGUIRE, if I can say hi real quick.
JESSIE: Liz is the creator and curator of Flea Market Love Letters, a digital archive of vintage love letters. Started in 2017, the archive has since shared over 500 letters from 20 different, what she calls, series and I am sure she will explain more of that later, all sourced from flea markets and online auctions.
Liz is interested in the social history of the letters as well as the preservation of the handwritten letter as a form of meaningful communication today, hence the reason why we invited her to join us this evening.
While Liz is based in Dublin, Ireland, and please let me publicly thank you one more time for staying up so late to join us this evening, she is originally from the U.S. where the archive began, before moving with her overseas in 2018. The archive and Liz's work for letter have been featured on SKY News, The Guardian, Ireland AM and many other outlets.
And last but certainly not least, Thomas Paone. Did I say that right? I know I've asked you that before and now I've forgotten how. Pay-own?
JESSIE: Okay. My sincerest apologies. Thomas curates the lighter than air collection which includes balloons, blimps and air ships at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. His research focuses more specifically on ballooning in the Civil War, as well as the use of air ships and blimps in America.
He is coauthor of "Milestones of Flight: The Epic of Aviation" with the National Air and Space Museum, as well as "Between Home and the Front: Civil War Letters of the Walters Family" with our other speaker, Lynn Heidelbaugh.
So, with that I am going to hand it over to Tom now, who will be speaking more about letters from the Walter family. Tom.
TOM: Thank you very much. Let me get this going.
Alright! Thank you again everyone. I would like to echo Jessie's thanks for joining us this evening. We are so grateful that we get to come share this collection of letters with all of you because it has -- it is something that we have been fascinated with and we love just sharing it with others so they can see what amazed us about it.
So, I will be talking this evening about this collection of letters between a family during the Civil War. And the book that we turned this collection into called "Between Home and the Front: Civil War Letters of the Walters Family".
And this collection is one of the few collections of family correspondence at the National Postal Museum and it is numerous letters between various members of the Walters family, a family that was living at Indiana at the time. And they range from 1859 for the earliest letter to 1868, which is some of the mail pertaining to kind of the aftermath of the war.
The earliest letter is what is seen here on the screen on the right. This is actually from Rachel Ward to David Walters during their courting in July of 1859.
And this is a very appropriate letter to kind of start the collection off with. And again, at first you can really look at this as just a grouping of individual papers and documents, but when you really start to dig into them, this wonderful story really emerges and showcases the importance of letters, not only for, someone's individual family history, but also to reveal so many more details about history that we can sometimes miss.
This collection was taken -- Lynn and I took this grouping of letters, we transcribed them and we placed them in chronological order and this wonderful story emerged with all sorts of details showcasing the impact that the American Civil War had on families, including views from both the homefront and the battlefield, and that is a very rare thing to see this kind of complete collection of views from both sides, both home and the battlefield.
So, as we worked with these letters we really got to know these individual family members and really started to see their personalities emerge. And there was a five main letter writers are part of this collection.
The first is Rachel Jane Ward, as I mentioned on the previous slide, who married David Walters in December of 1860, becoming Rachel Walters and she really becomes this nexus of communication.
She is the hub that really helps keep the family together and keep information flowing between home and the different parts of the battlefield where the brothers of the Walters family are stationed. She is critically important in keeping kind of this line of communication open and really making sure that everyone knows what is going on and helping keep morale up between all the brothers as the events of the war shake the family.
The next major writer was David Walters, her husband, he had joined the 5th Indiana Calvary and found himself stationed mostly in the middle of the country at that point, which was Kentucky and Tennessee before being moved to Georgia.
Isaac Walters is the next major letter writer in the series. He is the brother of David. He joins with 20th Indiana Infantry and he finds himself in the Eastern theatre of the war, mostly fighting in Virginia.
John Wesley Walters, another brother of David, he joins the 46th Indiana Infantry and he finds himself in what was called the Western theatre of the war, which at that time was along the Mississippi River. He finds himself and his unit fighting in Mississippi and Louisiana.
And then finally John Louderback, he writes several letters. He is a friend of David who later on becomes David's company commander.
Again through this grouping of letters, which again at first seemed very distinct and individual but as we sort them and put them together we really learned of their personal experiences through this tumultuous time.
We experienced the war through their eyes, as opposed to what you can find in a history book that gives an overview of the conflict. The individuals shared out how the different historical events that occurred at that time impacted them personally and you can really see how they struggled and how they coped with what was going on.
And it really showcased how people in a rural area of Indiana, that they were mostly a farming community, reacted to some of these major events that were happening at this time, including the draft and how a soldier who fought for over four years in the war reacted to Abraham's Lincoln assassination.
So, all of these major historical moments that we know of, that we study today, we were able to see just with such a personal connection to them.
And one of the many exchange that we were able to really dig into as we studied these letters and dug into them was one between Rachel and her husband David in April of 1864.
