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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - August/September 2005
Preserving Old Documents and Records

Many patrons come into the library asking what to do with old papers and records that they inherited after the death of a parent or grandparent. Many of these materials were passed down through several previous generations. If the original documents were printed within the last 100 years, they are probably on highly acidic paper. Oils from your hands can also contribute to the decay of papers and documents. 
The process of encapsulating each document will normally prevent the acid or oil from spreading to other papers that come into contact with them. Original photographs and documents should never be framed and placed where sunlight can fade and destroy them. Make a color photograph or photocopy of the document or picture to frame. Store the original in a protective sleeve away from light, humidity, and any possible water damage. Documents and photographs should never be stored where the temperature and humidity fluctuate widely. 
Lamination was once the method of choice for preservation. Today, encapsulation of items within acid-free sheet protectors has made the preservation process more efficient. Most experts recommend preserving your precious and valuable documents or photographs in this manner versus the old method of lamination. Encapsulation allows the historical item to float freely and can easily be removed when necessary. Lamination, on the other hand, will damage photographs and documents, since the process involves heating and melting a plastic coating over the item. This process is irreversible. 
Encapsulation supplies can be obtained through most archival supply companies. Two of the most popular with genealogists, historians, and librarians are Gaylord and Light Impressions. You may locate these types of companies on the Internet using the keyword search ?archival supplies? or consult with the library staff at a local library or repository near your residence. One of the best books on the subject of preservation is the title Preserving Your Family Photographs by Maureen Taylor. 
Many photographers are now active in the restoration and duplication of family photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia. They create negatives of the original so additional copies may be made and shared with others. Distribution of copies of these items can maximize the possibility that some copies of the original photographs will last for future generations. It is also important to purchase a pen or marker that is safe for photographs and label every picture. Note the names of people in the photograph, the date or approximate date, and the occasion. 
More than a few genealogists have talked about inheriting boxes of old photographs with no identifiable information. Many people without any genealogical interest end up tossing these items in the garbage or giving them to flea markets and garage sales only to realize their mistake years later when they become interested in genealogy. 
Bryan L. Mulcahy
Reference Librarian 
Fort Myers-Lee County Library 
2050 Central Avenue 
Fort Myers, FL 33901-3917 
Tel: (239)- 479-4651 
Fax: (239)- 479-4634 

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