How to Preserve Your Family History

Preserving your research for future generations

preserve-old-documentsMany people starting family history are given some original certificates – a grandparent’s marriage certificate, their own birth certificate, a parent’s birth certificate. Some older certificates are longer than the current A4 page size and can be extremely fragile, particularly if decades old.

Many have unfortunately been folded and need to be opened and stored flat To stop them deteriorating and store them in the best condition possible you need to always archive acid free. Acid free archival materials are widely used by record offices, archivists and the legal profession and are now also very popular with family historians.

Instead of keeping your certificates folded in an envelope – or worse still, in a cheap PVC polypocket (this accelerates the ageing process with plasticisers acting on the paper, and strips the ink from the document), put them in acid free polypockets that allow them to be straight and unfolded. The acid free sleeves will prevent further yellowing and disintegration of the paper, and will stop accidental damage by handling. Always use Polypropylene or Polyester pockets.

Storing your original certificates in acid free pockets in a certificate binder keeps them flat and safe and away from light. They are clearly visible through the clear polypropylene or polyester and can still be used for reference as required. As well as the long certificate binder, binders for A4 landscape certificates are also available. These are useful if you only have the newer style certificates, which are all now supplied by the General Registry Office as A4 sheets. Using acid free card inserts allows two certificates to be stored in each acid free sleeve and prevents the certificates touching. It also stiffens the acid free pocket and provides an attractive background to the certificate.

After all the hard work in researching and collecting all your personal family history research what next? Obviously you make copies and backup all your data otherwise you may lose years of time consuming work. As we move further and further into updated electronic storage possibilities it has become far easier to collect store and easily retrieve your family records. However what about all the original documents, certificates, photographs and memorabilia? The long term preservation of these items along with your written family history needs to be correctly stored if you want your work to pass down your future generations. The following ten tips should be adopted to ensure the longevity of storage.

  • Use acid free paper to hand write or print your research including all copies. Most modern inkjet printers have acid free ink but check with your manufacturer and avoid compatible ink cartridges, some of which can be suspect with harmful additives. If you hand write any of your research as well as acid free paper you need to use acid free ink pens. These pens are also safe to write on the backs of photographs. Archival acid free paper used with an acid free ink should give up to 200 years of preservation from fading and deterioration.
  • Store all your original documents, certificates, photographs and memorabilia in clear inert acid free pockets. These should be archival polypropylene or the more expensive ultra clear polyester used by professional archivists. Avoid the use of PVC pockets which have plasticisers which migrate into documents and photographs causing permanent damage.
  • Interleave these documents with acid free card which as well as giving further protection also keeps the items apart and adds stability to further safeguard them from damage.
  • Place any small items of memorabilia in small acid free enclosure pockets.
  • Any torn and damaged documents should be repaired with acid free clear polyester repair tape which uses inert polyester with an acid free adhesive.
  • Use acid free glue or double sided tape to stick any items onto acid free card to ensure no deterioration over time from the adhesive. If you want to remove photos and other items use acid free photo corners or ‘V’ mount strips.
  • Wrap items such as family bibles and lace and fabrics in acid free tissue paper and store in acid free storage boxes.
  • Archival cotton gloves should be used to handle really old and delicate documents and photographs. This is often enforced at Archive Offices so why not at home?
  • Place all these in a quality binder for a professional presentation in chronological order of all the data.
  • Finally store all this away from sunlight, damp and humid conditions, all of which can damage even the best preserved stored research!

If you have any questions about safe repair, preservation or archiving you can email me at Or visit my website for advice and genealogy products.

Mike Kostiuk – Family Tree Folk