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Preserving Genealogical Records

Take appropriate steps to protect your family history research in order to pass it on to future generations.  Letter/e-mails, photographs and documents are subject to deterioration because of their own composition or through the harmful actions of man, insects, rodents, microorganisms, light, acidity, atmosphere and natural disasters.  You can implement basic conservation procedures even if you are on a tight budget.

Store permanent records in a safe secure place where temperature and humidity can be controlled.  It is unwise to store records in attics or basements.  A locking metal file cabinet will offer storage and security at the same time.  Always make sure that records in the home are handled with care.  Permit no smoking, eating, drinking or use of fountain pens near the records.  Protect important documents to be retained permanently by keeping them out of direct sunlight. 

Remove all metal paper clips, straight pins and staples from papers because metal will rust and discolour the paper.  Use plastic coated paper clips as fasteners.  Remove and discard elastics as they deteriorate very quickly.  Carefully unfold old letters and store them flat in acid-free file folders because frequent folding and refolding of documents will cause them to split at the folds. 

Remove files from a file cabinet by the protective folder rather than by the pages themselves.  Place fragile valuable records and old photographs in plastic Mylar sleeves whenever possible.  You can buy small quantities of acid-free folders, envelopes and Mylar plastic sheets and sleeves.

Photocopy old newspaper clippings and store the photocopies in appropriate family files.  Throw out original clippings, as the newsprint will gradually darken until the clippings are illegible.  If these clippings are stored in a book or come in contact with other documents, the acidity in the clippings will stain whatever is touched. 

Maps can pose a storage problem due to their shape and size.  Do not fold maps but leave them left flat or rolled and placed in tubes.

Nearly every family historian possesses old photographs that need to be arranged, stored and protected.  A photograph consists of a metallic silver image on a base of metal, glass, paper, or plastic film and requires care in handling and storage.  Old photographs were mounted in albums or left lying loose.  Most are well past their prime and suffer from the effects of careless handling.  Preserve old photographs because they are a visual history of our ancestors and their lives.  Remove layers of dirt on photographic prints by using a soft artist's eraser.  To reduce the possibility of damage, flatten curled photographs and place them in Mylar sleeves or in acid-free file folders.

Remove all photographs from the collection that are stained, bleached or have an acidic smell as these prints were probably improperly processed and residual chemicals were left behind.  Copy, and discard the originals.  Separate Polaroid photographs because they are coated with chemicals and will stain and damage other prints they touch.  Since colour prints have a life span of from ten to twenty years, it is wise for permanent preservation to copy colour prints using black and white film or to have them digitally processed.  It is a good idea to have large photographs copied and smaller, easier to handle prints made from the negatives.  Identify nitrate-based negatives (Kodak) which are extremely flammable and have duplicate negatives produced.  Place negatives and prints of historical value in their own Mylar plastic envelopes, in acid-free folders and boxes and store these at a constant temperature and humidity.