Preserving the Alexander Rose Hendry Letter

Acquiring the Alexander Rose Hendry letter has been the highlight of my 2019 genealogy year. Once the letter arrived in September, I opened it only once — then I avoided touching it until I could take the correct steps in preserving it.

That’s when it pays to have an archivist friend. I met Rachael Altman, Director of the Carnegie History Center in Bryan, Texas, at the Texas Institute for Genealogical Research (TIGR) this summer in Austin. We were both in the Advanced Southern Research track. I remembered Rachael’s role at Carnegie included archiving photographs and documents, so I consulted with her about the best way to care for my new-found family heirloom.

Rachael recommended an archival sleeve from Gaylord Archival. I bought a 4-mil polyester envelope that is sealed on three sides so the letter could be preserved unfolded in its entirety. To fit the letter, I had to purchase the 11″ x 17″ size. Paper from this era is not sized to the same standards we have today, so the letter isn’t to the edges of the archival sleeve and has some wiggle room. If my budget were unlimited, I could have a special sleeve constructed to its specific measurements — maybe a future improvement?

Rachael was in town for the Texas State Genealogical Society’s annual conference in October. We met the evening before the conference at Clayton Library, and Rachael did the work I was too unnerved to do myself — carefully unfolding the letter, attempting to remove the tape, and flattening the document inside the envelope.

Rachael wears gloves while unfolding and examining tape on the 1855 Alexander Rose Hendry letter.
Rachael works to position the fragile letter in the archival sleeve.

Unfortunately, Rachael did not have the tools with her to remove the tape, but she did get the letter into the sleeve without any of the fragile folds tearing. She also showed me some techniques for using a smartphone camera to isolate and closely zoom to troublesome sections of the letter for transcription.

The letter in its archival sleeve needs to be stored flat, so my next step is ordering an acid-free box.

Once we were able to examine the letter more closely in the sleeve, we realized the seller had transcribed the date incorrectly. The letter is dated January 22, 1855 — not 1845. I’m currently working on transcribing the entire letter. Stay tuned for the results. It’s a slow process, but one I feel will be very rewarding.

Thanks so much for your help, Rachael! You’ve helped preserve a piece of 165-year old family history for my Hendry family.

Family Artifacts on eBay: I Bought the 1845 Alexander Hendry Letter!

Last fall I found my first family artifact on eBay: a letter written by my 4x-great-grandfather Alexander Rose Hendry in 1845! It was expensive, so I attempted a transcription with just thumbnail photos and eBay’s zoom functionality. Although challenging, I managed to figure out a fair amount of the letter’s contents.

I’ve thought about that letter many times over the past year, still wishing I could own it myself. Then a few weeks ago, I wrote a check for one of my son’s extracurricular activities for the same amount as the eBay listing and thought to myself, “Isn’t genealogy my extracurricular activity?” And I bought the letter. Of course, frugal me contacted the seller at her brick-and-mortar storefront and negotiated a slightly better price — and then spent all the savings on museum-quality archival sleeves.

These photos show the condition of the Alexander Hendry 1845 letter when it arrived from the eBay seller on 23 Sep 2019.

The Hendry letter arrived in the mail today, and I cannot explain the thrill it is to hold a letter written by my own ancestor! It is fragile, but in wonderful condition for being almost 175 years old. I’d originally thought the letter was two individual sheets of paper, but Alexander actually folded a paper roughly 11 inches by 17 inches in half and wrote on it booklet style. He then folded it into ninths and closed with a wax seal. The seal did not survive to the present day, but I can see where it was from an oily imprint on the paper. Some tape holds together the edges that formed the envelope. This tape prevented me from fully transcribing the letter from photos, but it is more transparent in person. I’m hoping I will be able to decipher more of the letter now that I can examine it more closely.

But, for now, I’m avoiding manipulation of the paper. Rachael Altman, archivist with the Carnegie History Center in Bryan, Texas, will be helping me encapsulate it when she’s in town for the Texas State Genealogical Society (TxSGS) conference next month. We met at TIGR 2019, and I’m so glad she’s willing to lend her expertise to this project. I plan to take photos of the process and document here — and maybe write an article for Stirpes, the TxSGS quarterly, about it also.

Alexander Rose Hendry: Epic Road (and River) Trips Bring New Yorker to Louisiana

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Road Trip.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index

I love a good road trip. In fact, I’ve taken several family history road trips with my sons and father. But the trips we’ve taken cannot compare to the epic journey my 4x-great-grandfather Alexander Rose Hendry took between his native New York and Louisiana, where he settled in the 1830s.

Continue reading Alexander Rose Hendry: Epic Road (and River) Trips Bring New Yorker to Louisiana

17 Jan 1845: Alexander Hendry Writes to Cousin Ellen Harper

It’s a cold and wet new year as I write from Liddieville, perhaps similar to the weather my 4x-great-grandfather Alexander Hendry experienced as he wrote his cousin Ellen Harper on January 17, 1845. I’m still excited about finding this letter on eBay, and I spent the last few weeks of 2018 mining it for information and pursuing leads about its recipient. Continue reading 17 Jan 1845: Alexander Hendry Writes to Cousin Ellen Harper

Family Artifacts on eBay: My First Find

Have you considered eBay as a genealogical resource?  Even though I’d read articles and listened to podcast episodes about others’ successes, I never imagined I’d find anything about my tiny hometown, much less my own family, on eBay.

Then I actually searched — and did! Continue reading Family Artifacts on eBay: My First Find