5 Tips for Preserving and Storing Old Documents

It’s easy to forget about those precious documents scattered around your home. Photo albums are collecting dust, birth certificates and records are stuffed in boxes. All of them may well be lost, if they are not properly stored and preserved.

Image credit: Hollinger Metal Edge

Image credit: Hollinger Metal Edge

We’ve written before about the importance of organizing family history research and scanning documents online, but it’s also important to make sure those documents are still intact as primary history resources. They are valuable family heirlooms that should be passed down through the generations, not destroyed.

Here are five easy  tips to help preserve and store those old documents and to make sure your family legacy lives on:

Use inexpensive document safes (depending on the number of documents to protect)
A4 (US letter size) document safes can run $50 (£30) and provide excellent protection. Many safes have a fire rating of about 30 minutes or more and prevent both moisture intrusion and direct sunlight damage. Cost effectiveness depends on how many documents or photos need to be stored. Tip: Use a safe for your most important items and less expensive alternatives for the rest. The insides are almost exclusively acid-free, too.

Acid-free paper is your friend
Never use normal printer paper to store photos as fading can occur. Are you on a tight budget? Prioritize buying acid-free  (sometimes called archival paper) paper. Group together several items on the same sheet of paper but remember that the goal is to ensure copies are on paper free from acid and lignin.

Create a perfect storage environment
Purchase a plastic storage box with a lid (whatever size needed) and ensure that the lid is almost airtight. Use acid-free card stock to line the entire box (purchase acid-free tape, too). With the addition of some large silica gel packs (separated from the documents using a final piece of acid-free card stock), you’ll have your very own protective environment that can deal with almost all conditions. Change silica gel packs every six months to a year, depending on local humidity. Trust me, it’s much cheaper than buying acid-free boxes!

Binders are great but…
It’s important to store items properly within them. Make sure the cover is a stiff piece of plastic, with sturdy rings. Always use pre-punched acid-free polypropelene sheet protectors for documents, and never hole-punch the documents themselves. It’s also easy to make your own version of these using acid-free polypropelene sheets. Always store binders flat to prevent straining of hole-punched documents or pockets.

It’s not only a question of what’s touching the documents, however. Store your documents in a controlled environment. Make sure that that the place is:
– Dark
– Not susceptible to major temperature and humidity fluctuations
– Accessible in a house emergency
– Never store documents in the basement, in the attic or in an uninsulated garage (to avoid water damage and temperature fluctuations)
A small investment in storing precious family documents will help maintain them for future generations.

Do you have tips for storing and preserving old documents? Let us know in the comments below.


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  • Christina Tormollan

    May 16, 2017

    Is lamination good for old papers to store them