Preserving Historical Documents: Caring for your family documents at home

family photo in polyethylene plastic sheet and acid-free file folder

Preservation at Home

Many family documents, photos, letters, and diaries are passed down from generation to generation. You can help to preserve your own family documents by properly storing and safely handling them in your home.

By keeping your documents in appropriate conditions, you can help ensure that they are preserved for generations.

Storage Conditions

Temperature extremes and fluctuations lead to degradation of documents. UV light from the sun or interior light bulbs can cause paper to degrade and ink to fade. To ensure that your documents last, keep them in conditions that are comfortable for people. A good rule of thumb is to keep your family documents in the central part of your home, where it is not too hot or cold, and not too dry or damp.

  • Keep documents on the main floor (not in a hot attic or damp basement)
  • Keep the temperature between  15-21 degrees C (60-70 F) and 40-50% humidity
  • Ensure good air circulation
  • Keep away from light
  • Store flat in acid-free boxes, folders, or polyethylene plastic sheets (these can be found in stationary or art supply stores)
  • Keep like documents together (separate original papers, photos, and newspaper clippings from each other)
family photo in polyethylene plastic sheet and acid-free file folder
A family photo can be safely stored in a polyethylene plastic sheet or acid free folder.

Handling of Records

Treat your historical family documents with care. Don’t do anything to the documents that cannot be reversed (such as writing on them, laminating, taping, or gluing them.) Avoid frequently handling your records which can expose them to wear and tear.

  • Don’t eat or drink near records
  • Keep hands clean and dry (or wear white cotton gloves) since oil on skin can damage records
  • Use plastic paper clips instead of metal clips or rubber bands (which can rust or tear paper)
  • Don’t put documents on permanent display (since light can damage them) and use copies for display purposes instead
  • Contact a professional conservator to repair or clean historic documents
gloved hand holding family photo
Ensure your hands are clean and dry when handling family documents or wear white cotton gloves to ensure skin oils don’t cause damage.

Your Local Resource

If you have any questions, contact the Lambton County Archives. We may be able to assist you with storage suggestions or minor repairs. Remember that if you properly store and handle your family records today, they will be saved for your descendants!

Written by guest blogger Archivist Heather Lavallee.

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