Family historians research, but we also collect. We collect and inherit documents that tell the story of our ancestor’s lives. As the curator of these items, we are tasked with not only interpreting and sharing but ensuring their preservation for future generations. It’s a job that most of us have limited knowledge or experience with, but there are websites that can help.
The Library of Congress
The Preservation page at the Library of Congress offers resources for everything from getting preservation questions answered to learning more about preserving various types of items. Explore the menu found on the left-hand side to learn more about preservation. One of the topics in the menu, Resources, will help you to find educational materials that will be helpful for you, your family, and even any presentations you may provide. If you have items that need a professional to repair any damage, this website includes information on finding and hiring a conservator. For those in Canada, consult the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators website.
The National Archives (U.S.)
The U.S. National Archives has an illustrated brochure from a previous virtual Genealogy Fair that can help you know the basics of preserving your heirlooms. You’ll find it in the PDF at https://www.archives.gov/files/calendar/genealogy-fair/2017/1-smith-handout.pdf. The general information about handling, storing, and displaying are good reminders for everyone tasked with storing family heirlooms.The U.S. National Archives also has a webpage that explores how they preserve records and how you can preserve your family archive. Learn more about digitizing and storing paper documents and photographs. They even tackle the problem of paper items that hold mold or are infested with bugs. The Storing Family Papers and Photograph section discusses storing individual pages, albums, and rolled documents.
The Smithsonian has a blog post entitled Six Tips for Preserving Family Archives that includes tips by archive staff. One tip that would help future genealogists is to label photographs with not only the name of the person but also their birth/death dates. Doing so helps in clearly identifying people, especially those who share a name with someone in the previous or next generation. Clear identification is part of preserving items for the future.
It’s important that we keep our family heirlooms and documents in a way that preserves them for the future. Digitizing and archivally storing items can help. Sometimes, a conservator might be needed to repair damaged items; consult the websites above for an expert.