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Local History, Special Collections, and Genealogy

Family Treasures cover photograph

Preserving Your Family Treasures

With this guide we will be discussing how to self preserve:

1. Family Papers

2. Print Photographs

3. Digital Prints

4. Newspapers

5. Postcards

6. Film

Family Papers

First steps to preserve your family papers:

1. Gather your treasures together

2. Identify what you have gathered

3. Organize them based on the type of materials they are

4. Put them in protective enclosures

5. Store them safely

Avoid the use of:

-Pressure-sensitive ("Scotch") tape

-Rubber cement

-Metal paper clips

-Acetate sleeves from office supply stores

-Self-adhesive album or scrapbook pages

-Manila envelopes

Sharing documents with other family members

-Do not pass the originals around; make photocopies or digital copies to distribute to other family members

-If you wish to compile a scrapbook, use copies, not the original documents

Print Photographs

First Steps

1.Display copies of important photographs instead of the originals

2.If originals are displayed, keep light exposure to a minimum


-Store photographs and important documents in a cool, dry place where there is minimal fluctuation in temperature and humidity. Avoid attics and basements.

-Store individual photographs and slides in polyester or polypropylene pages or sleeves. Acid-free sleeves or envelopes, which have passed a standardized "photographic activity test" (PAT) are another option for photographs.

-When purchasing albums or storage boxes, look for those that are acid-free and have passed a "photographic activity test."

-Never put an adhesive on your photographs. Use photo corners, polyester mounting strips or sleeves to mount photographs in albums.

-Store negatives in a separate location from albums and prints. In the event of a disaster, you will have two chances for your photographs to survive.

-Use a soft pencil to label photographs or paper that might come into contact with photographs.

-Handle your photographs and negatives by their edges and with clean hands to avoid soiling the surface.

Digital Photographs

Archiving Tips

-Identify where you have digital photos

-Identify all your digital photos on cameras, computers and removable media such as memory cards.

-Include your photos on the Web.

Decide which photos are most important

-Pick the images you feel are especially important.

-You can pick a few photos or many.

-If there are multiple versions of an important photo, save the one with highest quality.

Organize the selected photos

-Give individual photos descriptive file names.

-Tag photos with names of people and descriptive subjects .

-Create a directory/folder structure on your computer to put the images you picked.

-Write a brief description of the directory structure and the photos.

Make copies and store them in different places

-Make at least two copies of your selected photos—more copies are better.

-One copy on your computer or laptop; put other copies on separate media such as DVDs, CDs, portable hard drives, thumb drives or Internet storage (the cloud).

-Store copies in different locations that are as physically far apart as practical. If disaster strikes one location, your photographs in the other place should be safe.

-Put a copy of the photo inventory with your important papers in a secure location.

-Check your photos at least once a year to make sure you can read them.

-Create new media copies every five years or when necessary to avoid data loss.


Proper Care and Handling of Newspapers and Newspaper Clippings

-Taking care when handling any collection item, especially large format, poor quality paper items like newspapers, is one of the more effective, cost-efficient, and easily achieved preservation measures.

Take proper care when handling newspapers by:

-Having clean hands and a clean, large work table on which to use the newspaper

-Keeping the newspaper flat and fully supported on the table during use

-Keeping food and drink away

-Never folding the paper back on itself

-Refolding the paper using the original center fold and with the edges neatly aligned 

-Not using paper clips, "dog ear" folding, acidic inserts, rubber bands, self-adhesive tape, and/or glue on newspapers and clippings

Good storage is especially critical to the preservation of acidic papers, but the following guidelines apply to all newspapers, including those from before the mid-19th century, which are printed on better quality paper:

-A cool (room temperature or below), relatively dry (about 35% relative humidity), clean, and stable environment (avoid attics, basements, and other locations with high risk of leaks and environmental extremes) 

-Minimal exposure to all kinds of light; no exposure to direct or intense light

-Distance from radiators and vents

-Supportive protective enclosures; binding of newspapers is not recommended

-Flat storage


Very similar to print photographs. Consider an album with polyester sleeves that allow for view of image and text.


As an information storage medium, videotapes are not as stable as photographs. Videotapes are fragile—subject to damage and deterioration from exposure to poor environmental conditions and inadequate handling practices. Even if properly cared for, magnetic tape may last for only a few decades.


-The best way to prevent deterioration is to store all videotapes in an environment that does not fluctuate significantly in temperature or relative humidity. High temperature, high humidity, and  the presence of dust and pollutants in the air will result in irreversible loss of both video and audio signals.

-A dust-free, temperature- and humidity-controlled environment—68 degrees Fahrenheit and 20 to 30 percent relative humidity is recommended for the safe home storage of  videotape.

-Never keep videotapes in a hot, wet environment or expose them to direct sunlight.

-Storage at high temperatures (in an attic or on windowsills) may result in tape-to-tape adhesion (known as blocking), degradation of the binder (known as shedding), and permanent distortion of the tape backing.

-Storage at high humidity (in a basement or garage) may cause fungal growth.

-Playback Devices must be cared for and cleaned regularly following recommended maintenance procedures. Protect VCRs with a dust cover. Dirt in the tape path through the machine can permanently scratch the videotape’s surface

Consult professional for digitization.


Online sources that sell archive-grade storage.

Archival Products -

Archivart -

Brodart -

Gaylord Brothers, Inc. -

Talas -

Books you can check out through Worcester County Library

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