Scan and Transcribe Letters

You know that all your family treasured photos should be scanned and those digital copies stored in numerous locations and on different devices (flash, hard drive, disc). Yet, do not forget to do the same for all the family letters you might have or can get access to.

Those letters (and postcards) are direct insights to an ancestor, what they were thinking, where they were and what they were doing at a certain time. First, do photograph each letter or scan it. Label in the title date, name and place.

Next, take the time to transcribe what was written in each letter (postcard). True, some handwritten letters can be difficult to read or even figure out what a specific word meant when it was written. If you can not even begin to figure a word place this [illegible].


Type words exactly as they are written in the document. This includes capitalization, abbreviations, names, dates, and even misspelled words. If there is some special, a drawing, such as a ‘heart’ place a note about that in brackets also; [hand-drawn heart].

Place either in the beginning or at the end of the transcription, COMMENT – where you definite the person who wrote the one who received the letter, a little about them, dates, and locations.

If you have an envelope, do that also (scanning and transcribing).

Any abbreviations used in the original letter, figure out what the complete word or name might be and place that next to the abbreviation in a bracket. [Abr. = Abraham] or [R.R. = railroad]

If it is a long transcription and it will take a while to type out, do a save on your computer quite frequently.

You can have a hand-written transcription you wrote plus a digital transcription (typed), both would be good to have. Just like with photos scan, have several copies of the transcription done in different formats and saved on a flash, external hard drive, disc. Keep copies in safe deposit box, with a relative or friend, and a couple with you.

Another method is to read the letter into a recorder (many different types). It can be also done on your smart phone, recording and saving the recording.

A valuable preservation duty to save your ancestor’s words – their voice.

Photos: 1912 short letter; collection of letters 1916-1927; and transcribe a letter.

Related Blogs:

A Diary

Some Old Words-New Again

Communication by Letters

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