scanning old documents, photos, & postcards

by | Feb 18, 2021 | a slice of life, All Things Home, Antiques, Cleaning & care, Decorating, Organizing | 66 comments

One of the big projects I want to work on while organizing and purging is scanning antique and vintage family photos, letters, postcards, and documents.  Fortunately, I have a lot of them!  Unfortunately, that means the task is a little overwhelming and I’ve been putting off most of it for years.  So, I’m just going to chip away at it.  Here is the basket I’m currently working through, but it’s just a fraction of what needs to be sorted, scanned, and properly stored.

antique letters and postcards | miss mustard seed

I started by scanning the letters that are most important to me – my Opa’s letters and telegrams to his family when he was serving in WWII.

WWII letters from Marshall Johnson, Petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

I organized them and made copies once before, but now that I have a nicer scanner, I scanned them all.  I have uploaded them to a Google Drive, so I can share them with family members who are interested, but I know there are some great resources now for uploading documents and photos to build into an archive that will be maintained and available to future generations.  I just haven’t gotten that far, yet!

WWII letters from Marshall Johnson, Petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

I was close to my Opa, so I loved reading through these letters again.  He wasn’t able to write in great detail about what he was doing, so there was a lot of chit-chat about the weather, recreational activities, running into friends, etc.  He served in both the European and Pacific theaters and wrote about some more interesting things like celebrating V-E day with a stash of German liquor, a French woman who baked him a cake and playing with children on Philippine beaches.  He also wrote about liberating victims from a concentration camp.

I love that my great-grandma kept all of these letters, including the telegram where he informs them that he’s on his way home.

WWII letters from Marshall Johnson, Petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

I also have thousands of postcards to scan.  Some of them are from the 1930’s-40’s and then I have another batch from the late 1800’s-early 1900’s.  Most of them are to or from people I know.  Some of them are to/from strangers, so I’ll have to ask around to see if any family members know who they are.

Antique and vintage postcards | Petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

I love the handwriting on the older ones, especially!  They are in a beautiful script and usually in sepia-toned ink.

This particular postcard caught my fancy…

antique Venice postcards | miss mustard seed

I found it so cool that in the 1920’s, you could have your picture taken and have it turned into a postcard to send to your friends and family!  I never would’ve guessed that was available.

Here is a scan of the picture once I cropped and edited it…

antique Venice photo postcard | miss mustard seed

The back of the postcard reads, “Here we are feeding some of the famous pigeons in Saint Mark’s Square.  Venice is a curiosity, but Paris thrills me to my toes.  We are staying at the Lido, the famous resort of Italy.  Monday, we go to Geneva, Switzerland.  Yesterday, we had a lovely ride in one of the gondolas.  Venice is very restful with no car horns and tramways.  Love to you, ‘Nita  August 14, 1926”

I love that she said, “Paris thrills me to my toes.”  I can understand that!  Unfortunately, I don’t know who Nita is, so I’ll have to ask around about her or see if I can find any other postcards from their travels to see if I can find out who she was writing to.

For the scanning, I am using an HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw.  It’s an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier and it does a great job.  I scan the photos as a jpg and documents as a pdf.  Here’s an example of a page scanned from an old photo album…

scanning antique photos | miss mustard seed

I’ll then make digital copies and crop and edit each photo.

Here is a scan of an 1892 letter from my great, great aunt Marian…

antique letter from 1892 | miss mustard seed

And here are some more photo scans…

Rosa Vaughan Allen | Petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

This is my great-grandma Rosa.  She died when I was about 10-11, so I did have a chance to know her.  She could crochet without even looking at her hands.  It was pretty incredible.

This snapshot is of Rosa (back left) with my Oma (the young girl with the bobbed hair)…

rosa vaughan and marian vaughan allen | Petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

This is my Oma (Marian Allen) as a baby…

marian vaughan allen | petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

You can see that the top of the photo was eaten by silverfish, so I’m glad it’s been preserved.

