The Archive Lady: Flattening Rolled Documents

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, explains the tried and true method of flattening rolled documents such as maps and certificates!

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.

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, explains the tried and true method of flattening rolled documents such as maps and certificates!

Rolled Maps, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

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.
Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, explains the tried and true method of flattening rolled documents such as maps and certificates!

Heavy Books, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

  • 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.
Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, explains the tried and true method of flattening rolled documents such as maps and certificates!

Books Holding Down a Rolled Map, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

  • 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.
Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, explains the tried and true method of flattening rolled documents such as maps and certificates!

Flattened Maps, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

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.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars and Quick Guides by Melissa Barker

It’s Not All Online: Researching in Libraries and Archives: Contains useful information including how to find an archive and prepare for a visit, a list of record types and tips on research strategy, tips on making records requests, and more

It’s Not All Online: Researching in Libraries and Archives

Contains useful information including how to find an archive and prepare for a visit, a list of record types and tips on research strategy, tips on making records requests, and more.

http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1234

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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 Lady

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. 

©2019, copyright 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.

3 Comments on "The Archive Lady: Flattening Rolled Documents"

  1. Maria Capaldi | 13 February 2020 at 10:08 am |

    Wow, that is great information Melissa Barker! I have some rolled Family Genealogy from an Uncle he would bring them to Family Reunions and they’re rolled up and almost flat at this point.

  2. Ted Greenwald | 13 February 2020 at 10:48 am |

    What do you do with documents too brittle to unroll? I have several baptismal certificates and confirmation certificates that I inherited rolled up from my great aunt. When I tried to unroll they began breaking.

  3. Jeraldine Socha | 13 February 2020 at 2:33 pm |

    Will this work for documents that have been laminated? AND I KNOW – lamination is a BIG NO NO but these were done years ago before anyone knew about lamination damage.

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