Five Simple Things to Do to Preserve Your Family Records

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Five Simple Things to Do to Preserve Your Family Records

Sometimes projects are so overwhelming, it’s tough to get started. So here are five simple things you can do to help preserve your family records:

 1. Move family records and photographs from your attic or garage into the house.

Paper-based records (and that includes photographs) do best in the same environment conditions that people enjoy. That means no storage in places where the temperature and humidity cycle between lows and highs, such as attics and garages. Archives and museums invest incredible sums to keep an ideal temperature/humidity balance. But it’s the extremes in temperature and humidity that cause the most damage. Keeping your family records in the house is the smartest, safest, and cheapest preservation tactic you can employ.

 2. Move framed family photographs and records out of direct sunlight.

Even filtered through the windows of your house, sunlight can still cause a great deal of damage. Check to make sure (and recheck as the seasons change) that your family photographs aren’t getting daily doses of UV radiation from sunlight that, over time, will fade them permanently. UV radiation, which is emitted by sunlight and also from fluorescent bulbs, is particularly damaging to paper items.

 3. Check the backs of vintage framed photographs.

Framers often used cardboard and scrap wood to back photographs in their frames. In some cases, we have seen photographs where the acid in the wood backing has reproduced the knotholes and texture of the wood perfectly … and ruined the photograph in the process. You can still use vintage picture frames. Just have your local framer replace the backing with acid-free materials.

 4. Check your new and vintage framed photographs to make sure that the glass doesn’t rest directly on the photographs.

Add risers or acid-free mats to keep air between glass and the photographic print. This will prevent an unwanted terrarium from growing in your framed family photographs.

 5. Wear gloves when handling family records and photographs.

Those latent (invisible) fingerprints that CSIs are always dusting for? They’re created by moisture and oil naturally present in your fingers – and you leave them on your family records every time you touch them. At the very least, make sure your hands are clean and dry before handling paper items, as the oils from fingers can cause staining and evetual deterioration of the paper. Ideally, wear gloves when handling photographs and vintage or fragile paper records.

Have questions about your family records? Email or comment below and I’ll be happy to do my best. And stay tuned for more simple things you can do to preserve your family papers.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”

One Comment

  1. IrishGenesMED 14 October 2011 at 9:05 PM

    My family has some old documents that have been passed down. We have the original bill for my great great grandmother’s funeral in 1909 and a small diary that a great great uncle wrote in 1882. The funeral bill has been folded in thirds for many, many years and has a tear along one of the fold lines.

    What do you recommend for preserving these items? and should the funeral bill continue to be stored folded or opened?

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