The Archive Lady: The Cost of Preservation Materials

The Archive Lady: The Cost of Preservation Materials

Rachel in California emailed a question after reading the September 29, 2016 column How to Preserve Civil War Letters from The Archive Lady. She asks “I was wondering if you could assist me with some additional guidance. It seems the cost of preservation materials can add up quite quickly and I’m wondering if you can suggest a cost-effective approach to preservation. I have roughly 500 letters and was planning to purchase document cases and file folders from Hollingermetaledge.com. I was going to place each letter in its own file folder but I quite like your approach of putting each letter in an archival sleeve and then place up to 10 letters in a file folder. However, the cost of the archival sleeves seems to be quite high at around $25 for a package of 10.”

Rachel brings up something I address all the time as an archivist: the cost of purchasing archival safe materials. As genealogists, we all want to preserve our family documents, photographs and memorabilia. The cost of purchasing archival safe file folders, boxes and other items can be very expensive. For example, file folders that are labeled “archival” or “acid free” are 2-3 times more expensive than regular file folders. The same is true for storage boxes, sheet protectors and photo sleeves. Many genealogists wonder why they can’t use the less expensive and non-archival file folders, boxes and other storage items. They look the same and in many cases you cannot even tell the difference between the two. So, what is a genealogist to do if they cannot afford to buy archival safe materials like Rachel?

Archive File Folders

Archive File Folders

My answer is to purchase what you can afford. As an archivist, I am very serious about records preservation and using the right materials to achieve this goal. However, I also understand that not everyone can afford to purchase the archival safe materials required. Protecting our family records should be a genealogist’s first priority and that can be done with normal, non-archival materials for a limited time. Do not think that since you cannot afford the archival materials that there is nothing else that can be done. Action needs to be taken to preserve your family records and purchasing what you can afford is a good first step.

Lyle Family Records Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

Lyle Family Records Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

My advice is to purchase what you can afford for now. The most important aspect of records preservation is getting those documents, photographs and ephemera encapsulated so they are not exposed to damaging sunlight, humidity and especially human handling. In the future, as it becomes possible, purchase archival materials as they can be afforded. Gradually transfer the items out of the non-archival materials to the archival version.

Ultimately, all original genealogical records should be preserved and stored in archival file folders, sleeves and boxes as it can be afforded. You can then use the non-archival folders and boxes for personal papers that will eventually be destroyed or you can donate them to a local charity that might be in need of office supplies.

Archival Storage Box

Archival Storage Box

Another step that I always suggest is to digitize all documents, photographs and ephemera. Preserving the originals is important, but if the genealogical records are digitized, their content will be saved for future generations. Be sure to store the digital images on devices that are secure. Also, consider giving a copy to other family members out of the home in case there is a disaster and all originals and backups are destroyed.

Also, storing genealogical records in a dark, cool and dry place is optimal for the life of the records. Sunlight, humidity and heat can damage documents faster than not storing them in archival file folders and boxes. Do not store records in an attic, basement or in direct sunlight.

Archiving and storing genealogical records doesn’t have to be expensive to get started. Eventually, your goal will be to have all of your genealogical records housed in archival materials but only as you can afford to do so.

Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials 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.

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Letters! Want to know how to preserve your old family letters? Get my latest Legacy Family Tree Webinar and learn the proper way to preserve letters!

family letters webinar

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1168

Scrapbooks! Many of our archives have them in their collections. Get my latest Legacy Family Tree Webinar and learn about the different kinds of scrapbooks, how to find them and how to preserve the ones you own!

Scrapbooks: A Genealogist’s Gold Mine

Scrapbooks: A Genealogist’s Gold Mine
http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1161

If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive LadyMelissa 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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©Copyright 2016 Melissa Barker. All Rights Reserved

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About the Author

Melissa Barker
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.