Conservation of the Soldiers’ Wills
During the digitization work on the Soldiers’ Wills it was sometimes necessary to conserve the documents before they could be scanned. All Soldiers’ Wills which were presented to conservation were surface cleaned with small squares of smoke sponges to remove loose particle of dust. Also any staples or metal fastenings were removed mechanically using a micro spatula and protecting the document with a small square of Mylar.
Removing the wills from the envelope
The wills had been stored in envelopes with gummed flaps and they were frequently stuck to either the flap or the inside of the envelope. This meant that the will could not be removed from the envelope.
Using a special tool called a preservation pencil, a fine mist of cold moisture, (which is created by an ultra sonic humidifier) is heated to produce a jet of warm steam. It can be a slow process, but the application of humidity re hydrates the glue (making it sticky again) and this in turn allows the will and envelope to be separated. This is very controlled method of introducing moisture, and areas with sensitive inks can be protected with Mylar, and the results are excellent. [click here to see images]
Removing administrative additions
Occasionally the War Office attached a small certified sheet to the back of the wills and this sometimes obscured other handwritten text. These were small typed notes with the wording “Certified that this will was found loose amongst the effects of…” or “Certified extracted from the Army Book 64...”
These notes were removed to reveal as much information as possible. This was done by placing the will between damp blotters and leaving it for about 15 minutes. This is known as a “damp pack”- a little sandwich of dry blotter, damp blotter, the document, damp blotter and dry blotter a piece of Mylar (polyester film) and a glass weight on the top. When the addition was damp, the will could be lifted off using a flat-headed spatula and a pair of fine tweezers. Any glue that was left behind was removed with dampened cotton swabs. In cases where the glue had been applied just at the edges of the smaller note this method worked quickly and extremely well. [click here to see images]