How to Protect Genealogical Artifacts from Damage
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How to Protect Genealogical Artifacts from Damage

This article discusses methods for preserving photographs and documents of genealogical value and some of the supplies needed.

Doing genealogical research about your ancestors and their families will provide the opportunity to accumulate a body of historical evidence. Much of it will be fragile, and it needs to be cataloged and stored properly. The ink and paper in use during past generations must be protected against exposure to light and moisture. Polyester sleeves are excellent protectors for documents and photographs, and they will allow you to file the items in labeled folders. Don’t forget to label photographs with name, date, and event. Use appropriate sized storage boxes and don’t fold documents.

Especially if you have old letters, deeds, marriage licenses, birth certificates, or diaries, you will want to take precautions to preserve them. If they are fragile, it may be advisable to have them copied so you don’t use the actual document in research. You should wear white cotton gloves when handling these documents because oil from your hand is detrimental to them.

NARA recommends that you do not display valuable historical documents even under glass. Have them reproduced and use the copy for framing or display. To mount pictures or documents in an album, do not use any kind of synthetic glue, rubber cement, pressure tape, or hot glue since they do not age well. Do not use self-stick pages either. Corners made from polyester or paper or sectioned polyester or Mylar D pages work well. If you need to use an adhesive on any kind of document, make sure it passes the PAT and is approved for library use. Library paste made from starch or cellulose is acceptable. Instructions on how to prepare and use it are found here. Do not use polyvinyl plastic to protect photographs because they will stick to some photographic surfaces, and the images will transfer to the plastic.

Paper pages in an album should be high-quality, non-acidic, lignin-free of high cotton content. A plastic covering sheet on paper pages will help protect your content. Do not over-fill the album because the binding will suffer. Pictures that are disposable may not require such extreme caution, but they, too, may one day be a family treasure.

If you have photographs or documents that have been mounted in albums, they may have already suffered damage. Do not rush to remove them, since that may cause more damage. Consult a conservator or someone trained in archive preservation before you take action. It may be possible to prevent more damage. Damage to documents is not reversible; however, it might be reparable in the hands of an expert.

 Source:  The National Archives

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