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Caring for old family history documents

Earlier this month I attended a days workshop on behalf of Lanarkshire Family History Society. This was held by Lanarkshire Heritage Forum when Helen Creasy of the Scottish Conservation Studio providing a workshop on the Care of Paper & Photographs.

Helen specialises in the care & conservation of Photographs, Prints, Drawings, Watercolours, Maps/Plans & Archive Materials so this presentation was right up my street.

Attendees were asked to bring with them any items from their own collection that we felt may be in need to some TLC. I took along my Great Grandmothers Birth Certificate from 1876, this had a section that was totally detached, I also took a couple of old photographs from the 1920s that had tears in them.

Front & Rear of Certificate - images courtesy of Helen Creasy

The day started with Helen getting us to think about some of the threats to Paper & Photographic collections & how these could best be packed for storage.

We then went on to look at suppliers of equipment such as acid free folders, sleeves & boxes.

The next session discussed the storage of glass negatives, maps & plans as well as books.

During all these sessions Helen gave some amazing examples of how certain items could be stored, showed us how to identify threats such as heat, cold, damp or pests as well as a few tips on ways to clean marks from items & when it might be best to store items flat or not. We were also provided with an information pack detailing what was covered over the course of the day.

We were then split into groups whereby a number of items were placed on the table for us to evaluate, these included some of the items we had all brought along. During this session we ascertained what the item was made from, any damage & how this might have been caused. We then discussed if it was fit to be handled, how it would best be stored, if there were concerns about displaying the item & if the item was in need of repair by a conservator.

The overall session was very relaxed but at the same provided lots of information & support. I really felt that I came away thinking not only about how I was going to tackle my own Family Collection but how this could be rolled out to Lanarkshire Family History Society & its members!

Since attending the workshop, I have ordered up a Preservation Equipment Catalogue as this is a great resource in making you think about how best to store an item & the variety of options available. I have also pulled out a some of my own documentation with a view to scanning this before ordering up some storage solutions. I have a number of items that are folded in an old metal cashbox that belonged to my Great Grandfather who died in 1935…it is time for them to be organised correctly!

Going through my own collection I can see items with wear & tear that have been stuck down with cellotape & even gummed sections from stamp sheets. If this workshop has taught me anything then it is that repairs are better left to the professionals! I look forward to visiting The Scottish Conservation Studio in the coming months to see some of the amazing work that they do!

The final point is that during the workshop Helen kindly said that she would like to repair my Great Grandmothers Birth Certificate…I think she could see how much these items meant to me!

I received it back in the post last week & could have cried! You can hardly see the repair & overall the document looks so much better! Now placed in an Acid Free Folder my hope it that it will last another 147 years & beyond. I will be taking it along with the before photograph to any events arranged through the Society as it is a great example of why having these items repaired professionally rather than trying to tackle them yourself is so worth it!

Front & Rear of Certificate after treatment - images courtesy of Helen Creasy

Thank you again to Helen Creasy of the Scottish Conservation Studio for taking the time to repair this treasured item for me!


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