Here are a couple of photos of my Oma in costume.  I’m not sure what she was dressing up for, but I love her little poses!

marian vaughan allen | petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

She had the little leg extension down long before Instagram influencers started doing it!

marian vaughan allen | petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

And here is my Oma & Opa (couple on the left) on a trip to Puerto Rico…

marian vaughan & marshall johndson | petersburg, VA | miss mustard seed

I actually own the bracelet my Oma is wearing!  I’m actually wearing it in my profile picture…

miss mustard seed | marian parsons | magnolia pearl

And, just to share a piece of family history, I’m a daughter of the revolution.  Here is an article about my great-great-great-grandmother, Lucy Gwyn Estes Vaughan, sharing the lineage.  I have her son’s wedding photos and the top hat that he wore.  His wife’s name was Marian Yancy Jackson Vaughan, which is where my name originated in the family.  I was named Marian Vaughan after her, my great-great aunt, and my Oma.

lucy gwyn estes vaughan | daughter of the revolution | lynchburg, VA | miss mustard seed

I love the quote at the end of this article, “Soon she will be stepping ashore and finding it Heaven, be taking a hand and finding it God’s, be waking and finding it Home.”

It’s all tedious work, but it’s work that’s worth doing.  We are all keepers of history…


  1. sondra bailey

    I love your pictures! I have many of my family. I was wondering what DPI do you scan at?

    • Marian Parsons

      I scan at 300 dpi.

      • sondra bailey

        Thank you! That is what I have been doing. I love your old pictures!

        • Beth

          What scanner did you use? I’ve got this project up next as well! 🙂

          • Rosa A Conrad

            I am Rosa as well.
            I enjoyed reading about your grandmother Rosa. She was a lovely lady.

  2. Laurie

    I love the article. No one writes like that anymore.

  3. Addie

    Your Great grandmother Rosa is a real beauty!!!! It’s fun to have pictures and jewelry that matches. I see a lot of your features in the pictures. It is really great that you are making copies to be shared with everyone in the family.
    “We” have a family member that cleaned out the original homestead and hoards the pictures….won’t share!!!!
    This is also good in case of a fire or flood. I enjoyed this homey post.

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, that is maddening! We have fortunately had family who has been very generous to share copies of family letters, documents, pictures, etc.

    • Rita

      Not sure what is with family that won’t share photos. I don’t care if I get a copy. I have some genealogy research that I have shared with cousins. They were thrilled to get a copy.

  4. Diane Richards

    Wow my daughter just found this site for me. I’m not sure how to handle lot of the old photos I inherited. I did have lots on my wall. I’m trying to decluttering. So my children don’t have so much. I just love all my family. Has this taken a lot time.? I’m looking to get this off my chest fast. It’s waiting on me. Not sure why.

    • Marian Parsons

      I am still working through it and just do a little bit each day. You really do start to make a dent after a while! I just sit by the scanner and put on some good music…

  5. Dana

    This is a great post today! Like you I have loads of family photos, ledgers, etc that I need to scan. Maybe It’s time to to it.
    By the way, check out Facebook group Random Acts of Photo Restoration. It’s a group of pros/and newbies who like to practice all kinds of photo restoration for free. You simply join the group, upload your photo, tell them what you want done and you may get several variations of your photo back. Sometimes, it is a same day turn around.

  6. Deborah D

    Well I’ll be. My madian name is Estes. I’ll have to look her up in our Estes book. I’m named for great grandmother on mother’s side, Zoe. Her real name was Rebecca Arizona. She never liked her name, hence the name Zoe. Not pronounced Zoey.

    • Marian Parsons

      Do you have the Carey-Estes-Moore Genealogy book? If so, we’re from the same family!

  7. Amy

    I think it’s so cool that you’re doing this. I’m the keeper of all things ancestry in my family too. I find it thrilling to find people, letters, etc from family members. For years we thought we were totally German only to find out that we’re French and of royal origins. What a shock that was. Anyway, lots of my people are from your former stomping grounds in PA. Was even able to visit our family homestead in Mill Creek PA which was a thrill for me. Anyway, good luck with all the scanning. It is truly a labor of love.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, it so fun! I’m such a mix of European heritage, but most of my family has been in America for several generations, one branch traced back to the 1600’s.

  8. Rosie

    I love the picture of your great great great grandmother surrounded by flowers. How lovely to see old people honored this way. Yes we are all keepers of history which is so very important in these times.
    Good luck with your chore.