This really highlighted the strength of this collection because it again showcased this communication that was happening even though Rachel and David were separated by the war and his service in the military.
This particular letter that we see here was written by Rachel on April 18, 1864. And it really showcases how these letters were being used to have a conversation. The husband, she wrote to him, and he wrote back to her, answering questions, responding to concerns.
She expressed the hardships that she was struggling with at home and he expressed the hardships that he was experiencing 0n the battlefield.
This letter is a single sheet letter; here we see the back of it. And Rachel writes about having to take up a job as a teacher.
She had not worked before but with David off at war she had taken up this job to better support herself and their son Willard, who they often call Willie, back at home.
And she starts off the letter expressing how she was feeling ill because she had walked to school with her shoes, which were not in the best of shape, and caused her to get a chill because her feet had gotten wet.
And she brings up spending some money that David had sent her on clothing and explains how guilty she felt spending this money because she didn't want to kind of enjoy all the things of life off of the money that David was sending home since he was off at war.
And she writes "I have got me a new cloak and hat at last. The cloak cost 6 dollars and 75 cents and hat cost two dollars and 80 cents. I would not mind wearing them if you was here to see me wear them but as it is I do not feel right for the soldiers wives here have the name of spending all that their husbands send them for finery and I am determined I will not do that."
So, again, she is really writing here about how the war is having an impact on her personally and how the social climate around town is impacting her decisions. You know, what she will and will not buy because of what is going on, and not wanting to appear to be, again, living in finery while her husband is away.
And David responds to this about a week later, April 26, 1864. So, this does again showcase how quickly the mail was moving, allowing these conversations to occur.
And he is unhappy, and down right angry, to hear that she is suffering and then struggling with the social anxiety of spending money that he sent her.
He writes, "My dear have you went to teaching school without getting you a pair of boots? If you have it grieves me very much if you have not got money enough to make you comfortable. Let me know by the return of mail and I will spare you some. My dear, I thought you was old enough to not mind what people says. I want you to buy anything that makes you and Willie happy."
So again David is admonishing her here for not living comfortably. He doesn't want her to suffer even though he is not there and is responding again with this unhappiness to her displeasure.
He goes on to write how he is struggling with being absent at home and again hearing that they are suffering, and he adds a postscript in which he states "if I had a hold of some of them they would wish they'd never saw a soldier."
At this point in the letter, David writes the only curse words that appear in the entire collection, highlighting just how angry this whole situation made him.
And he considers the cowards speaking against the comfort of his wife and child, to be down right improper because they shouldn't be speaking against them while he is at the front.
And at the very end of this letter he admonishes her. "If you have not got a pair of boots go and get them immediately."
So, again, this is an example of how David is still trying to lead his family, even though he's not home, and how the mail is really allowing them to stay connected to even the quote/unquote trivial items of their lives and they're still sharing it, they're still being a part of each other's lives and experiencing that.
So we took these two letters between members of the Walters family with additional correspondence in the collection and we were able to put them together to form this book, "Between Home and the Front".
Which really allows the reader to see that these are real people with real emotions facing some of the most difficult problems anyone in the nation had ever faced before.
And it really creates just this wonderfully captivating story for those willing to dig into them.
Lynn and I were able to take these transcriptions, add some context and notes, and then form this book and it is now available from Indiana University press for anyone who wants to learn more about the Walters family, and I encourage you to do so.
It really is just such a fascinating work to see kind of down to the granular level how much the war had an impact on just one family and how that represents so many stories that occurred throughout the nation.
But the only way we are able to publish this book was because of a very generous donation to the collection in the Smithsonian -- at the Smithsonian -- which Lynn will now discuss.
LYNN: Thank you so much, Tom. And it's been a great pleasure to work with Tom on this project and a privilege to really get into this collection.
I am going to tell you a little bit about how it came to the Smithsonian and about how collections like these personal letters often come to museums and archives and give you some behind the scenes on that but also if you are interested in doing the same yourself, some tips for that.
And as Tom explained, what we have found so intriguing about these papers is not only that spirited change exchange, but also some of the companion pieces, the envelopes, the items enclosed with the letters, this family's documents in which they worked to try to secure a military pension at the end of the war.
They all gave us insights into how the family was communicating and their lives. And really there is nothing else like dealing with the tangible pieces of those mailings, the pieces that you see here.
But for much of our work we were using, of course images and our transcripts, but I'm sure all those who appreciate historic letters there is really nothing like going back to the real thing.
And in looking at these items that the Walters letters exchanged, of which we have over 180 items in total in this collection, which includes everything from the letters and envelopes,
it really showed us things about the stamps, the cost of postage, the kind of inks that the writers were choosing, style stationary and, of course, their handwriting, each which has a certain personality.
And all these gave us hints about the people, but also the social and economic status of the family.
And what was available to them in the material culture of writing, sending and also even reading the mail, in the ways that they use phrases about who was sharing letters.
And the letter here is an example, along with its envelope that it was enclosed in by David Walters when he was sending that note to his wife Rachel.
