Preserving documents and family heirlooms

Reading my February 2015 Blog; Back to basics I talk about a letter preserved in the family archives, detailing aspects of the life of my grandmother. This got me thinking about the subject of my March 2016 Blog.

The preservation of family history records is vital for future generations, and thinking about this now whilst you are researching your ancestors is exactly the right time. This should be a high priority on your list of things to do.


Original records can be scanned or photocopied easily nowadays. Cheap photocopying exists on the high street. Many of us have home computers and printers, and up to date printers have copying and scanning capability. Completing this task will reduce the damage caused to old, original documents by repeated handling. Remember our skin sweats and contains oils, dirt and grime. This (however dry and clean your hands feel) will be deposited on documents tarnishing them forever.


I have a tin box full of old photographs in my parents loft. None of the photos are named on the back and my parents don’t know who the photos depict. If only my grandmother was still alive; I know she would have identified many of the subjects if not all! So, put names and dates on the back of photographs in pencil. Don’t use the cheap plastic sleeves you can buy in your local supermarket or stationery shop, use acid free plastic sleeves from a reputable supplier. Check family history magazines, family history fairs or conferences or google archive quality suppliers. Plus, a loft isn’t a great place to store old photographs – get them into some inert storage boxes or albums specially designed for preservation.

Handling documents and photos

Whilst shopping for your acid free plastic sleeves it would be worth while purchasing soft, cotton gloves as well. These can be used to handle original photographs and save the oils from your skin marking them.


Don’t use polish, spray or liquid cleaning products on your family heirlooms due to their abrasive nature and the chemicals they contain. Gain professional advice. With the recent floods water damage may be an issue, check out this link for advice.

Doris M Nash Scripture Certificate

Doris M Nash Scripture Certificate circa 1915

Useful Links

Further, useful links for preserving and conserving your family heirlooms:

+ Caring for old quilts

+ Royal School of Needlework conservation and preservation

+ Preserving Family Treasures

+ Archivist tips and techniques

+ Recovering from a disaster

+ How to Archive Family Keepsakes

+ Preserving Digital Records

I use CW&S Parkinson for a good selection of archive quality storage materials.

Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?

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