Caring for your documents at home

Diocesan Archives Officer Donna Robson offers some practical tips to preserve your personal archives.

What can one do now to preserve family documents well into the future?  

Most documents, whether certificates of baptism, confirmation, marriage, educational qualifications, other significant achievements or indeed, death, have been produced in paper form. Then there are letters, photographs, cards, newspaper clippings and perhaps diaries or notebooks.

By its very nature, paper is an organic porous material susceptible to changes in light, moisture and temperature. A stable environment where temperature and humidity remain consistent will assist in the longevity of your documents. The optimum conditions for any form of paper document is a temperature between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius, 45 to 55% relative humidity and little or no exposure to light.

Just as the UV rays from the sun harm your skin, they can harm paper too. Light will dry out the fibres of the paper, causing it to become brittle. Light damage to paper is irreversible.

Proper housing or storage is also essential in keeping your documents flat, free from dust, insects and vermin and exposure to light.

Archival or PH neutral materials have been treated or buffered to remove the acid in paper products such as tissue paper, envelopes, card, mount board and corrugated blue board. Plastic products such as polypropylene or mylar have been manufactured to stabilise the chemicals in the plastic to make them suitable for use as document sleeves.

Make sure the sleeve, envelope, wallet, binder or box you use to house your documents is larger than the length and width of your largest document. Wrap each item individually. This will prevent folds, creases or tears and protect items during handling. There are several companies that produce relatively inexpensive high quality archival materials. One can search the net by using the word ‘archival’.

Depending upon the certificates and what inks or wax seals are used, it is best they are wrapped in an acid free tissue. The same applies to photographs as the emulsion can react with the polypropylene sleeve.

If you intend viewing your documents often, scan or photocopy them once to keep the exposure to light and handling at a minimum. The electronic versions or copies can be used as the working documents, thereby preserving the original. 

It is also an idea to have your originals in an accessible but secure location with other like documents so in case you need to leave your home or office in a hurry, they are easily retrieved.

For any further information please contact the Archives Officer at the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.  

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Donna Robson

Donna Robson is Diocesan Archives Officer, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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