Along with a printing issued by his regiment while they were on service in Kentucky in a very tumultuous time and having declared marshal law. So that's what that item in the middle of the view there, is.
And all of these pieces we put together, and they all relate to each other, including this entire collection.
And weaving those in between the correspondence and coming to understand those personal stories and also that background history.
Which I think is what draws us to these collections of historic letters--is about that communication and how people are expressing themselves in the moment in letters.
And it really is an amazing resource to come back to and look at it. And it's not -- it would not have been possible without the donation of the descendants of Rachel and David Walters.
And I'll share a little bit about how that donation happened in the next slide.
And it started with the centennial of the Civil War. In 1964, the grandson of Rachel and David Walters contacted the Smithsonian, Arthur Walters. And Arthur was the son of the couple that you see here, who is Willard and Amelia Walters.
Of course Willard is the son of David and Rachel, who is often spoken about in the letters by Rachel.
And that first set of things that came to the Smithsonian was offered to, at that time, which was the National Museum. And seven used envelopes came to the philatelic division,
which at the time was really interested in those used envelopes, all which were illustrated and printed with patriotic messages.
It was 27 years later that the family reapproached the Smithsonian, now ready to offer the over 170 items of the Civil War collections of the papers that really has those amazing stories in those letters of Rachel, David, Isaac and John Wesley.
And when the family brought that to the attention, again, it was through June Walters Leonard and it was after she had transcribed them herself, studied them and it was not a parting with the collection because the National Postal Museum like all historical organizations, makes these collections available to the public.
And that's really one of the motivators of many people who are choosing to donate to collections. So, a little bit more about how that happens with donations to the public institution in our next slide. Tom?
So this one's got a lot of text in it. But don't be overwhelmed. I first want to give you a little bit of tips if you are thinking about donating a collection that you might have, or this also pertains to what goes into that kind of work when museums were archives and historical society prepare collections like the Walters letters correspondence for access.
And many of our collections are made possible by private--personal--donations, like the Walters family descendants.
And the many motivations are, when you share those similar interests as the mission of the museums and archives, to provide public access, and also to try preserve these significant collections for the future, for researchers and educational use.
So if you're considering, you want to ensure that collections will be saved and have access, a museum is a great place to turn to.
Museums will catalog and preserve the items, and they'll make them available through research, through exhibitions and public programmings and so forth. But it's important that you have a conversation with the museum staff, if you're thinking about wanting your collection in the collection of a museum or archive.
You want to -- need to -- kind of shop around, so don't be shy about contacting a few different organizations and ask about what are the content areas that they specialize in? Who are the kind of visitors and audiences? Do these connect to the collection that you know that you want to donate? Because you may know it very well.
But if you don't know it very well, but you have been attracted to that collection, you've purchased it or you've inherited it, and you think that others need to see it, if you don't know much about it go ahead and tell the museum that that too.
It's an opportunity to try to fill in the gap through research and find out more about the items.
So, when you're talking to a museum and archive the staff will ask you a lot of questions or you can come prepared with many of these answers.
Thinking about letters, they'll ask you who are the correspondents? What kind of relationships are in these letters?
And they may ask you if you have any documentation about people, and everybody loves photos of who is writing and receiving the letters. As much as the handwriting tells us something, there's nothing like seeing an image of the face.
So, they'll also ask you who owns the letter set. Maybe it's just you. But in many circumstances we've been approached by multiple family members who are ready to donate.
If you've purchased them, do let the museum know that you purchased them. And if you have any idea about the previous owner, let us know about that as well.
And it also comes down to how many things do you have, as well. So is your collection going to fit a whole bunch of boxes or is it just maybe one or two postcards.
Museum and archives may be interested in a whole different, you know, different range of materials and different range of sizes and items that you'll have to donate.
And speaking of material, museums do care about the preservation of those items. So if they have not seen it, you don't have photographs to show them of the letters, they will often ask, sort of, what's the condition of it? Is it good, fair or poor?
And what a museum staff member like me who is asking that question, is wanting to know is are there tears on the paper? Is it faded or fragile? Does it smell smokey? And those are the kind of things you don't to be an expert to tell us what the condition is. You know if it is good, fair, or poor.
But, most importantly it's about your expectations about what happens to those letters in a collection and how you want to share those.
And certainly donation may not be what you are looking for with your collection and there are so many more rewarding things or alternative, rewarding things that can you do with your collection. Which I'll just briefly mention the next slide, please.
And, of course there's ways that you can share your collections, such as books, there are options for self-published books, going online with social media. There's a lot of collections that people share through blog series and their own websites about historic letters. As well as art projects.
And a note about if you're really getting into the history of it and you're researching, one way that you can keep going back to refer to particular handwritten letters is to transcribe them.
And it helps you maybe not go to handling the originals over and over again, but it also may help others access some of the difficult handwriting you may have encountered. So, if you do transcribe your letters, my -- a word of advice is to be consistent.
