The Archive Lady: Archiving Oversized Documents
Katie from Tennessee asks “I have enjoyed reading your column on Abundant Genealogy and have gotten some great preservation tips. I hope you can help me with mine. How would I archive an oversized document like a large land grant certificate?”
Katie has asked a wonderful question. Many genealogists will encounter oversized documents in records collections. Many times, these are large certificates like a high school diploma, a teacher’s certificate, maps and land grant certificates. These large items are too big for a regular 8.5 x 11” file folder and even too big for an 8.5 x 14” file folder. Yet, they still need to be protected and preserved.
I get this question all the time as an archivist and I have helped many patrons archive their oversized documents with some easy-to-obtain archival materials. It is very important that all documents, even oversized documents, remain flat and are archived flat. This means that you do not want to roll up the oversized documents. The act of rolling and unrolling documents can cause damage over time. So, first and foremost make sure the oversized document is flat. To learn how to flatten rolled documents see my previous column (Flattening Rolled Documents https://abundantgenealogy.com/archive-lady-flattening-rolled-documents/)
The items that need to be purchased for this project are oversized file folders and an oversized box. These items can be purchased at any online archival materials store (see list below). These items should be acid free, lignin free and have passed the P.A.T. (Photographic Activity Test). This information should be printed on the packaging of the archival materials. This process will give your document two layers of archival protection. The file folder is the first layer of protection and placing the file folder containing the document in an archival box is the second layer of protection. Having multiple layers of protection is always a good thing in records preservation.
It is also very important to pay attention to where documents are stored and in what environment they are being stored. Obviously not everyone can live in an archive, although wouldn’t that be fun! But home archivists can strive to provide the best storage area for their genealogy records as possible. Temperature and humidity levels are very important numbers to pay attention to in your storage area. In the archives, we keep our storage area at a constant 55 degrees and humidity levels at a constant 35%.
The most important part to remember is to keep the temperature consistent as much as possible. Varying temperatures can cause damage to records over time. Humidity levels are also very important to monitor and keep at a consistent level. Our homes are not archives but we can strive to keep our records stored in a cool, dark and dry place. I normally suggest storing family records that have been archived on shelves in a dark, cool closet or even under the bed where it is dark and cool. Never store genealogical records in an attic, basement or garage.
Getting these oversized documents digitized will also help with preservation. Many of us do not have scanners that are large enough to digitize our oversized records. Using a digital camera to take good quality photograph of the document is a good idea. Another option is to locate a local printing store or print shop and see if they can digitize oversized documents. Digitizing our genealogical documents is always good practice in case something happens to the originals.
Our oversized documents need just as much care and archiving as our regular sized documents. Using the archival materials and process described will insure they are preserved for future generations.
Archival Material Websites
Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival tissue paper and boxes can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Archival Products
- Light Impressions
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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