Several of you
have come by my office at the library with questions about genealogy and
about some of the related fields. I'll do my best, over the next weeks to
answer a few of the questions you have asked.
One of the most frequently asked queries is about storing things that
are genealogically and historically valuable.
What kinds of things might you collect if you are a family historian?
You might be surprised at what a long list there is of items that are
Everyone collects paper things. Paper copies of email, computer
printouts of valuable information, family letters, newspaper clippings,
legal documents, photocopies. The list grows all the time with new
Most everyone interested in genealogy and family history collects both
printed books and books in manuscript form.
Most everyone has a box - or boxes - and albums of photographs. That
means we must deal with color pictures, black and white pictures,
negatives.and maybe even slides and Polaroid pictures. Today, we have
photographs from digital cameras as well.
Most of us have films like the old Super 8 or 16 mm. Nowadays, most
everyone has videotapes that have been done by family members or even
Have you thought about how phonograph records and audiocassettes are
valuable historical and genealogical items?
Even textiles are important to family history. Do you have a quilt
that grandmother made? Do you have your great grandmothers wedding
In my own kitchen, hanging on a little hook is my beloved grandmother's
apron.worn and showing that it was used most every day.but precious to
All of these things will deteriorate over time. Things age through
chemical changes or through physical happenings.
You need to know just a little bit about paper.
Paper becomes brittle because there is a chemical reaction in the paper
that was made using what the scientist's call the sulfite pulping process.
Until just a little bit ago, most of the paper that was made after 1860
was made with that sulfite pulping process. This means that chemicals
alum and rosin added to the paper will form sulfuric acid when the
resulting paper is exposed to air and high temperatures. Chemically, this
alters the molecular structure of the paper and it becomes "embrittled."
Paper thus affected is weakened and easily damaged.
Most of us have had the sad experience of having old paper just crumble
away in your hand.and now you know why.
When paper is chemically deteriorated, it does often lead to physical
deterioration (see crumble away above). However, all physical
deterioration is not dependent upon the chemical process.
When you handle books and papers carelessly, they can be damaged. When
you store books and papers in high temperatures or damp places.or in
direct sunlight.damage can occur.
Poor storage can result in your precious items being exposed to insects
and vermin that love to eat and nest in paper. Look out for silverfish,
cockroaches and even beetles. Mice, rats and squirrels will eat or chew
on paper and will - yuk - leave droppings on materials.
If you will think just a little bit about the storage of your
genealogical and historical materials, you can greatly extend their time
We'll talk a little more about this next time.