The Archive Lady: Preserving Old Hymnals

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, offers tips on preserving old hymnals which have become cherished family heirlooms.

Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, Offers Her Tips for Preserving Old Hymnals

Kathy in Michigan asks: “Melissa, I am including my question here in case it will help others. My mother-in-law was an accomplished musician. She played the organ and piano at her church and also was the Music Director. I have her hymnal with her favorite hymns clipped with paper clips. I know the paper clips have to go, but I am unsure how to retain the records of her favorite hymns. Should I just write down the hymn numbers and include it with the book? Are there safe options to paper clips? Thanks!”

Kathy asks a great question about a family heirloom that is very special to her. Many of us have those specific items in our genealogy record collections that have such special meaning that we want to make sure we handle them with care.

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, offers tips on preserving old hymnals which have become cherished family heirlooms.

Hymnals

Hymnals are a collection of hymns that have been collected and printed in book form. According to Wikipedia “The earliest hand-written hymnals are from the Middle Ages in the context of European Christianity, although individual hymns such as the Te Deum go back much further. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, together with the growing popularity of movable type, quickly made hymnals a standard feature of Christian worship in all major denominations of Western and Central Europe.”

Kathy has a family artifact in these hymnals that belonged to her mother-in-law who not only enjoyed hymns but also was a Music Director at her church. Her mother-in-law marked her favorite hymns with metal paper clips. What a treasure it is for Kathy to know exactly what hymns were her mother-in-law’s favorites. But, those metal paper clips are damaging the pages and the book as a whole and they should be addressed.

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, offers tips on preserving old hymnals which have become cherished family heirlooms.

Hymnal with Paper Clips

Metal paper clips can be very damaging to documents, photographs and even books. The metal can rust and that rust can transfer to the pages of those documents and books. The rust will eventually eat away at the page and destroy whatever it touches. This can even be compounded when the metal paper clips are exposed to moisture or even elevated humidity levels. It is recommended by archivists and paper conservators that all metal paper clips be removed completely. If Kathy still wants to mark the places of her mother-in-law’s favorite hymns, I would suggest that she use plastic paper clips or plastic coated paper clips. This will insure that her mother-in-law’s hymns are physically documented but not being damaged. Plastic paper clips can be purchased at any office supply store and are fairly inexpensive.

Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, offers tips on preserving old hymnals which have become cherished family heirlooms.

Damage from Metal Paper Clips

Kathy also asked about retaining a record of her mother-in-law’s favorite hymns. One of the best ways is to digitize the pages that have been marked and include them in a family database or in an online tree as part of her life story. It is evident that this hymnal was very important to Kathy’s mother-in-law and so it should be included in the genealogy of this family member. Digitization will hopefully insure that if the original hymnal is lost or destroyed for some reason, the spirit of the document has been preserved in the digital copy. I have also advised Kathy to make a list of the favorite hymns and place that list in an archival sleeve in the front of the hymnal

Whether you have a hymnal like Kathy or some other paper artifact, it is important to care for it so that it will survive the test of time. We can stave off the deterioration process that happens with all records by preserving it with proper methods and materials.

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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. 

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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.