Caring for Family Papers

This page provides a brief guide to caring for family records and links to further sources of information.

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Conservation and restoration of:

Protecting your pictures

In order to protect your pictures, you could go around the house and secure framed photographs and pictures so that they cannot fall off the wall. A number of different products are available to help you secure these items, such as specially-formulated earthquake wax and putty, and also quake-resistant picture hooks and hanging systems.

Avoid displaying framed photographs in places with a higher exposure to light or heat, such as in direct sunlight or near or above a heating source.

Keep items in the dark — avoid light, moisture and heat

A second step is to house those family papers, photos and material items correctly. The biggest enemies of paper are moisture, light and heat, so storage should be somewhere dry, dark and where the temperature doesn’t vary hugely between hot and cold, and is preferably on the cooler side with good air circulation. Putting boxes of photos in hot, stuffy places such as under the house eaves is not a good idea, as they may crack or fade.

Avoid placing them anywhere that water could flood, such as near hot water cylinders or pipes, or potentially damp places such as basements or garages. Dust is also a potential threat, particularly for photos, so try and keep the storage environment dust-free.

Sort and store

Begin by sorting and assessing your papers. Remove all staples, pins or other metal attachments, as these can rust and damage the paper. You can use plastic-covered paper clips if necessary. Lie all papers flat to avoid wear and tear along fold lines.

If you have important or valuable papers or photos badly damaged by water or heat it may pay to consult a professional paper conservator for advice. Don’t try to mend the items yourself with adhesive tape.

Storing the papers in a folder is better than in an envelope, especially a tight-fitting one that risks causing damage when taking documents in or out. It is important to use archival quality acid-free paper, tissue and cardboard to prevent deterioration of the item, rather than standard home office-type stationery and manila folders which may contain damaging chemicals or acid.

You can use acid-free polypropylene and polyester enclosures and pages. We list suppliers below.

Survival tips

Do not consider laminating any important papers or documents you want to keep long-term as this treatment causes irreversible damage. Use archival standard acid-free cardboard boxes for storage, using acid-free folders or layers of acid-free tissue paper to keep items separate. Remember to label the boxes with details of contents.

Newspaper deteriorates quickly when exposed to light or damp. Keep any newspaper clippings separate from other documents in their own folder or box, and remember to record details of newspaper title, date and page number. You may prefer to photocopy the original as a photocopy will last for longer.

Caring for photographs and negatives

For your photos it is a good idea to record details of time, place, people in the photos, and who took them. If you do want to identify the photos by writing this information on the back, use a soft pencil and write lightly. Colour photographs are more inclined to fade and lose colour, particularly older ones, but black and white photographs will last for longer.

Store photographs in either acid-free paper envelopes or enclosures, or in transparent plastic enclosures made of uncoated polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene. Do not use PVC, and be aware of the possibility of moisture being trapped and causing damage. Acid-free paper is preferable because of its porous nature.

Avoid sealed pages

If you have any photos in albums with self-sealing pages, remove the photos as soon as possible, as this is one of the worst ways to store them. Use an album with acid-free paper and mounting corners, or one with polyethylene pages for clear viewing, or store in acid-free paper or cardboard boxes with acid-free paper dividers. Don’t use glue or adhesive tape to fix in place. Other albums can be left as is, but should be wrapped in acid-free paper or stored in an acid-free box.

Negative storage

It’s a good idea to store negatives in individual sleeves or acid-free paper envelopes to avoid possible damage from negatives rubbing against each other. Do not use plastic enclosures for nitrate or older safety film negatives, but get professional advice on the best way to handle these items.

Further conservation advice

You can get more help and advice from the following websites:

Suppliers of conservation materials

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