And while you're working with your letters, do consider ways that you can preserve them. Looking for stable storage and environmental conditions, which can you see in some of the tips on the Postal Museum's website.
But, I'm really looking forward to hearing Liz Maguire talk about her approach to handling and storing vintage letters. So I will hand it over the Liz now.
LIZ: Thank you, Lynn, thank you Tom. That was great. Here we go. Now we have to do the fancy magic swift of hands.
There we go. Okay. So thank you Jessie, thank you Lynn, thank you Tom for having me on this evening to talk about my favorite thing, which is vintage letters.
And thank you to everyone who is here this evening. I know that you've enjoyed Lynn and Tom's presentation as much as I have and as much as I've enjoyed reading the book.
So, I will kick off. Here we go. My name is Liz, I am the creator and curator of a project called Flea Market Love Letters. And Flea Market Love Letters is a digital archive of vintage love letters but more on that in a little moment.
I work in marketing but in my spare time I'm an ambassador for the handwritten letter. So, while I live in Dublin, Ireland I enjoy spotting our familiar green pillarbox postboxes, and occasionally dressing up as them.
And when I'm back in the U.S. visiting my family and friends, I like to be elbow deep in boxes of old paper on the hunt for vintage letters. Or, in my spare time, I like to visit a fantastic museum in Washington, DC which is dedicated to mail.
During the pandemic I became involved with a global penpal exchange called Penpaloozaa which introduced me to a rich and diverse community of letters writer on social media.
And since then, I have had the opportunity to meet penpals of mine in places like London, Barcelona and Edinborough.
It's often suggested that the letter is dying and I disagree. I believe that the letter is alive and well, but that we must do work to encourage young people to pick up their pens.
And one of the ways I do that, is by busting out my soapbox and speaking loud and proud about the values of letters to school groups, book clubs, and anyone who will listen.
And I, of course, advocate for the letter by running my passion project, Flea Market Love Letters. And this is a total passion project, I don't profit from the archive and any funds that are raised from it go charity.
So, here's Flea Market Love Letters. Flea Market Love Letters started in 2017 and since then we've shared some 700 vintage or found letters sourced from flea markets and online auctions.
There are 22 different series, or collections of letters on the site from all across history, including both world wars, the Great Depression and even Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.
It's my responsibility to treat these letters and the individuals who wrote them with dignity and respect. And it's the top of my mission statement that the project and letters featured be considered for the very real history and people they represent.
The readers that connect with the project, many whom are here this evening, so hello, see it as an accessible way to engage with social history digitally.
Often I've been asked the average age of a reader of the project and, I am proud to say, just as our letters span the decades, so do our readers.
You don't have to be a romantic to enjoy Flea Market Love Letters, as there are letters between romantic partners, between sons and parents, between friends, cousins and neighbors.
I could talk for ages on the archive, but I will leave something for you to explore later. Today, I'll talk briefly about why and how I came to start Flea Market Love Letters and the methods that I use to catalog the thousands of letters in the archive.
But first, I'd really like to take this opportunity to thank Tom, and Lynn, and Jessie, and the Smithsonian team, again, for having me along this evening.
I was so glad to write about "Between Home and the Front" as the October edition of the Flea Market Love Letter's series Books About Letters. Every month I read and review,as you guessed it, a book about letters and ask "does the book in question past the title?".
And "Between Home and the Front" absolutely does. It's been such a pleasure to hear Tom and Lynn this evening on the importance of the Walters' family letters and why books like "Between Home and the Front" and family letter collections matter for the future.
Tom and Lynn have pulled back the onion skin pages to reveal very real and very relevant implications of these rare letters themselves.
The Walters' often reference paper quality, faintness of ink, frequency of letters arriving or being dispatched; so much the same of many of the letters across history that have been featured in the Flea Market archive.
The Walters letters are introduced by an in-depth, yet approachable, research about the time period in context of the senders, making it an immersive read with lasting impact.
It's approachble for the layman or woman, and this collection of letters is an entrance point into a period of American history. So whether you're a Civil War buff or a casual reader the book is sure to spark an interest wherever your curiosity lies.
And while Lynn has very kindly covered how the Walters letters came to the Postal Museum and how the museum suggests preserving your own letters, I thought we might take a look at how I preserve the letters in my archive.
There are letters in desk drawers and hall closets around the world that deserve to be preserved. I believe that everyone has a letter story. It's time for letters to come out from under the bed and down from the closet shelf.
With the accessibility of social media, now more than ever, sharing letters with family and friends is easier than it's ever been. Whether you choose to produce an album of family letters, cut together a slide show, or considering gifting a collection of family letters to a budding historian in the family, please do.
Talking about letters is almost as rewarding as preserving them. Flea Market Love Letters is a community space dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of the handwritten letter.
When I started the archive five years ago I never could have imagined the conversations that it started, but that's what makes it special. I am the keeper of letters but I'm really the keeper of people's memories.
