One hundred years from now, what will our great grandchildren know about us? For most, it won’t be much. If we are lucky, there may be a handful of old photographs and a few stories, many of which may not be all that accurate. Unless we do something to identify and preserve the artifacts that tell the story of who we are, we will be forgotten. It’s that simple.
Preservation week, April 27-May 2, is a national event hosted by the American Library Association (ALA). It is the goal of the ALA to remind us all how important our own personal artifacts are. They tell the story of our lives and provide a means for future generations to know who we are and connect with us.
At FamilySearch we encourage the preserving and sharing of individual and family memories through the preservation of photographs, personal histories, movies, oral histories and other artifacts that tell the story of our families and our individual lives.
Protect your own personal and family artifacts by following these tips shared by LDS Church History conservator, Chris McAfee.
- Protect your collections.
Store items in a dark, cool, dry area. Avoid contact with sunlight and fluorescent lighting, high temperatures, and areas where water may be a concern (such as near or below plumbing lines, water heaters, etc.). If possible, try to avoid extreme changes in temperature and humidity. If you and your family have items of great historical value, you may want to consider donating them to a reputable institution like a local historical society, a museum, or a university archive.
- Store Items in secure storage containers.
Boxes, folders, plastic sleeves, etc. are excellent storage containers if they are made from archival materials. Direct contact with non-archival materials can be harmful to documents. Boxes, folders, and other paper containers should be acid and lignin free. Plastic sleeves should be polyester, polyethylene, or polypropylene. Never use vinyl or acetate. Archival containers will protect items from dust and other contaminants and will also help maintain a more stable environment for your important items. Archival items can be purchase online and something are available at local office supply stores.
- Remove objects from your books, papers and photographs.
Newspaper clippings, pressed flowers, paper clips, rubber bands, and other objects will sooner or late damage historical items. If you have one or more of these items and they are related to the artifact, remove it and store it separately with the artifact it came from.
Newspapers are highly acidic so remove them immediately. Photocopy newspaper clippings onto acid free paper. Most copy centers now have acid free paper readily available and costs only a penny a copy more. Acid free is generally considered safe for 300 to 500 years. You may also want to scan valuable paper items and story them digitally.
- Digital storage devices have a limited life expectancy.
At the present time most computer storage devices are expected to be reliable for only about 10 years. After 5 years, it may be a good idea to do a yearly review of the contents on your storage device. You don’t have to check everything but do a random review and see if there are problems. If you start getting error random messages or if only parts of your document opens, it’s time to transfer everything onto a new storage device. After 10 years you may want to transfer everything over to a new storage device so that you will be good for another 10 years.
Another great way to make sure your data is safe is to share it with others. The more a document or photograph is spread among family and friends, the greater the chances of it surviving a disaster and permanent loss.
- Avoid doing anything irreversible to your documents and photographs.
Never use white glue, rubber cement, super glue or cellophane and other pressure sensitive tapes on documents or photographs. Do not laminate items you want to save. Do not use photo albums that involve any glue or self-stick adhesives. To attach photos to a page, use photo corners instead. Avoid writing on historical documents. If items must be marked, write lightly with a #2 pencil in an inconspicuous area such as on the back or in the margins. You could also write notes on a separate piece of paper (preferably acid free) and attach it to the original document or photograph.
- Do not attempt to repair damage on your own.
If you see damage such as tears, breaks, discoloration, etc. consult a professional conservator. Most local colleges or university libraries have a conservator that can give you advice on how and where to have repairs done.
It may require some effort to follow these guidelines. Even though we don’t engrave the historical events of our lives on metal plates, preserving our own historical records still requires work on our part. But as we do the work necessary to preserve and protect our personal records we can, as Jacob did, rejoice in knowing the joy our descendants will find in learning more about us.
What can you do to preserve your stories, photos and other history records? You can go to FamilySearch.org and add your photos and stories to your branch of the Family Tree. By adding your important historical records to FamilySearch, you can be sure that your posterity, for generations to come, will know who you were and will enjoy learning more about you.