Preserving Your Family Heirlooms

Posted on April 25, 2021

by Daphne Bechrakis

Nothing lasts forever, but for the important objects in your life, there are steps you can take to make sure they stick around for as long as possible. In celebration of Preservation Week 2021 (April 25 – May 1), I have written this article to shine a light on preservation at home! Preservation Week is a project of the American Library Association (ALA) that aims to help raise awareness of preservation practices and libraries’ roles in helping preserve personal and historical knowledge. 


Here are some simple things you can do to help preserve physical objects:


  • Avoid sunlight: Sunlight fades dyes, paints, and ink over time. If you want to display important pictures or paintings make sure they don’t have direct sunlight shining on them. If you have yearbooks or family bibles on a bookshelf that faces direct sunlight, consider moving it to a darker location
  • Give it a rest: If you are hanging garments like a wedding dress or christening gown in your closet and you want them to stick around for generations, take them off the hanger and stick them in a garment box. While some clothes may not seem very heavy, over time the fabric touching the hanger will damage and weaken.
  • Less folds are better: If you are storing textiles or fabrics for preservation, try to fold them as little as possible within their storage containers.
  • Be careful about how you scrapbook: As fun as it is to scrapbook, generally speaking it’s not a great idea if you want to preserve photos and newspaper articles. Photos and newspapers are usually attached to scrapbook pages with either glue or tape, and both can cause damage or staining over decades. These adhesive methods may also fail over time, making contents slide around when the scrapbook is moved or opened, further risking damage. Furthermore, if you need to transfer photos or newspaper clippings to a different photo album because the one they are in is falling apart, you may damage the item by trying to remove it from the adhesive. The best way to scrapbook is to use adhesive mounting corners. You stick corners where you want to place the photo or newspaper and it gently holds the paper in place like a picture frame. For more on scrapbooking best practices, read this article by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, chief of the National Archives Conservation Laboratory..
  • Avoid the attic and the basement: If you can, avoid storing things in basements, crawlspaces, and attics. With wild temperature and humidity changes throughout the year in Indiana, these spaces in your house are going to see the most fluctuations in humidity and extreme temperatures. Heat and moisture can cause a lot of damage to nearly everything you want to pass on to future generations, be it photos or clothing. It is best to keep your heirlooms in a moderate and dry environment year round.
  • Store books flat: If you have a book that you want to keep around for generations, like a family bible, don’t store it upright on a bookshelf. When a book is stored upright, like on a shelf, it puts pressure on the spine and binding. We also tend to pull a book out by the top of the spine when it is stored like this, further contributing to wear and tear. While this process doesn’t happen overnight if the binding is solid, every decade a book is stored upright is a decade the binding won’t last. Book rebinding and repair is still a thing, but it can be costly, so it is best to protect the spine and binding by laying it flat and storing it that way.


How can the library help you preserve your family history?


  • VHS to DVD converter: The main library branch in La Porte has a VHS to DVD converter that lets you make DVDs of your old family videos! You can bring your own blank DVD or you can buy one for $1.00 at the front desk. The machine takes as long to convert the VHS to DVD as there is content on the VHS; in other words, if you have a 2 hour home movie it will take 2 hours to copy the movie to the DVD. Copyrighted material such as Disney movies cannot be converted.
  • Scanner (for individual papers, not bound objects): If you have photos or papers you want to make a digital copy of, the library can help! We have digital scanners that let you convert your documents into digital images.
  • Books on preservation: If you want more in depth guides on preservation and researching your family history, we’ve got you covered! We have books on everything from preserving paper documents to how to do online genealogy research. You can see what is available by searching our catalog. And don’t forget, our librarians can help you find information on preserving just about anything!
Daphne Bechrakis

Daphne Bechrakis

Daphne is a Public Services Librarian and Harry Potter enthusiast. In her free time, she enjoys reading, adding books to her ever-growing “to-be-read” list, hiking, and watching terrible movies with friends. One of her current life goals is to collect the entirety of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Her bucket list includes seeing the Aurora Borealis and going to Yellowstone National Park. She is the proud owner of a spider-plant named Skullcrusher III, first of its kind, which she has somehow managed not to kill yet.
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