The letters have come to me in various shoeboxes and shopping bags. A series can be three letters long or can be 300. Many of the letters have come to the archive through generous donations faces by friends and family, several of whom are attending this evening, thank you.
And, while in a dream world I would love to be able to accept more broadly donated letters, as this stage of the project I am unable facilitate that, but I'm happy to help you with your open preservation journey.
The first series of letters I ever shared as part of the Flea Market Love Letters collection, were not the first that came into my possession. Those first letters are those that you can see on the table there -- a series of 1920s letters bought for me at a flea market in New Jersey with a borrowed five dollars from my mom.
When I was a teenager at the time, the letters made a summer project, and it was years later I would formalize my methodology for preserving and publishing the letters as it exists today.
A friendly reminder that these are not museum quality preservation tips. Rather, the Dollar Store alternative with supplies and tools to help protect letters for a few more years.
The first step always remains the same. I make sure that my workspace is clean with plenty of room to spread out. I'm sure to have plenty of binder sleeves and empty bliners -- binders -- or, as I sometimes prefer, portfolio books.
Good lighting is a must as well, as handwriting can be hard to decipher at the best of times. When you're sure that your hands are clean, your space is clean, and you've safely stowed your coffee far from spillage, can you start organizing the letters chronologically.
This can be done by the date itself or in best case scenario using the circular postmark which will tell you the date and location the letter traveled through a post office.
Once the letters are in chronological order, I put them into individual binder sleeves. You can choose to put the envelope and pages into individual sleeves themselves for easier reading. It's entirely up to you.
But, as Lynn mentioned, the goal here is to minimize touching the actual letters as much as possible. So whichever method you prefer is ultimately up to you.
Remember that these binder sleeves are better than a plastic bag, but they are not going to protect your letters from hazards of moisture and mice, so be aware the short term solution is better than nothing, but to always keep an eye on your letters.
When the letters are in the binder sleeves in chronological order, you can put them into your own inventory. I have -- for Flea Market Love Letters, I have an inventory document where I log the binder number and content, such as the quantity of letters and time period.
For instance, it's as simple as Binder L for Letter 31, February 43 dash June 44 28. February 1943 to June '44, 28 letters.
On last count there were 1600 letters yet be featured in the archive. And there are approximately 100 from World War I, 50 something from the 1920s, about 400 from World War II, and between 50 and 60 from the 1930s and 1950s.
Making an inventory means that I can keep track of what letters have come into the archive, what have already been cataloged, and what letters are ready to be shared next. And believe me, there's a lot to come.
The letters are then stored like you'll see on the left side. Remember, I did say this was amateur. When a series is ready to be shared, I photograph every letter and envelope, like, and -- I photograph every letter and envelope.
Included in those, are things like pressed flowers, newspaper clippings, photographs, fabric slips, and more that are often times the hidden treasures preserved in letters.
Then, I transcribe the letters and start sharing them to the archive or website. The transcription process can take a few Saturday mornings or it can take several months, as it did in the case of one series of letters which was 130 letters long and amounted to 144 pages of typed transcription of 57,000 words.
It's a labor of love, certainly, but it's a very worthwhile one. And the letters have taught me that history is not just made up of the names in our history textbooks, but also by the men and women who have lived the every day challenges and triumphs that found or family letters detail.
So finally, here are a handful of resources that you can find on the Flea Market Love Letters site for a bit more information about the preserving your own vintage letters.
And, when you find yourself the chaperone or champion of vintage letters, whether they're found or family, there's a certain responsibility one feels.
And if you have any questions about how to get started on your own preservation project, you can please feel free to contact me via the form on the website, and I would be glad to hear about your letter story and how you are going to help keep the letter alive and well into the future. Thank you.
JESSIE: Thank you Liz. And Lynn and Tom, if you can join us again as well, I'd love to have everybody on screen for us to do -- to begin to launch into the Q&A aspect of this evening's program. I do know that a few people have already submitted questions through the Q&A feature that Lynn and Tom have independently,or individually responded to in a typed answer.
So if you haven't already noticed, please check your chat and see if they responded to you there. But if you have any other questions that you haven't already entered into the Q&A please do so now.
While we let people have some time to do that, I want to start by asking, you know, Lynn and Tom you shared a really great resource on the National Postal Museum's website on tips and tricks on how to, you know, preserve your letters.
And Liz, you've talk about yours. But those are kind of the two opposite ends of the pendulum, right? We've got the Postal Museum which is very, you know, official, there's acid free archival quality materials. And then Liz's, which is far more approachable, but may not have some of that same longevity because of the detail of the -- or the precision in some of the materials that she uses.
So, Lynn and Tom, as curators and historians who really spend a lot of time researching original documents, I'm curious, from your perspective, is it better to, you know, do something and, even if it's not perfect, do what you can? Or is it, like, if you can't do it right, don't do it at all.
LYNN: I really appreciated Liz's approach. And, I was almost laughing when I heard -- out of recognition -- about the keeping your coffee away from things. It's the simplest steps that you can take that are the safest for the material.
