Organize and Preserve Photos and Memorabilia
Learn how to safely store family keepsakes and much more.
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I am working with the book How to Archive Family Keepsakes by Denise May Levenick to bring some order into the choas that is my genealogy papers, documents and photographs collection. The very first thing I want to do is get my files organized - and more importanly safely secure the original documents, old photographs and some artefacts I have.
It's a great book and a real help, but the one thing that's not feasible for me is to estimate how much archival storage materials I need and order them before organizing my papers and pictures. There so much papers mixed up with the original documents and photographs that I don't need to store in expensive archival storage material, I really do need to seperate my original documents and pictures from the rest of the materials first. Archival storage materials are hard to get where I live, expensive and I have a 40 euro fee just to get it delivered. So I really only want to order them once and thus need to know exactly how much I need. Hence the waiting until I have everything sorted until I order.
Now here's the problem: in the meantime I do need a safe place to keep my original documents and photographs. I've currently seperated all newspaper items from the rest - isolated them in plastic maps and they will be stored in a different place, if I dont't decide to digitize them and then get rid of them entirely. But what's the best temporary place to keep my documents and pictures? I have access to plastic bins and cardboard boxes, which is best to store them in short-term? I estimate it shouldn't be for more than 6 months, tops. Any other precautions I could take to make sure these precious documents and pictures survive until I am able to order proper archival storage materials?
These are great questions, J.M. I think a lot of us have a similar situation when family items come into our possession.
I keep a few archival bankers' boxes (large archival file boxes) on hand, but since you want to order supplies all at once, I understand that you want a temporary storage place for your items. You don't say where you live or where you will store the items, but if you have space to warehouse them inside your home (maybe an empty closet) you could easily use plastic bins. Most readily available plastic is fine for short-term storage; the biggest problem is when the temperature fluctuates wildly and humidity builds up inside. Moisture can get in, but can't always get out. If your storage space is in a temperature controlled room that is comfortable for people (around 70 degrees F) it should be fine for a few months.
You've done the right thing to pull out the newspapers and isolate them from other items. They are the most damaging to adjacent items. As you work through your materials, it may help to group like items together -- black and white photos, color photos, correspondence, etc. How you organize after that depends on your purpose. I and organized my grandmother's letters chronologically, but by writer would do as well.
If you need further temporary storage, I suggest a tip from archeologists -- zipper storage bags. Most of these are made of inert plastic that is fine for temporary storage. The plastic isn't always identified (new or recycled) so it's not ideal for long-term, but if it's safe for food it's probably fine for your photos in the short-term.
Good luck to you. I hope you can drop by again and give us an update on your progress! ~ Denise
Thank you so much for your fast response! I live in the Netherlands and the plastic bin would be in my bedroom, which is well isolated, not that humid and kept at a fairly consistent temperature. With the way I'm making progress - right now seperating pictures from documents and albums/bound volumes from loose documents - I can probably make a good estimate as to what I need in January and order archival storage materials then. So it's really not that long that I need to temporarily store them. And both documents and photographs have survived for years (sometimes decades) in much more deplorable conditions!
Well Done! And you are so right. Our ancestors didn't have "archival" storage. My grandmother used suitcases! We have to do the best with what we have, and be good to ourselves. Good luck with your project. Thanks for the update!
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