The Archive Lady: Rusty Paper Clips and Staples

The Archive Lady: Rusty Paper Clips and Staples

Bob from New York asks: “I inherited a box of documents from my grandmother and many of them have metal paper clips that have rusted and left stains on the documents. Should I remove the rusted paper clips and can the rust stains be removed in some way?”

Rusty paper clip on documents

Rusty paper clip on documents

Bob has asked a great question that I get all the time as an archivist. Many times, genealogists and archives receive documents that come with metal paper clips attached to them. Over time, metal paper clips will rust, especially if they are exposed to moisture. It is essential to remove all metal from genealogical documents. This means removing paper clips, staples, straight pins, metal brads and anything that was used to hold documents together and that are made of metal.

Once the old metal paper clips have been removed, there may be a rust stain remaining on the document, as Bob has found in the documents he inherited from his grandmother. It is important the clean the area where the rust stain is located. The rust can be transferred to other documents if they come in contact with each other.

Rusty staple being removed

Rusty staple being removed

Using a soft bristled brush, a small paint brush or make-up brush will do; brush the area where the rust stain is located on the document. This will remove any loose particles that are present. Next, using an archival dry cleaning sponge, gently rub the sponge over the area where the rust stain is located on the document. Several passes may need to be made with the sponge to remove the rust stain. If the stain is severe and has been there for a very long time, it is possible that not even the sponge will remove all of the stain. The archival dry cleaning sponge can be purchased at any online archival materials store (see below). Here is what an archival dry cleaning sponge looks like:

archival dry cleaning sponge

Archival dry cleaning sponge

Once the rust stained area has been cleaned, use the proper materials to re-attach the documents back together is important. Never use any metal products to attach documents. It is a natural habit to reach for the stapler and metal paper clips to attach papers together. While this method of attaching papers together is acceptable for records that are not archival or genealogical in nature, they should never be used with genealogical records. Instead, use plastic paper clips or plastic coated paper clips to keep genealogical documents attached. Plastic paper clips can be purchased at any office supply store and are inexpensive.

It is also important to not let any part of the rust stain that remains touch any other documents. A simple step to take to insure this doesn’t happen is to take a small piece of archival copy paper, about 1”x 1” in size, and fold it in half. Slip it over the place where the rust stain is and then use a plastic paper clip to attach the piece of paper and the group of pages together. This way, when the attached papers are filed with other documents the rust will not transfer to the other documents.

Bob’s question should encourage all genealogists to check their genealogical records for any metal attachments like staples, metal paper clips, etc. and begin the process of removing and replacing them with plastic paper clips. As genealogists, we want our records to endure and be passed down to our descendants just like Bob’s grandmother did for him. We can only do that if we take the care needed to preserve our family records.

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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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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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.