Preserving Your Historical Family Records

S23526FireDeptPhotos
SLC Fire Department photos, Series 23526

 

This week has been designated as Preservation Week by the American Library Association. This designation is a chance to highlight the importance of preserving items worthy of passing on to future generations. These items are held in thousands of museums, libraries and archival institutions, as well as in many family collections.

Here at the State Archives it is a core part of our job to preserve the records of government in Utah for the future. While we work with a large and diverse collection of government records, the basic principles of preserving these historical records are the same as those for preserving the historic family records you may have. The key to preserving any historic records is recognizing the threats that may damage or destroy them, and taking steps to reduce the risk from those threats. The major threats to our historical records include water, heat, light, dirt, pests, and handling. Here are a few tips to help preserve your priceless family documents:

  1. Gather all your historic family photos and documents together, organize them, and make an inventory. Many family records are lost simply because we don’t keep track of what we have.
  2. Put your family records in protective enclosures. Acid free archival boxes and folders are ideal for this. These enclosures can provide protection from water, dirt, and light and keep things from getting scattered.
  3. Store your records in a climate controlled space. Wide swings in temperature and humidity will damage materials over time. Don’t store records in a shed or in the attic where temperatures can reach extremes. Avoid storing items under water pipes and if you store them in the basement, keep them at least six inches off the floor, in case of flooding.
  4. Don’t wear out your priceless family heirlooms with use. Make sure your hands are clean when you handle them. Wear cotton or nitrile gloves to handle photographs. Make copies of things for hanging on the wall or for regular use. Don’t paste originals in scrapbooks or albums. Keep the original pristine for future generations. If you want to save your grandmother’s cookbook, copy the information and quit using the original. Digitize items to distribute copies among the family. Put the original away where it won’t get handled to death.
  5. If you are worried about your ability to properly care for your family records or don’t have someone to pass them on to who will care for them, consider donating them to a professional institution where they can be preserved and available for the entire extended family for years to come. There are a variety of institutions throughout Utah that can be repositories to preserve your historic records. The  Utah Manuscripts Association provides a list of most of the major archives in Utah.

By taking steps to protect the records that tell the story of our families, we can insure that the family legacy we have collected will live on to tell that story to future generations.

For more information on Preservation Week and additional information on preserving your family heirlooms go to http://www.ala.org/alcts/preservationweek/resources .

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