Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, explains the tried and true method of flattening rolled documents such as maps and certificates!
Anna from Texas asks: I have several oversized documents and maps that have been rolled up for years and years. Should I unroll them and store them flat? Do you have any advice on how to flatten these documents safely and how to store them?
Anna asks a question that a lot of genealogists want to know about when it comes to their rolled documents. Should they be flattened or should they be kept rolled up? It is my professional opinion as an archivist that all rolled documents should be flattened. The act of rolling and unrolling documents can be very damaging to the documents. The creases and bends made in the documents, over time, can cause tears and rips which severely damages the documents.
Flattening a rolled document can be a fairly simple process. With these step-by-step instructions, flattening documents can be done by any home archivist. Many genealogists have a hard time purchasing archival materials due to the price. It is true that archival materials are two to three times more expensive than non-archival materials. Not everyone can afford to purchase archival materials all the time and it is quite understandable.
The process of flattening and storing the oversized documents and maps that Anna has is quite simple and very inexpensive. The materials needed for this process are items from around your own house. Possibly the most difficult part of this project will be the time it takes for it to be completed.
The step-by-step instructions for flattening any documents are as follows:
- Locate a flat surface where the rolled document can be lay to be flattened for an extended period of time without being disturbed. Be sure the area that is chosen is not in direct sunlight.
- Lay a bed sheet, table cloth of just some copy paper on the flat surface to unroll the document onto. Do not lay the document directly on the table; use some kind of clean buffer between the table and the document.
- Gently unroll the document on the flat surface with the front of the document facing down towards the table. Unroll the document slowly and carefully so as to not tear or damage the document. Temporarily place heavy books on the document to hold it down until it is lying flat.
- One at a time, remove the heavy books and at the same time lay another bed sheet, table cloth or more copy paper on top of the unrolled document for protection.
- Replace the heavy books along all four edges of the document. It is even better if heavy books can be placed on the entire document.
- Leave the document in this position for 2 weeks. After the 2 weeks, check the document and see if it is flat. If the document is not flat, leave it for an additional 2 weeks. Repeat this process until the document has flattened. It’s possible this process could take a month or more.
Once the documents are flattened, store them in archival boxes and on shelves.
Flattening documents in this manner is easy, inexpensive and will keep the documents from becoming damaged from handling.
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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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