Don't go overboard about -- thinking about getting certified et cetera. Do what you can. But, yeah, just clean your hands beforehand, you don't need gloves. Just keep it simple what can you put your time into. All of that's going to help.
And the tips that are on the Postal Museum's website, are trying to make it as real as possible. When we worked on that with our then preservation specialist, I remember her saying that the important thing to think about is, if you're comfortable in a room, so will your paper items be.
So, it means, like not too humid, not to hot, not too cold. So, it's just the sort of basics. And, keep it above water.
TOM: I agree with that. The -- it can be overwhelming sometimes,you know, if you try to get into the, oh, I have to be perfect. But even just moving something out of a basement or out of an attic, where the conditions might not be very good is a start.
You know, even just putting something somewhere that is a better environment than where it had been, is a great start towards long-term preservation.
Don't -- don't store something near the water heater that could burst and flood everything. Just, you know, put it some place, you know, slightly safer than that, and that's a great start to, again, keeping -- making sure that there'll be some sort of preservation even if you're not ready to commit to putting things in binders or things like that.
JESSIE: That's great. That makes me feel far more confident in my ability to start tackling some of these projects in my own letters and family letters that are in my collection.
Sticking with kind of, you know, what you've been doing, Liz, and how you've been working on these letters from Flea Market, Liz is curious -- excuse me, Mary is curious about what method you've used to transcribe letters. And then from there, Lynn, I believe you touched on it a little bit, but if you or Tom could elaborate a little bit more on Transcription Center at the Smithsonian, I would appreciate that.
LIZ: So, that is a great question and one of the reasons why I had to get a different glasses prescription after the pandemic. Because it was a lot of very scribbly handwriting and a lot of close screen time.
What I use for transcription is the old school English student method of I look at it on one side and I type it into a Google doc or a Word doc even on the other side.
It is slow. It is -- you -- it takes it's sweet time, but I think one of the things I appreciated most about Tom and Lynn's work in the book, is that their dedication to keeping the text as it actually was.
So you'll see a lot the -- sort of -- the gramatic -- the grammatical kind of peaks and valleys and things like that, that you might catch at this point, are something that your Word processor is going to automatically fix.
So, when I finish transcribing a letter, whether it be from 1918 or 1944 or whatever, I actually actively don't correct the things that Word tells me are wrong, because that's its authenticity. And some get through, and some don't.
But, the best thing I think, like we've kind of started up the Q&A by just sort of trying to drive home, is once you get started it doesn't have to be perfect, but having a transcription is something that you can work off of to research the letters further without having to touch the letters originally.
So once you have something to work off of for research more, can you go back and polish it.
JESSIE: Transcription Center? Anyone?
LYNN: Thank you. Yeah, Transcription Center. There is a Smithsonian crowd-sourcing organization that's called Transcription Center. All the Smithsonian units can have their collections shared through that.
And volunteers are asked to type away, look at the original documents, they do also audio, as well. There are other organizations that do similarly crowd-sourcing. It's a great way to make things more accessible, but also searchable and discoverable.
So the more that you have that information of digitized, just having those words from those letters available online, somebody is looking for some obscure term, they may find it that way. Because I can the you Tom and I looked up a lot of obscure Civil War terms over and over and over again hoping to field something.
And some of them were through things like letters that had been transcribed and that are online.
JESSIE: And if I can add to that, those are -- the Transcription Center that I just put the link to in the chat, that is transcription of materials that is in the Smithsonian's collections.
So, you know, if you have that collection at home that you're debating what to do with, you know, following some of Lynn's tips and advice on potentially exploring a donation to a museum,
you know, in addition to just the preservation and then the research and getting it out into public that way, if it happens to join the museums collection within the Smithsonian, there's a chance that it then has the opportunity to be transcribed as part of that Transcription Center project.
I'm going the shift gears a little bit, and I'm going to bring it back to the book "Between Home and the Front". So, Lynn and Tom, a couple of questions that people are putting in -- popping in the Q&A specific to you all.
One is about the fate of John and Isaac Walters. So, Carol Lee is very curious to know what happened to the two of them at the end of the letters we have.
TOM: So, Isaac Walters served in the Army of the Potomac in the eastern theatre of the war. He fought in some of the fiercest battles of the war but he survives to the end. He gets to go home.
He's actually the one that hears about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and writes about it and how shocking it was.
We have pension information that states that he lived in an old soldiers home on and off. And, actually, he applies for a pension due to some suffering he occurred -- that occurred to him during the Battle of Gettysburg, specifically. So he survives the war.
John Wesley Walters is wounded at the Battle of Champion Hill, which was a battle that came right before the siege of Vicksburg in the western theater of war, which western during the Civil War is the Mississippi River.
And he survives that wound. He recovers in a hospital, he's put on light duty, so guarding things behind the front. Not on the, you know, in the army -- on the front lines anymore.
