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            May, 2005

      Carol Sanderson,
      Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor

          Newsletter Archives   |  E-mail                    

 Preserving Our Family Treasures
- by Debi Pfahl *

        Most of us have items in our possession such as old photographs, letters, birth certificates or military badges, commonly referred to as family heirlooms. It is a genealogist's nature to collect these things as they give us a unique view into the lives of our ancestors, often providing additional information to help us solve our ancestral puzzles.

        So what do we do with our family heirlooms and all the documentation we collect as we trace our ancestry? We could leave those loose photos in an old shoebox, stick the newspaper clippings and marriage certificates in another box and store them in the attic. When we go back to look at them, we find the mice have nested in the photos, now yellow and cracking, and the newspaper along with all the other papers the newsprint touched is brown. This is an example of the type of deterioration, which can occur if we don't protect our family treasure.

        Metal objects will rust or corrode. Insects feed on clothing and paper products. Water from leaky roofs or flooded basements will permanently ruin most objects. Sunlight will fade photos as well as paintings and moisture in the air (humidity) will accelerate the deterioration of our heirlooms. Paper before the 1850s, known as rag paper, was mostly made of plant fibers such as cotton and flax. Rag paper and parchment, made from animal skin, will last for centuries. Modern paper is made from wood pulp and contains a compound called lignin that breaks down into acids. These acids cause the paper to yellow and crack. Newsprint is the highest acid paper and when it deteriorates the acid leaches into and onto anything it is in contact with. The article starts to deteriorate as well, a process known as acid migration.

        Preserving our family heirlooms doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. With a little forethought and organization we can protect our precious items for many years. There are a few principals of preservation we néed to remember. Keep the items high and dry. Store them off the floor and at moderate temperature and low humidity. Keep them in the dark. A closet with interior walls works well. Protect documents and memorabilia in archival materials such as Mylar sleeves, envelopes, file folders, binders and storage boxes. Hang photos, paintings and documents on display out of direct sunlight. Handle old documents carefully. Always wash hands and wear white cotton gloves.

        A little planning goes a long way when archiving our family documents and heirlooms. Deciding where we will store them and how to organize them is an important first step. Once we have an idea on our organizational plan the next step is to sort the items for example, into family groups. Do an inventory of the entire collection organized into groups and make a list of the supplies néeded. These supplies may be purchased at some local office supply or photography stores. Archival products can also be ordered from suppliers around the country. A simple Google search for archival products turns up all kinds of web sites for suppliers, methods and products.

        Once we have an inventory, how do we decide what kinds of supplies we will néed? Photographs are probably one of the easiest to start with. Mylar-D, polypropylene or polyethylene sleeves are archival safe. Stay away from PVC or PVA products. There are many sizes and layouts available to fit individual néeds. These sleeves can then be placed in binders, file folders or photo albums. Making copies is a good idea. If using a photocopier use color even for black and white photos. Digital photocopies are probably the most desirable. These should also be backed up with a CD. If the photo is cracked it can be repaired using archival tape placed on the back and the photo stored flat. For seriously damaged items, contact a conservator or archivist in your area.

        Protecting paper items is also fairly easy. Use protective sleeves. If you want to keep two items back to back in the same sleeve, place a sheet of buffered paper between the documents. Sleeves can then be stored in file folders, binders or boxes. Remember to keep all newsprint and telegrams in their own separate sleeves. Cracked or rolled documents can present a problem. If a rolled document is already cracked it may break when unrolled. Be prepared for this or contact a professional. A cracked or broken document can be repaired at home by applying archival tape to the back. The document should then be placed between two pieces of glass to keep it flat. Make copies using acid and lignin free paper.

        Books should always stand straight on a bookshelf and not packed tight. Never pull a book out by the top of its spine. Oversized books should always lay flat. Remove all items from the family Bible. Flowers, newspaper clippings etc. can eventually break the binding as well as start deteriorating the pages. Place these items in sleeves and label them as to where they came from and what they were for if known. Books can be wrapped in newsprint and packed flat in storage boxes. Remember to keep them dry. Scrapbooks can be preserved by inserting 20# buffered paper between the pages, the book wrapped in archival tissue paper and stored in a flat storage box. A new scrapbook can be created by photocopying or photographing each page and inserting these pages into sleeves. The sleeves may be placed in an attractive archival binder book for viewing.

