The Archive Lady: Preserving the Family Bible
Michele from Kentucky asks: “I recently was given a trunk full of records, photographs and other stuff that had belonged to my Grandmother. In the trunk was an old family Bible that has those filled out family pages in the middle of the Bible. Can you tell me the best way to preserve this Bible and the family pages in it?”
Michele is so fortunate to have received the family Bible from her Grandmother! One of the most precious items genealogists have in their records collection is the Family Bible. This heirloom is one that is most cherished and can contain family history. The one-of-a-kind pages, with handwritten names and dates, help genealogists with their genealogy research but also remind us of the ancestors that wrote those pages. Preserving the Family Bible is essential to preserving our family history.
The care and preservation of these precious family heirlooms should be taken very seriously so that they will survive for future generations to enjoy. As an archivist, I have helped many patrons archive and preserve their Family Bibles. Depending on the condition of the Bible, you may just need to get some archival tissue paper to wrap the Bible and an archival box to store the Bible. For Bibles that are in much worse shape, my advice is to not use any kind of tape or glue to put it back together, there is no such thing as true “archival tape” or “archival glue.” First rule of archiving is: Don’t do anything to your documents that you can’t undo.
Preserving a Family Bible Can Be Done in 5 Easy Steps
- Transcribe the information contained on the pages in the Family Bible. This step needs to be done so that once the Bible has been stored away and preserved, it doesn’t get continually handled and risk damage.
- Digitize all pages that contain any genealogical information. This can be done by using a flat bed scanner, a hand held scanner or taking digital photographs. If the Bible is fragile, be very careful as to what technique is used.
- Place archival tissue paper between the pages that have writing on them. This will insure that none of the writing bleeds onto the other pages. This is very important if the Bible comes in contact with moisture or happens to be stored where the humidity levels are high.
- Put the Family Bible in an archival box that is lined with archival tissue paper. Be sure the box is not too small and not too big. To make sure the Bible doesn’t move around in the box, crumple up archival tissue paper and put it around the Bible. The Bible will fit snuggly and won’t move.
- Store in a cool, dry and dark place and handle the Bible as little as possible.
You may have a Bible that is chock-full of all kinds of records, newspaper clippings, photos or just about anything. The best way to deal with these items is to make an inventory of what was found in the Bible. Scan and digitize each item and save them to your computer or hard drive. Take each piece and put it in an archival safe sleeve or envelope and then return all items to the Bible. This is especially important for original newspaper clippings. Newspapers are full of chemicals and over time the chemicals can bleed onto the Bible pages or onto other documents and leave a yellow or brown stain. You don’t want this to happen. I suggest that all newspaper clippings be photocopied and the originals thrown away. If you choose to keep the original clippings, make sure to put them in archival safe sleeves or envelopes so that they are not touching anything else in the Bible. By returning the items to the Bible as they were originally found, you keep the integrity of the artifact intact and in original order.
Most family Bibles have places in them to fill out family trees or family information. If your Bible has this in it, do not take it out. The best thing to do is scan the pages and also make photocopies of the pages. If your Bible is in very bad shape and the binding will not allow you to put the Bible on a scanner or a copier, take a digital photograph of the pages. This family information is important to your genealogy research and you want to make sure it gets preserved in case the Bible gets destroyed or comes up missing for some reason.
If you have a Family Bible, please be sure to preserve it properly so that it is still here 100 years from now. If you are a genealogist searching for your Family Bible like I am, don’t give up . . . one day it might just surface!
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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
©2017, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.