Family documents are not necessarily old – even contemporary paperwork can be useful.
People do seem to accumulate a huge amount of paper in some form or another. For instance, all the usual certificates, birth, marriage and death. Details of scholastic achievements, property deeds and details, scrap-books, photograph albums, newspaper cuttings perhaps and any number of other types of information.
It is the historical type of document that needs to be very carefully cared for, such as house plans, old correspondence, diaries and journals. Anything in fact that gives an insight into life in a different era.
There are some types of ink that actually corode paper and you really need acid-free ink to avoid this.
Any acidic paper is going to turn yellow with age and also become brittle. This can lead to anything stored with this paper item becoming discoloured also.
You need to be very careful with photographs because the surface is very vulnerable and can be easily scratched and marked by greasy fingerprints.
It is best to handle photographs or transparencies only by their edges. Do not touch the surface even though you consider you have clean hands the natural secretions can damage a photograph over time.
If you have original photographs hung on your wall in a frame, make sure they are not in direct sunlight.
If you currently are using a digital camera you need to consider long term storage of the photos. Perhaps you have transferred them to your PC, but what if your hard disk crashed, or you upgrade your computer? It would be advisable to store your images onto archival quality DVD and/or CD’s.
Stored papers are actually a larder for insects and pests. Any paper, ink or photographic paper is seen as a food source to many insects etc.
You need to also think about keeping papers together with paperclips and staples as these can rust and cause damage to the paper.
In some instances when you are handling particularly old documents you may choose to wear surgical or cotton gloves to avoid your actual fingers touching the paper. This is good but if the paper is very delicate and fragile, wearing gloves may reduce the sensitivity of the fingers and could actually cause damage.
If you can avoid folding items this is best because repeated folding can cause weakness and possibly worn areas in the document.
It is definitely essential that you store your precious documents in acid-free folders and boxes. Any old brown envelope or plastic bag just will not do.
If you can label each box with its contents this will avoid unnecessary handling when looking for a particular item. Also, it is best if the box is about the same size as the papers stored inside, this avoids any extra movement of the papers in the box.
You need to make certain that where these boxes are stored is clean and dry, with a preferable 45-60% humidity, it also needs to be cool and dark.
It might pay you to make photographic copies of your older documentation for display purposes. For instance if you are setting up a display at some Family History Fair and the papers are likely to be out in the open for some time. Always try to conserve original documents as well as you can, they are irreplaceable.
Try not to use sticky tape on documents, they leave a residue which turns yellow and this leads to the paper deteriorating. It is so difficult to remove this stickiness so it’s best never to use the tape in the first place.
A lot of conservation do’s and don’t are really just common sense. Naturally you shouldn’t handle old documentation roughly or carelessly. All of these items are, as I mentioned before, irreplaceable.