        Other heirlooms such as jewelry and military medals can be stored or displayed using archival display boxes. These display boxes are clear like plexi-glass so the item may be viewed without handling the originals. A holder is made using a product called foam core . Foam core is a paper-backed product with a sponge like material sandwiched between two sheets. Pieces are cut and fashioned to an individual item. Cut a back and a top to size (slightly larger than the item). Next cut small rectangular pieces to build up the sides to a height just above the height of the item. Cut a hole in the top for viewing and place the top on the stack.Glue all pieces together and you have a nest in which to place the item. The holder should be stored in a display box. Remember to use only archival foam core, glue and display boxes.

        Fabric items should be wrapped in archival tissue before folding up and storing. All metals such as buttons, hooks and zippers néed to be wrapped in tissue or cotton cloth to inhibit rust. Fabric néeds to breathe and should never be stored in plastic. Also, polyester cloth is made from petroleum products so should be stored separately. Labels are made using acid free paper or cotton and marked with an archival pen. The labels then can be sewn on using cotton thread. Items should be removed from their containers occasionally and exposed to the air.

        Preserving our family treasurers is a choice. This choice can be both a rewarding and creative experience, that with a little forethought and planning our efforts today will produce a collection of heirlooms to be enjoyed by our family and future generations.

*Debi was born and raised in Western New York and has spent her whole life there with the exception of 2 years in North Pole, Alaska. She has a degree in Chemistry and loved doing research. She has 3 daughters and is an exempt volunteer firefighter. She has been interested in family history for over thirty years. Debi loved listening to those family stories as a child. As she started her family research, she also became interested in local history, something she never liked in school. Her other interests and hobbies are: gardening, natural medicines and herbalogy, Native American traditions/philosophy and reading, especially historical fiction.

 Access to Records
- by Charles Hansen

        Genealogists are always accessing old records. However, with all the news about identity theft and with shrinking government budgets, governments are trying to limit access to vital records, but will limiting access to records stop identity thefts? Do genealogy web sites contribute to identity thefts?

        Shrinking government budgets may close more records than making legislation to stop identity theft. As the budgets shrink, the very records we are interested in get neglected more and more. Very old records may be disintegrating just sitting on the shelves as budgets are strained to just keep the government running. About two years ago Spokane County lost about a third of their budget when a new city was formed in the county.While several departments also lost a third of their work the Auditors Office did not and the Auditor is the keeper of the county's vital records. With less money to work with our Auditor contacted the local genealogical society for some help since genealogists make up the majority of requests for the records in the Auditors archives.

        Genealogists should try to help keep the access to records open and to preserve those records for future researchers. One of the best ways is to check to see if the records have been microfilmed either by the LDS or regional archives set up in the states. Always be courteous, especially at courthouses and archives. This will make it easier for the next genealogist to access the records by not having the staff dread the next genealogist.

        While identity theft is getting to be a problem, will closing the vital records genealogists are using for research stop identity theft? Are the websites designed and maintained by genealogists contributing to identity theft? The National Better Business Bureau did a survey on causes of identity theft. This is a ranking of their findings:

  1. lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks or credit cards, making up thirty percent of the total;
  2. was by a friend/acquaintance, fifteen percent;
  3. corrupt employees, ten percent;
  4. offline transactions, nine percent;
  5. stolen mail, eight percent;
  6. computer spyware, six percent;
  7. going through the garbage, four percent;
  8. on-line transactions, three percent;
  9. hackers, three percent;
  10. and phishing, two percent.
Notice only fourteen percent was from computers, with nothing from genealogical websites or from vital records.

        Does this mean we are safe from identity theft? Should we worry about someone somewhere using our data to steal our identity? It looks like theft of our wallets or checkbooks are what we néed to protect most. Other things we can do to help are:

  1. do not list people on websites that are still living,
  2. ask our banks not to use mothers maiden names for identifiers,
  3. don't give your social security number, bank account numbers, and other identifiers to the phishers and when possible report these to the businesses who seem to be the ones sending you E-mail asking for this information to verify your account,
  4. copy all the credit cards in your wallet, both sides,
  5. don't write all the credit card number on your check when you pay the credit card bill,
  6. shred the documents with important numbers before they are discarded in the garbage,
  7. don't store your blank checks in the drawer by the computer. It is the first place a thief looks.

        By doing the above and protecting your important papers, hopefully you will never be bothered by identity theft. It is up to genealogists to make sure their politicians do not close the vital records we are interested in to stop identity theft, when those vital records are not contributing to identity theft.

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