He is eventually sent home and he passes away due to illness at home later in the war. So.
JESSIE: And Lynette is curious if you know if either Tom -- I'm sorry -- if either of the Walters brothers have a brick honoring them as Civil War veterans from Indiana that at the Sailors and Soldiers Monument in Indianapolis.
Lynette has a great grand uncle who is from Indiana, and is a Civil War vet -- veteran -- and they plan on getting a brick inscribed to honor them.
LYNN: How interesting. We have not looked at that one. I know that we do talk at the end of the book about Tom had found a tombstone for David, at a cemetery in Georgia and how that entered -- created a conundrum for us to figure out.
How David had died? It had thrown that into question of the records we had. So, no, we -- I don't know about it. That's fascinating. So, thank you. I'll have to -- we'll have to track that down. Give it a go.
TOM: Yeah, thank you very much.
JESSIE: I may be wrong, but I think I saw Tom subtly, like, doing some typing on his keyboard so perhaps he's already started.
And, one more quick question specific respect to the Walters family and the process of publishing the book.
One of our attendees this evening has learned that when -- I'm sorry -- I learned from a published book project -- I'm now reading directly from the question, so apologies. "That the copyright to all letters belongs to the letter writer and then the copyright passes down to their descendants and their consent has to be obtained. So, and this is, again, from the perspective of asker here --
So, I worry about publishing these private letters without obtaining their consent. Are efforts made to return these letters to the families? I don't see any last names on the letter archive. Thank you
So, obviously we, in this particular case of the Walters family, we received the letters from the family as a donation from the museum. Did you then have to seek their consent for the publishing of book or does that content kind of have -- is kind of owned, if you will, by the museum and has the ability to publish automatically?
LYNN: This does -- is twofold. The family gave that with the donation, but also the age of these does not call into question. Now, copyright law is different in different countries. So, and it is -- can be particularly tricky for unpublished work.
So a letter is an unpublished work that does usually have additional years and additional ways that that passes through estates and so forth. So, if you're considering publishing seriously in print, consult a lawyer on that. But they're right, in terms of it is the intellectual property of the author of that letter.
So, even if you might have the physical item, you don't have the ideas that were written as they were written in that letter.
There are ways to research it. I have found people online, family members of -- we've had a lost letter -- you know, lost letters (air quotes) that they have come -- you know, things that were thrown in the garbage.
There's this is one project that I had, and a collector who was working on those and how do you -- can we share those with the public? And looking for the stories on how they got lost through time.
And it's amazing who you can find and if you -- and typically people are very happy to talk about family members well, again, we are coming from the Smithsonian and have that name behind us, so that does help. It may not help if you are just somebody online reaching out.
But, it's -- who knew that we'd do some detective work in trying to find people on in phonebooks and so forth. I had no idea that that's where I'd end up some day with some of these letters, but, yeah.
JESSIE: I see, Liz, you're responding, you know, with your face and your body language so I do want to pose the same question to you, because, of course, you're also publishing just not,you know, in the traditional sense of a physical book. So what efforts, if any, have you made and gone about for getting consent?
LIZ: Sure, so the advice that I received was to, basically, very much along the lines with what Lynn outlined, but the principle features of the project are that I don't make a profit off of any of the material.
So, there -- that's something that I have mentioned at several sites -- several places on the site. At the top of talks I always explain it's a passion project, as well as.
I can say that I was concerned there was a publishing opportunity that wanted the use the letters that came up into the end of last year and I said, you know, here is all the information on the site, do what you want with it.
And according to Penguin Random House, where the letters did end up showing up, it was all kosher. So, the flag I fly is that, in that regard Penguin's legal team seem to think I was doing okay, now knock wood.
But I will say that the fundamental things I try to do are to just make sure that people know that, like Lynn has very clearly said, I don't own the letters.
I am keeping the letters and I have had friends and family members reach out to me that have found the project organically, that have not asked for the letters back, but they have engaged with me and engaged with the letters and, you know, they seemed appreciative of the way they've been presented which is a beg priority for me.
But copyright is a big deal and it is definitely something to -- not to tip toe around. It's important to know what you're talking about when you walk into it. And to just be confident and sure that you're doing the right thing with the individual's letters.
LYNN: And I'll say, and there's couple more rights too. Privacy is something as well.
LYNN: We typically don't, we don't publish, seems kind of odd, current addresses. You know, you can find them in -- online and so forth. We do not do that. And there is an era of military service personnel putting Social Security numbers on as an identifier.
LYNN: So, if you're working with those, redact that kind of information, for privacy.
TOM: On a quick note with the Walters letter project, we did have contact with the family members. So they were aware of our efforts and the plan to publish these. And so there was some contact with them, as well, the descendants of the Walters.
JESSIE: As I may recall from the a previous program we did, that not only did you have contact with them, but have maintained contact to the a point they've participated and attended some of the the talks that you've done since the book came out. So, clearly, they've given their consent.
Excuse me, looking at the time, I think I'd like one more question to go to all of you, if you can.
