Blog originally posted April 29, 2020
Have you recently found yourself sorting through the old family records?
2009-36, W. Hopkins family photograph, ca. 1917. Copyright: Public Domain
Are any showing signs of age and neglect?
It's likely time for some Archival T.L.C.!
Here are 3 things you can do at home to take better care of them.
1. Tenderly examine the records
Have a look at the items and note the physical characteristics for each one.
What exactly do you have?
- Audio tapes
- Computer disks
- External hard drives
- Glass negatives
- Land records
- Letters and envelopes
- Photographic negatives or slides
- Vinyl recordings
What is it made of?
2012-35 Front of Remembrance Certificate ca. 1902. Copyright: Simcoe County Archives
Is there a mix of materials?
- Photographs have three layers:
- a base layer, i.e. paper or cardboard
- a top layer, i.e. the image you see
- a layer of glue holding the two together
- Vinyl albums may include three or four things:
- vinyl record
- paper sleeve
- album notes on paper
- album cover
Some items, including the Remembrance Certificate shown above, may be acidic because of wooden framing materials. A view of the back clearly shows the the knot from the wood shingles used as backing. The straight line where two shingles joined is visible on the front (look at the tail and wings of the dove).
2012-35 Back of Remembrance Certificate ca. 1902. Copyright: Simcoe County Archives
Information about preserving archival materials is available on-line. Of particular note are the Canadian Conservation Institute's Care Guides for objects and collections.
2. Lovingly balance needs and budget
You can care for many of your records without spending a lot of money. Items generally last longer in spaces where the temperature and Relative Humidity stay constant year-round.
Remember: Do not do anything to the records that you can not undo.
Click here for some “Do and Do Not" guidelines.
- Move them out of the attic, basement, garage, or shed
- Store them away from direct sunlight, air vents/radiators, and outside walls
- Keep them in little-used closets, cupboards, or drawers
There are many storage solutions available. We recommend you use:
- Clean, sturdy boxes with handles, such as bankers' boxes
- Plain manilla file folders – dyes will bleed into your items
- New plastic page / photo / slide protectors – old ones may contain PVC, which is bad for archival materials
- Acid-free folders, envelopes and boxes whenever possible
Simcoe County Clerk's Office records, ca. 2009. Copyright: Simcoe County Archives
NOTE: Avoid using items made of recycled fibres, as they may contain bleach residue.
You may find that your DIY skills are not quite up to the work required. Professional conservators have training and skills they can use to extend the life of the item.
3. Care enough to share with others
Always remember that you are only the current caretaker of the family's treasures. Other family members may, or will be, interested in them, too.
Digitize and share
Digitize the items, but remember:
- Scan once, copy many
- Save high-resolution scans in a “Master Copies– Do Not Touch" folder
- For photographs*, include:
- Names (including the dog's)
- Why it is important to your family
- Backup, backup, backup – on internal and external hard drives, USBs, cloud storage, etc.
- Store originals and copies in different households in case disaster strikes
984-16, Thomas Jebb and dog, ca. 1920. Copyright: Public Domain
* Click here for more information on identifying photographs
Let loose your imagination when sharing copies of your treasures. Create slide shows, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, playing cards, trivia games, etc.
Make time for “The Talk"
Estate planning is essential if you want to keep the family's treasures safe for future generations.
- Ask yourself, “Who in the family is interested in the materials?"
- Talk to them about taking over preservation duties
- If there are no obvious candidates, consider donating the materials to an archives. Click here to access the Simcoe County Archives Donor Portal and here for a list of archives in Ontario
- Tell other members of the family what you are planning to do
- Include specific wishes in your Will
Do you have questions about how to look after one of your family treasures? Contact us email@example.com
999-21 Letter from Sir John A Macdonald 981-21 GB Strathy Diary, April 1917 pp54-55to Sir James R. Gowan, February 1867 Copyright: Simcoe County Archives Copyright: Simcoe County Archives
Blog amended May 14, 2020. The broken link to the CCI website was repaired.