  9. Leslie C

    What treasures and a great task you are taking to preserve them. I enjoyed Lucy Gywn Estes Vaughan’s story/article very much. Oh the history there in just one life. Thank you for sharing , along with all your family photos there is some beautiful people captured in a moment of time that you can almost feel.

  10. Lindy Powell

    I see the resemblance with you and your beautiful great great grandmother Rosa….So blessed to have all those sweet keepsakes of your family ~ Enjoy ~

  11. Julie Ritter

    You look like your Great Grandma Rosa around the eyes and nose!! Very cool

  12. Teresa Turner

    Loved reading this post. I have old pictures that need to be scanned for the future generation. Not very computer savy, so would love to take a class on how to go about this. Maybe your next class 🙂 Bet you would get lots of interest.

  13. Pam

    Thank you so much for sharing your pictures, letters and article about your great, great grandmother. Such treasured memories and today we have wonderful ways to save them for future generations. This will be a labor of love.

  14. Wendy Gottmers

    I, too, loved this post. I have been working on the family tree(s) and scanning hundreds of photographs. I know many of the people in the photos, but there are lots where I have no idea. I wish that my Grandmas and Great Grandmas had written on the back of them. We have a scanner which will take a “stack” of photos, all at once, and scan them, one after the other. It’s quite fast. It’s the Epson FastFoto FF-640. We use the other style of scanner for larger photos, newspaper clippings, or the more delicate ones. I would heartily recommend the FastFoto, for it speeds up the process 100 per cent. If you write the names on the back of the photos, it will scan both sides.
    The most difficult part of this scanning, is organizing them into “families”, or years, or however you want to do it. Good luck.

  15. Mary Anne Berry

    I’ve been working on genealogy and family history for over 40 years. I love finding photographs and letters to put life into the stories I discovery. Like you, I’m in the process of scanning. I just finished a set of letters from my great grandmother while she was at a TB facility in New Mexico. They slept in tents! It’s amazing.

  16. Dianne

    Love it, very inspiring. Years ago, I copied and put in albums more than 150 years of photos and letters. It would be daunting to begin again and put in a digital format. We are the keepers of history. The letters are especially sweet and revealing. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Mary Myers

    Marian, I was reading about you scanning your letters and documents, and was so interested in the reference to Lynchburg, Va. I now live in Lynchburg. I have followed your blog for many years, when you were still in Pa. and your boys were little , and your husband was finishing his degree. We moved to Va. to be closer to our grandchildren, so I know it must have been hard to leave your family and move to MN. But there is no place of greater blessing than in the middle of God’s will. If you ever want to visit Lynchburg, we would love to have you. Seriously. We have been in ministry for 45 yrs. and our doors have always been open. Enjoy your faith walk, blog, and projects.

  18. Sandy

    What a wonderful thing you are doing and preserving for generations ahead.

  19. Pat Smith

    Please post if you find a good archive site!

  20. DWF

    I’m the family historian for my family and have been working on photos and postcards as well as genealogy. As you say, there are sites where you can upload pics and stories and other items to attach to family trees that anyone can access, making it very useful for sharing with extended family. One site that I find very easy and useful is FamilySearch It is easier to use than and also free. If the info is already in the system it can sometimes be a matter of putting in just a few generations before it automatically brings in records. It also links to sources like marriage and and death records and census records so you can see how others have been able to verify information. Best of luck with your huge trove of treasures. It’s a lot of work but well worth it.

  21. Michelle Baker

    This is wonderful! I love seeing photos of my ancestors and learning their stories! I recommend for archiving. There is a feature called “Memories” where you can upload photos, documents, typed stories, etc attached to the person they are about. It is set up in a “family tree” format, so you can see immediately how you are related. And it’s free! I absolutely love poking around on there.

  22. Brian Hance

    You’ve brought me tears of joy and reflection. Thank you for sharing. Such wonderful treasures, memories and history. ❤️

  23. monique

    Lovely occupation in winter time. I am a keeper too, and love to go back to times before us, studying the details of fashion, hair styles and faces, the attitudes, even those of strangers as you seem to collect too. It is very touching to see the perfect face of Rosa, of which some features passed onto your own face.
    And what could be a better message than: EXPECT TO BE HOME SOON! I imagine the pure joy of getting it.
    Oh dear, I am getting very emotional.

