Miryelle Resek | Apr 14, 2017

How to Store Heirloom Papers and Digital Copies

This is the third of a three-part series exploring how to preserve family heirlooms. Read parts one and two.

Preserving our heirlooms is riddled with tricky factors depending on the material your antique is made from and how that material was made.

What are the best ways to store our most common heirlooms so they last longer?

Storing Paper Heirlooms

Paper made before the 19th century was made differently than paper made in the 20th century. It was more robust, less acidic, and tended to last a little bit longer than 20th-century paper. In contrast, 20th-century paper yellows and becomes brittle.

How you store paper will affect how long it lasts. Acidic photo albums, scrapbooks, glue, and tape can all eat through documents and photos if they aren’t PAT (Photographic Acid Test) certified. And it isn’t just acid that you need to watch for.

As previously talked about, temperature, humidity, and light can affect the longevity of paper, but other objects included where you store your documents can affect your artifacts as well.

In his RootsTech 2017 presentation Tyler Thorsted, a digital conservator with the Church History Library, said, “If you go through your box … and you find old staples and metal clips, things like that … they can rust really easily and cause more damage to your documents.”

Thorsted recommends storing photographs in boxes that are archival friendly and acid free. While plastic bins are good for keeping documents safe from little floods, Thorsted suggests watching for the following when using plastic bins:

  • Sealing in pests
  • Sealing in moisture
  • Stacking heavy boxes on top of each other
  • Using cheap plastic boxes that emanate gases that damage heirlooms
  • Storing heirlooms in boxes near food storage (which encourages unwanted guests to inspect what’s inside)

When storing hard copies in boxes, make sure the box is:

  • Big enough to hold what’s inside
  • Acid free or archival friendly
  • Off the floor
  • Away from bright lights
  • Labeled so others know what’s inside

Once you have your paper heirlooms stored safely, make sure the temperature and humidity in your home remain constant.

Storing Digital Heirlooms

Many of us have both a hard copy and a digital copy of photographs, documents, and more, and many of these digital copies can be found on compact disks, old floppy disks, hard drives, or USB thumb drives. As Thorsted says, “While each of these storage devices has their own long-term challenges, the best option is to be aware of what you have and to migrate it to new media often. And always have another copy located somewhere else.”

Digital copies need to be cared for just as much as the hard copies. Keep your media safe by keeping them in sleeves, cases, and boxes. Even the slightest crack on a CD can make the disk unusable and the data stored on it unrecoverable.

Floppy disks and old hard drives can be magnetic. Keeping them away from magnets (including things you may not have considered, like speakers in your home) can prevent the memories stored on them from getting erased. If you do have important information saved on floppy disks, be aware that floppy disks are an antiquated storage system. Consider transferring those files onto a hard drive, USB drive, or other modern storage solution..

Like boxes where hard copies are stored, digital copies also need labels. While it’s easy to insert a CD into your computer to see what’s on it, not knowing what’s stored on a USB drive or CD can make it easier to accidentally throw away or mistreat the copy.

How do you store your heirlooms? Tweet us your tips @RootsTechConf.

Miryelle Resek

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