Dealing with a Smoky Bible 2


In May I was fortunate to get several bags full of family photographs and other items from my dad.  I was unprepared for a great find- my grandfather's family Bible! Based on the names written in the inside cover, I believe that it was his mother's originally.  Even more amazing was how much of the information matched what I had already discovered about the family.  Part of me wishes that dad had shown me this stuff years ago.  However, it is really exciting to find the information is corroborated by this Bible and have more photographs that I had not seen.  I also found it surprising that my grandfather had written in the weights and heights for his immediate family. I'm not sure why he felt the need to write those in, but it's an interesting tidbit of information.


The only downside is everything in this bag of goodies smells like cigarette smoke due to being in my grandparent's house soaking up 50 years worth of smoke.  I got all of the stuff right before the National Genealogical Society conference and knew that I would have a great opportunity to ask experts on how to remove the smell in a non-destructive way.  First I consulted photo detective, Maureen Taylor and I asked her what to do.  She didn't have an answer for me, but said she would do some research and let me know.  Then I consulted with my friend Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana who is a professional archivist to see what she suggested.  She sent me the link to a product called Zeolite sold through Refreshingly Free  that helps get the odor and dampness out of items that are of a sensitive nature.


I ordered a bag and quickly realized that I needed a lot more.  Imagine my surprise as I was at The Container Store and saw the same stuff!  I bought two more that day along with several boxes for storage of the Bible and other photographs.  According to the instructions for Zeolite it can be "recharged" by putting the packets in the sun to dry and air out.  It seems to take a week to get most of the smell out of the photos and then I let it air out for a couple days too.


Once the smell has dissipated, I scan and document each batch so that I can put it in archival storage in my house.  My plan is to scan it all and then upload to 1000memories where I hope my family will assist in identifying people and time periods. There are a number of features that I like about the site such as the fact that you can set the privacy of the individual shoeboxes of photographs. Identifying the individuals in the photographs is very user friendly and the date taken can be specified by day, month, year, or even decade if you are unsure. Hopefully other family members can help narrow down those dates. Recently the creators of 1000memories developed the Shoebox app for the Droid and I was able to try it out. This works great when you are not able to scan, but want to get a copy of the photograph using the camera on your cell phone. Thanks to my dad and these wonderful tools I will have the opportunity to share the photographs with my relatives near and far.


© Jennifer Alford  2012

About Jennifer Alford

Jennifer Alford is a writer, artist, and genealogy professional specializing in research in Jewish genealogy and the Midwest. As the owner of Jenealogy ( she creates engaging family history treasures to enhance the bond between generations. The love of photography, storytelling, and history combine in her blog and unique products. As part of The In-Depth Genealogist's Leadership Team, Jen is Publisher of IDG's monthly magazine, Going In-Depth.

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with a Smoky Bible

  • Denise Levenick

    What a find, Jennifer! You are so right about anytime is a good time to receive such a treasure. I haven’t had to deal with cigarette smoke (yet), but I’ve have inherited some very musty smelling books and papers. They tend to infect anything nearby with the odor, so I would encourage you to isolate the Bible even after your treatment.
    The Iowa State University Library Preservation Department has a great blog article about removing cigarette smoke odor from a set of books, and photos of a “fumigation chamber” they made from plastic trash cans. You can find it at this link:

    Good luck! ~ Denise

  • Jennifer Alford

    Thanks Denise! I will definitely check out that website. Considering I still have quite a few smokey photos from my dad’s house… there may be other methods that are more effective and not so time consuming!