One thing every family seems to have is an abundance of papers. Stacks of paper can accumulate in basements, in desk drawers, and even on kitchen cupboards. Somewhere in the stacks of junk mail, kids’ school papers, and work assignments are often important family memorabilia. Besides your own family’s important papers, you might have collected family information from generations past. These papers could include everything from love letters sent between great-grandparents to original birth certificates or naturalization papers. The papers might have come to you in envelopes or file folders, rolled up with rubber bands around them, or stuffed inside an overflowing box. They might be in relatively good condition or already yellowing, fading, or even crumbling on the edges.
So what should you do with these papers to ensure that your children and their children after them can continue to enjoy them?
While no document, letter, or other family paper can last forever, they can last an awfully long time if they are properly cared for. Follow these guidelines for storing, handling, and displaying your important documents, and you can maximize the long-term health of your papers.
The first step in preserving your papers is to lay them flat. Unfold them, take them out of envelopes, and remove all rubber bands or paperclips. If the papers resist, proceed carefully instead of forcing. The LDS Church History Department’s video “Conservation” provides more help.
Next, choose archival-quality folders and boxes that are acid and lignin free for storage. Finally, pay attention to temperature. Although it might be tempting to keep papers out of the way in basements or garages, these often hot, humid locations are not the best locations for them. Cool temperatures (below 75 degrees) and low relative humidity (below 65 percent) slow decay and reduce the chances of mold and insects wreaking havoc on your papers. Temperature-regulated basements in dry states work fine as long as there is no risk of flooding.
The basic rule for how much to handle your documents or letters is simple: the less you handle them, the better. One way to minimize handling is to digitize the documents (as discussed below) so you can work with the digital copy instead of the original.
If you must handle the papers, wash and dry your hands first. For most papers, gloves aren’t necessary and can make working with them more difficult. Be sure to set papers on a clean, prepared space. Also, make sure you don’t drink or eat or allow smoke around valuable family papers.