  24. Karen

    I too, am the memory keeper.. You are Sooo talented, Marion. I would love to see you paint your great-grandmother Rosa. She was beautiful

  25. Martha Bradford

    You certainly look a lot like your great grandmother! She was a beauty. I loved this post. Thank you,

  26. Rita

    You are so blessed to have a amazing collection. I recently got all my photos on my computer to a jump drive stored in a fire box. Still have the papers and old photos to scan. It is a daunting task but ever so regarding. Maybe later you can share different storage methods. I know you can share to the cloud, Google, Amazon, but wonder about those.

  27. Donna Doble-Brown

    Ooooh Marian these just make my heart and soul happy . . .and I am no relation! Lol
    How wonderful to have these .. .
    . I have some as well and this was just what I needed to start scanning them!
    Hope you all are well! XO

  28. Karen K from Buffalo

    Marian you have just opened an option for me. My late Mother collected information on our family that goes back to the 1700’s on both sides of the family. I don’t know what to do with this huge notebook that she worked so hard on. She found out that we are not only German, but also French with some notes on a man who was a Knight & the King of England rewarded him with some property in England. Please consider a class. I don’t know how to upload or where to upload this information so my family can look at it too. Please help!

  29. Joan

    wow, I think you look so much like your Great Grandma Rosa !
    Beautiful photos and memorabilia !
    Our sister put alot of ours on discs for the family, of Mom’s side of the family and Dad’s side, but
    some of our dad’s family photos were lost in a fire, as it was his one sister’s turn to keep them for a while/and she had a lot of them, (luckily not all though! ) and their house burned!!!!
    so we really treasure the few we have on that side <3
    Ancestry and history and genealogy are so exciting and fun, a whole other world…there's only so much time to do it all ~ !

  30. Carlotta Lee

    Oh my goodness-you look like your Grandma Rosa & your Oma, Marian! I wish that I had pictures to look back on my family like that. You are blessed.

  31. Debbie

    You should paint some of those pictures. Especially the one of the couple in Paris. You could do it in gouache/wc to keep it from taking too long.

  32. Kay Grogg

    Wow! My family probably was a neighbor of your family. My mother’s great-greats were from Nelson, Co., VA. Seriously, I love this post and all of the old photos. What a treasure. P.S, we also had an Aunt Rosa.

  33. Tina

    Michelle recommended for archiving. I just received an email from saying that next weekend, Feb 25-27 the RootsTech Conference will be free! There are several online seminars listed regarding archiving and sharing family history. Their website is

    • Mary Ellen

      Thanks, Tina. Just registered.

  34. B Folk

    Marian, what a wonderful trip down (your) memory lane! I have always been interested in family history, and have many of my immediate family’s archives. We, too, have a family geneology book for my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, going back to the 1600’s, and it is fascinating. So much world history, too, not just my own family history. These things are important, keep inspiring us!

  35. Françoise

    Quelle chance vous avez; que vos ancêtres aient gardé toutes ces photos ! Mon Pére gardait, mais ma Mère jetait, aussi je ne remonte pas plus loin que mes arrières grands parents. je le regrette, c’est si important de garder l’histoire, même si l’on est une famille ordinaire.

  36. Greta MacRae

    “She has been a benediction to four generations.”!!! I love that.

  37. Monica

    What a fun project! I could spend hours reading old letters and postcards from family and it’s fun to go through boxes of old postcards at the antique mall and just imagine the people writing and being written to. I love the quote at the end of the article. Finally Home is a beautiful hymn written by Don Wyrtzen. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

    • Karen

      I was going to write about that song also!

  38. Mary Ellen

    I love this post! I, too, have inherited boxes full of documents and photos and feel that overwhelm. I hope you share more in the future about how you are organizing everything. And I’ll look above at previous posts for the scanner to use. The idea of doing it on my printer scanner is really overwhelming lol.
    Thanks for all your beautiful posts.

  39. Diane Duda

    I love this bit: “In the midst of her flowers she reflected their sweetness.”

  40. Erica H

    I can see the resemblance to your great-grandmother. I have a few old family photos, and wish I had more. What great treasures you have!

  41. Jennifer

    I love this! The work you’re putting in now will be enjoyed for generations to come.