So Liz, what's your favorite meeting or moment that you've kind of uncovered in your letter collection over the course of the time. And then, same question to Lynn and Tom, but specific to the Walters family.
LIZ: Sure. I'll go quick. The one that I have recently -- most top of my mind -- was the beginning of this year. I featured a series called the McCallister letters. And it was about a young man and woman who were engaged and it was during their courtship, and et cetera, et cetera.
And there were a lot of really lovely I love you's, I can't wait to be married, we're going the have a great house, we're gonna have a ton of chickens, it's gonna be great.
It was in the 19 teen's. And I think my favorite from this year's work was probably a letter from her father to the fiance, saying that she had had to drop out of women's college to marry.
And that, while he wished, well, the father wished that she could have continued her education, he supported the marriage and he believed that they would always have a home rooted in knowledge and learning because they would teach other.
And I think that that's just a very progressive attitude to have in 1914. And it's nice to see that and it's a nice reminder to know that the letters are not all dusty old relics.
LYNN: I'll go and say, Jessie, that's the hardest thing, when you ask a curator what's your favorite object, right? I think there's so many letters that really just captured my attention on these. And I've liked each of the writers for very different reasons.
But, in terms of researching it, and feeling like, oh! I've figured this out. There was one letter that Rachel had written the wrong year on and it wasn't January, where, you know, where you just wrote last year's. It was in June, and it was the clues in the letter that she had spoken about.
Some people in her hometown who had gotten married, she spoke about a cousin who had recently died. So with those two things I could look up and find out what the date was. Because nothing else was adding up in the letter, of this didn't happen in 1863, that can't be. And, so it was 1864.
So it was just those moments of, it's really important the try to figure out who are the people they're talking about in these letters? What are the relationships and that was something Tom and I worked on, as trying as many people as we could identify. And it was really hard.
There was -- there were a few people that we were able to do and figure out, but there was a reference here and there to a cousin and we still couldn't track it down to being a cousin. Long story -- a long story on that one, but just correcting a date was one of those moments that I think I kept telling Tom through an email, like I figured it out. So
TOM: I really was struck -- so I actually started on this project as Lynn's intent. So that's how I actually met the Walters letters and got involved with the project.
And I remember just starting reading them and it got, you know, I got really into them. To the point where it was -- it was, but don't what to go. I have, like, two more letters to read for this year oh, I guess I have to go home.
But the one that struck me, was there's one where David writes to Rachel, kind of explaining why he is -- why he is joining the Army, why is he doing this. So, at the time he joins the Army, they're married, they have a young son, you know, Willie, back home. And it somewhat uncommon for men in that kind of situation to join the Army at that time. But he does.
And, in fact, Isaac writes a -- writes a completely separate letter stating how surprised he was that David joined the military.
And I was really struck by how timeless that was, because I had seen the same attitude, the same things that Dave is talking about, duty and honor feeling like he had to -- he had to go and do this even though it was hard.
I've seen this in so many other letters by Americans who've served in the Armed Forces, you know, regardless of the era, regardless of, you know, any, you know, what branch they were in, anything like that, that same emotion just comes up and that was really striking to see that.
You know, I had a letter from my grandfather from World War II that kind of expressed the exact same sentiment, so just seeing this kind of thread throughout, you know, the history of our country, that was just fascinating to me.
I remember just being so struck by how it was written. And David was one of less literate of the brothers, so the fact that he really worked to write this letter and expressed those feelings, it was very important to him and you could tell.
JESSIE: I don't know if then else picked up on that, but, Tom, at one point you just referred to David as Dave, and I love that you've created that personal connection with him. That you're giving him, you know, nicknames, for lack of any other word.
TOM: Yep, I absolutely did. Yep.
JESSIE: Thank all for your incredible time this evening. I appreciate all of our participants who stuck with us, since we went a little long.
But, of course, big and immense thanks to Liz and Lynn and Tom for everything that you've shared with us. I've learned so much and I'm really eager to apply just a small fraction of what you've shared with all of my personal collection of my family letters.
Admittedly, it's also gotten me thinking a little bit about maybe some upcoming holiday -- the upcoming holidays and, is there a potential gift in there somewhere if I can do something with them?
As I mentioned to our participants, I will sending out a follow-up email tomorrow with all the links I shared with you and more, as well as Tom, Lynn, and Liz's contact info.
Which I believe I already put in the chat, but if not, they'll get it in that email tomorrow.
And before you go this evening, when you close there will be an automatic pop up of a survey, and evaluation. We'd love to get your feedback on how this evening went and your thoughts about it. And we hope to see you again at another program from the National Postal Museum.
A QR code of which will be available on the PowerPoint as we walk out -- as we finish up. If we did not a chance to answer your question, and I see there are more in the Q&A, thank you so much for participating. Please do feel free to reach out to any of our presenters this evening in our own time.
And thank you all, again. We really truly appreciate it and have a great rest of your evening.