Thursday, 22 September 2016


It's another sunny but breezy day here and I'm thinking about my letters. I've been doing an on line course in genealogy over the past six weeks and it's taken up a lot of my free time. I just finished my last test and earned my certificate, now my mind is on letter writing.

During the course we learned a lot of things about researching and maintaining your family history. There were some very interesting things discussed that I thought, as a letter writer were important for conserving the letters we receive. I think all letters are valuable whether they are for preserving you family's history or for the sake of saving a cherished correspondence, so I was particularly interested in this part of the course.

Backing your data up in several different ways was the first order of business along with some of the more obvious suggestions for keeping your research safe, but a lot of family historians have sheaves of paper documents and source material that needs to be safeguarded too. No one likes to think of things like fire and floods but believe it or not, both of these things have robbed me of letters I was saving so I think passing on some of the hints we discussed in the course is not a bad thing.

A few things to remember when you want to keep your precious paperwork safe is making sure they are not stored in a damp place. Think about keeping things in air-tight containers, and storing them up off the floor. Check them from time to time to make sure the way in which you are storing them is working. It all sounds so simple, but like I said earlier, I lost most of my letters, once when the neighbour upstairs decided to install a washing machine in her flat and flooded my apartment, and again when lightning stuck my house and burnt it out. You never know what to expect so it's better to be prepared for anything!

That being said, letters, either as history or from friendships through the post, along with being stored safely, should be written in a way that will keep those paper conversations alive for the future. One of the crucial components of letter writing is the instrument that records your thoughts. Many of my pen pals are pen aficionados and prefer writing with pen and ink or fountain pens. Like most of you, I love the look of a fountain pen. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something that will most likely shock you...I prefer writing with a ballpoint pen. Fountain pens, roller balls, gel pens are not really user friendly for me and my handwriting morphs into a scrawl that I'm not happy with.. I can almost hear the collective gasp amongst you and I sense you have all taken a step back from me in horror. I know, the fountain pen is the Holy Grail of letter writing, but I like my medium point Bic Crystal. For the way I write, it gives me flow and balance and I can write easily with it, so you can imagine how shocked I was when I learned that ball point pen fades in time. I didn't believe it but then I looked at one of my old journals and it was sadly disappearing, not only that but the writing on the backs of all my photos was slowly fading away too. This was bad news for me. I now have the monumental task of re-writing all the information on my photos before it's completely obliterated and I must find a new pen of choice.

I'm sure, if R, a guy I worked with ages ago at the book store could read this, he'd be saying something like "I tried to help you..." R and I had a constant dialogue on calligraphy and ink pens which always seemed to end in stalemate. He, a graphic designer, wanted to perfect my writing, me the amateur, countered by telling him my handwriting was uniquely individual and that anyone could do calligraphy. He'd switch tactics and try to tell me the best pen to write with was a fountain pen and on and on the debate went. In the end, he laughingly gave me a book from his own library which highlighted a steadfast ballpoint pen fan who whose handwriting was lovely. Uncannily, it was very similar to my own handwriting. R and I agreed to disagree in the end, and I still quietly used my ballpoint pen.

Now, here I am, admitting defeat and looking for another writing instrument.

 At least my search starts with an old friend. I found this Bic fountain pen that I thought I would try. I also indulged in a Parker pen. So far, the Parker is easier for me to write with as the Bic fountain pen is a pudgy and shorter than its cousin the crystal. I'm sure I will try others too, this is just a start. My son has a Lamy fountain pen that I quite like as well. I think this is just the beginning of my search. There are so many pens to choose from, but it will be a fun search, if nothing else.


  1. If there's not an archival ballpoint pen out there J. Herbin makes a refillable rollerball that might work for you. It's similar to ballpoint and would allow you to use archival ink. Either way, it is difficult to part company with a beloved pen.

    1. Thank you Sonja, I'll have a look for the rollerball from J. Herbin. I've got another pen to "test drive" too, it's kind of like trying on shoes, getting the right fit. Because of the trouble with my hands I need something that is comfortable to write with.

  2. I did try scanning in some received letters and saving them to pdf but I was using a friend's scanner. I don't have a scanner at the moment (or even a printer). The experience was a bit tiresome, even for just a couple of dozen letters received in my teenage years. I wonder how long it would take me to scan in my last 8 years of letters.
    Some people scan in their outgoing letters but I am usually eager to get them wrapped up and posted in time for last collection (I had about 10 minutes to spare tonight).

    The other digital quandary is photos. I have over 10 years' worth of digital camera photos, very few are printed. I still don't know how to properly organise them (currently by year/month).

    Technology advances but doesn't always mean past things still work (I had a usb microscope which is not compatible now with Win7). There is something real / physical about paper, whether it be preferring to read a book rather than something on Kindle, or holding a letter in the hand..

  3. Ideally, I think we all want save our letters in bundles tied with ribbon, but it makes sense to save them another way as well.

    I agree scanning is a drudge. I have an entire box of photos to go through and re-write all the information on, plus saving digital photos from the computer onto sticks and I think the most daunting thing is you have to keep doing it. My sister put photos on CDs and when I mentioned that the CDs life was not as "forever" as we were originally led to believe, she checked her discs and she was not able to view some of them.

    I'm doing my things a little at a time, that is the best way for me. Slow but sure wins the race!

    I'm like you, I prefer paper and books so I'm trying to make sure the letters I have are packed carefully.