    I’ve thought about doing something like this with our family photos and documents, too. I always thought it was a good late winter task since you’re inside, can be cozy with a cup of tea and a cat on your lap!

  42. Jill

    These are beautiful! The quote at the end of Lucy’s tribute is worth remembering. I too see you in your great grandmother! I’ve become the keeper of our family history and the best thing I ever found, just a year ago, were two 45 records recorded by my dad during boot camp for WWII to send to his mom in lieu of a letter. The USO offered them. He speaks about the camp, about girls and dances, and the weather. He was 18, and sounded so much as I remember! He’s been gone for 17 years now. Family history is priceless.

  43. Rachel Harper

    I shared a gallery wall using my inherited family photo’s and so many voiced a concern about damaging the originals. I’d like to share a link to this post on my weekly round up on Sunday. If feel it would tie in with my post and help those using wanting to preserve their original’s.
    I appreciate this information and I’m sure my followers will love having the link.

  44. Mareth Warren

    Thank you for this post – it was great. I am a portrait painter so I look at faces every day and often paint from family photos. It is so wonderful that you have all of this fascinating and lovely information about your family.

  45. Debbie Parks

    What a treasure trove of family history. You look so much like Rosa! Love that you have letters from Lynchburg, VA. Both of my sons went to college there so Lynchburg holds a special place in our hearts!


    I, too, am in the process of scanning all my old photos. After I scanned the photos from the 80s and 90s, I gave the hard copies to the friends who were either IN the photos or who had hosted the event they were taken at. Unfortunately, I lost track of where I was in scanning the photos of my immediate family – so I’ve got to wade through them to see what’s been already been done.


    Oh … I use a dedicated Canon scanner … Model LIDE 120. I can lay down a bunch of photos and it automatically crops them! SUCH a time-saver!

  48. Barb J

    Are you a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)?

    • Marian Parsons

      No, I’m not, but my great aunt (by blood) is and I know I qualify through a few lines of my family. I should apply.

  49. Barbara

    Thank you so very much for this post! It went straight to my heart. I am also in the process of trying to preserve as much as I can. Appreciate all the other requests for information. I am going in circles around Looking forward to attending the conference from Family I have a handful of postcards that were written in pencil and are starting to fade. Would love to know how to preserve them and also is something is available for darkening it up enough to make out the faded words. I have been using an app to help restore and even colorize some pictures called Filmbox. I have saved over the years ideas on Pinterest. People taking a photo or post card and having it blown up and framed. I hope you continue more posts on this topic and your journey. Thank you so very much!

  50. Judy

    Wow! My family’s home is Lynchburg, Va. Great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents & siblings all born in (& most remained) in Lynchburg!


    Marian, I enjoyed your post so much! Thanks for sharing with all of us! We always enjoy reading about your family! How nice that you have all these treasures! You are blessed! Bless you for working away at organizing everything. I know this is a big job! My youngest sister is the one who wanted to keep track of all our family’s history and has been working at this for years. Once she is finished, she wants to make each of us a book! What a treasure this will be!

    What a nice picture you have of your Great Grandma Rosa. You have a lot of her features, Marian! You are both beautiful! I hope that you will do a painting of her! The dress she is wearing is so pretty with all those special details.

    The article on Lucy Gwyn Estes Vaughan was so interesting and so beautifully written. The last paragraph is just precious!

    Thanks, again, Marian for sharing your wonderful family history with us! Bless you!

  52. Di

    I have been on Ancestry for awhile and it’s so fun reading about generations I have not met. I did find out that George Washington is a cousin! That was fun finding. I knew from my great grandmother that Dr. Dawes, who rode with Paul Revere. She also said there was An American Indian Princess in our blood line!

    I wish this tool was available earlier. It would have been great to share with my family. Can’t wait for you to share more information on organizing papers. We did get a scanner and are busy scanning.

  53. Sandy

    Thank you for your post. You are a woman after my own heart. I inherited my parents love letters and want to write a book about them someday. I decided to pay to have a local company scan all the documents and I am so glad I did. It turned out to be over 3800 pages! I now have them preserved in pdf format that I can share with all my siblings and start the book writing process. Now I just need to find a literary agent! Any tips?

  54. Margaret Schomaker

    Loved the last photo , as I live in Lynchburg, VA! I am a transplant, but I have been here a few years.


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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