Genealogists are always asking me about preserving their family records, photographs, ephemera and other artifacts. As an archivist who works on records preservation at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, this is very near and dear to my heart.
First and foremost, we don’t want to do anything to our records that can’t be undone. This is the first rule of records preservation and one that every archive follows. As the “home archivist”, genealogists should think about what they are doing to their records and if it can be undone.
For instance, it is highly frowned upon to laminate our records and photographs. Decades ago, when lamination first came on the scene, it was seen as the ultimate preservation process. Seems everything was getting laminated, even historical records at the state and national level. Today, archives and conservation studios are de-laminating what they can to keep the damage from going any further than what has occurred. We know now that laminating is very damaging to records and photographs and I would discourage every genealogist from laminating their records.
To protect photographs, photographic negatives and important papers from water and other forms of damage, store them in sleeves made of archival-safe plastic, such as polyethylene or polypropylene, and then placing those in a file folder that is kept in an environment that cool, dark and dry. It is important to store your records in a temperature and humidity controlled area, such as a closet.
Between every photo place a sheet of archival tissue paper or archival copy paper. This helps if they happen to get wet or did happen to encounter moisture somewhere along the way. Storing photos in frames can be a problem. Over time the4se photos could actually get stuck to the glass or the sun can wash the photos out to where the images can’t even been seen any longer. It is recommended that original photos be photocopied and those copies be displayed on your walls and shelves and put the originals away safely.
If you have scrapbooks in your records collections, they need to be preserved as well. It is important to digitize the entire scrapbook so that it is digitally preserved in case something happens to the original. Then place the scrapbook in an archival box that fits the scrapbook. If it is moving around in the box, crumple up archival tissue paper and tuck around the scrapbook to keep it still in the box. I also suggest putting archival tissue paper between the pages of the scrapbook just in case moisture finds its way into the box and the pages will not stick together.
If you have newspaper clippings, they are very acidic and will damage any documents they touch. They usually leave a yellow stain on adjoining documents which is very damaging. Place newspaper clippings in archival sleeves so they are not touching other documents. Another option would be to photocopy and digitize the newspaper clippings and throwing away the originals. Whether you keep newspaper clippings or not is entirely up to you, just don’t let them touch other documents.
Acid is what causes paper to yellow and becomes brittle and damaged. This is why it is very important to purchase archival and lignin free materials when preserving your genealogical records. Some of the more well known archival materials stores are listed below. Be sure to request a FREE catalog from each store so you can sit in the comfort or your own home and choose the items you need. Also, be sure to sign up for their free emails so you can get the latest discounts and sales.
Preserving our family records is an important part of being genealogists and passing our history on to the next generation.
Archival Materials Stores
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Light Impressions
- Archival Methods