Preserving Paper Documents

How do I preserve paper documents?

This may be the perfect time for you to locate and preserve those important documents that tell your family's story. Whether the item is a marriage document or an old college diploma, analyze it by the paper and ink quality. Older paper made with high cotton fiber content may be in better condition than newer high-wood-pulp paper.Important documents such as marriage certificates and wills were often executed on high quality, cotton fiber paper. You can easily tell the difference as the cotton rag paper is heavier, stronger and easier to flatten.    Documents intended for temporary use, such as receipts or newspapers, are often printed on low-quality, high-wood-pulp paper. This paper deteriorates quickly due to its high-acid content. 

Don't Mix Paper Grades 

Most family collections include a mix of both kinds of paper, but unfortunately, high-acid content paper is so toxic that it hastens the deterioration of anything it touches.You may have seen the evidence of acid migration in a brown-stained Bible page if a newspaper clipping had been used as a bookmark. Protect family documents by isolating newsprint from other items and following these preservation guidelines: 

Clean Your Hands!

You've been hearing this a lot lately. It's also good advice when handling family treasures. Clean hands avoid transferring dirt and oil onto your documents. 

Prepare Your Document 

Work on a clean, flat surface. Carefully unfold the document and remove staples, pins or fasteners. If the paper seems brittle, allow it to gently relax as it absorbs moisture from the room. Do not press or force flat. Gently fold back creased corners. Make a copy of your document to transcribe information. The less you handle the original document, the better.

Storage 

To properly preserve your documents, place each item in either an acid-free archival folder or in an archival polyester enclosure. Store inside an acid-free archival box. The folders and enclosures preserve as well as help support fragile documents. These items are an essential investment in quality preservation. The upright document case is like a mini filing cabinet, keeping your documents safe and providing protection from light and dust.Store documents in a temperature-controlled room, away from light and potential mold. This is important, especially in Florida!  Archival supply companies that provide the necessary items for family archiving include Gaylord, B&H and University Products. Compare prices. They continue to ship orders. 
You can do this! It takes a little time and investment, but will be so appreciated by your family now and will become a legacy for future generations.  

Archival supply companies such as Gaylord offer a starter kit for home document preservation.

Online Archival Supply Stores:

Hollinger Metal Edge http://www.hollingermetaledge.com/

Light Impressions http://www.lightimpressionsdirect.com/

Gaylord Archival http://www.gaylord.com/

University Products https://www.universityproducts.com/

Archival Methods https://www.archivalmethods.com/

Sources: Denise Levenick, The Family Curator and Winter Park History Museum

Donate to the Collections

The Winter Park History Museum accepts donations of artifacts and objects that have a direct connection to our community — its people, buildings, businesses and/or events. We welcome objects, textiles, letters, photos, postcards, diaries, etc. It is not required that an object be of a certain age to be considered for preservation.
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