If you want to make sure these papers and photographs stay easily accessible, one method I use is to gather every document and picture and store them in mylar folders. Many people who rent storage garages leave their papers there, but this leaves them susceptible to unknown damages. Some local repositories, such as county archives, can store them on archival paper and acid-free containers to keep them from deteriorating quickly.
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Here are some tips for preserving family papers and photographs:
- Have a clean, clear space prepared to place the originals before you get them out.
- Don’t eat, drink, or smoke around originals.
- Wash hands before handling paper and don’t apply lotion as it can stain paper. Paper can be handled without gloves because clean, lotion-free hands will not stain the paper and gloves can make it hard to handle delicate paper.
- Handle photographs and negatives with gloves. Fingerprints can cause permanent stains on photographs and negatives.
- Store items at a low temperature and a low relative humidity.
- Consider cold storage for acetate negatives, color negatives, prints, and slides.
- Store items out of damp basements, garages, and hot attics.
- Keep items away from sources of leaks and floods, such as pipes, windows, or known roof leaks.
- Store items on a shelf so they don’t get wet.
- Store items away from food and water which are attractive to insects and rodents.
Use containers that:
- Are big enough for the originals to lay flat or upright without folding or bending
- Are the right sizes, so items don’t shift
- Use a spacer board if there are not enough items to fill an upright box.
- Don’t overstuff the box.
- Are made of board or folder stock that is lignin-free and acid-free or buffered.
- Have passed the PAT if storing photographs
Large flexible sheets can be stored rolled:
- Roll onto a sturdy tube so it is less likely to be crushed.
- Use an archival quality paper tube that is buffered with low-lignin content.
- Select a tube that is at least two inches longer than the width of the widest sheet.
- Five sheets may be rolled on to one tube. Roll all five sheets onto the tube at the same time, not one after the other.
If your originals are brittle, torn, or heavily used, place each sheet in a polyester L-sleeve. These sleeves reduce the risk of tears and other damage due to handling.
- Only place one item in a sleeve and make sure all parts of the text or image is visible. This way the item can stay in the sleeve while being viewed.
- Use sleeves that are larger than the original. Any part of the original extending outside of the sleeve is likely to be damaged.
- Don’t use sleeves in books. The sharp edges of the polyester will tear the book page.
If you display the original items:
- Use ultraviolet filtering glass or acrylic in the frame.
- Avoid daylight and fluorescent lighting because they contain a higher proportion of ultraviolet light, which is more damaging than visible light.
- Limit the amount of time and the intensity of light the document is exposed to by using lower intensity lights, turning lights off when not needed, and placing shades on the windows to block sunlight.
Use mat board that:
- Is made from cotton rag or 100% chemically purified pulp
- Is buffered or pH-neutral/acid-free
- Has passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) if framing photographs
Use a window mat or spacers, so the glass or acrylic is not touching the surface of the original. Hinge the original to the backing mat using one of these safe methods:
- Japanese paper hinges adhered with wheat starch paste or methyl cellulose
- Corners of paper or inert plastic film that hold the original in place without adhesive
- For glazing, use either glass or acrylic. Acrylic can generate static electricity and should be avoided for pastels and other powdery or flaking media.
- Select glazing with ultraviolet filtering if the item will be displayed in a room with sunlight or fluorescent lighting.
Consider digitizing original items:
- For flat paper and photographs, make sure the original fits complete on the surface of the scanner. The lid of the scanner can crush and crease the original if the paper doesn’t fit on the scanner.
- For books, use a copy stand instead of a flatbed scanner. Use book supports, wedges or a cradle so the binding is opened comfortably without force.
- Automatic feed scanners are not suitable for fragile, weak, bent, or valuable papers; papers can jam and become torn in automatic feed scanners.
- File Naming: Use only the letters of the Latin alphabet (A-Z, a-z) when creating alpha-numeric identifications. Don't use spaces, punctuation or symbols. Use hyphens and underscores instead of spaces.
- Add basic Metadata to files: Who, What, Where, and When. Metadata helps find and identify files later in time; there are a number of metadata options.
- Back Up your Files- Follow the 3-2-1 Rule. Three copies, stored on two different media, and one copy located off-site.
For more information on preserving your family papers, photographs, and on converting your home movies to video tape, including how-to examples and links to additional information, please visit How to Preserve Family Papers and Photographs
Don't be afraid to scan those photos and documents and save them digitally. You can copy the docs to acid free paper, just don't use auto feed on the copier. Keep your originals out of any type of direct light, and keep them in acid free folders. Please note: "Archival quality," like you'll often see on stuff you buy at craft stores, doesn't necessarily mean acid free. You'll pay a bit more for the best. You can beat Hollinger for quality acid free storage products. Hope this helps. Let me know if you need more info.