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This Thursday the National Archives holds its Preservation EXPO in Washington DC so you can learn more about how to preserve a whole range of media that document family history as well as our national history.
We would love to have you come. But maybe you can’t be in Washington DC March 14th to visit the National Archives Building for the Preservation EXPO. If not, here are tips to help your papers and photos last as long as possible.
How do I preserve my family papers and photos?
Proper storage and safe handling practices are key to preserving paper and photographs. Your personal documents last longer when stored in a stable environment similar to what you find comfortable yourself: 60-70 degrees F; 40-50% relative humidity (RH); with clean air and good circulation.
High heat and moisture accelerate the chemical processes that make paper brittle and discolored, and that deteriorate photos. Damp environments may cause mold growth or encourage pests that use the documents for food or nesting material.
So the central part of your home provides a safer storage environment than a hot attic, a damp basement, or a garage.
Light also damages paper and photographs, especially light with abundant ultraviolet such as fluorescent fixtures and daylight. Light exposure has cumulative and irreversible effects; they promote chemical degradation and fade inks and dyes. Permanent display of valuable documents is not recommended. Photocopies, digital images or photos of documents can be substituted for display.
Store personal papers in appropriate sized enclosures, a folder, box, portfolio, etc., that provide physical protection as well as protection from light and dust.
Use an enclosure made of stable permanent quality materials that will not contribute to the document’s deterioration. See Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler’s “Preservation of Archival Records: Holdings Maintenance at the National Archives” for information on storage and handling.
How can I safely mount my documents, memorabilia, and photos into albums or scrapbooks?
The method you use to assemble scrapbooks, photograph albums or memory books can enhance the preservation of the items or can cause irreversible damage.
Avoid mounting with the following materials: white glue, rubber cement, pressure-sensitive tapes and films, staples, or hot glue gun adhesives. These materials do not age well and can physically damage and discolor paper and photographs.
Avoid albums with self-stick pages (“magnetic pages”) because the adhesive used on the mounting page is poor quality.
There are several safe alternatives for mounting. Valuable items such as birth certificates, family letters, and photographs should be mounted without use of glue or other adhesives. Use clear envelopes and sleeves made of stable plastics such as polyester and polypropylene to hold the materials and as album pages. Another good mounting method uses corners made from stable plastics (such as polypropylene and polyester) or from stable paper.
Plastic and paper corners used to mount photos should be made of a material that has passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). The PAT test determines if a storage material will cause fading or staining of photographs.
The PAT test, developed by the American National Standards Institute, appears in a national standard named ANSI IT9.16, Photographic Activity Test. Many manufacturers test their products with the PAT and advertise storage materials that have passed the PAT.
Paper corners to be used with paper memorabilia need to meet the standard for permanent paper ANSI/NISO Z39.48, Permanence of Paper for Publication of Documents in Libraries and Archives. This standard specifies the characteristics of paper that is long lasting and that will not harm documents with which it is in contact.
How should I frame and display my photographs and documents?
Decorative frames, available at many stores, are appropriate for everyday snapshots. Often these frames lack a mat or spacers to keep the document or photograph from contact with the glass, or have a poor quality acidic paper mat.
Unfortunately, many unmatted photos have been damaged or permanently stuck to glass when fluid seeped between the glass and photo. This fluid may come from liquid cleaner sprayed on frame glass or beverages spilled near the frame.
Never use liquid cleaners around photographs and artwork. Many cleaners are corrosive and can cause immediate fading and staining if they, or their vapors, come in contact with a photo or a document.
Mat important personal photographs or photographic artworks with museum quality mat board for the window mat and the backboard. Mat board for photos should have passed the ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test (PAT).
Photo corners work well to secure a photo to a backboard when the window mat will cover the photo edges and hide the photo corner. But do not use photo corners on unmounted prints larger than 20 x 24 inches, or very fragile photos.
Large or fragile photos should be attached to the backboard with stable paper hinges adhered to the back top edge of the photo and then secured to the backboard. Hinging should be left to a qualified framer or conservator.
Once a treasured photograph or document is properly matted and framed, do not display it in direct sunlight, or under bright lamps, near heat sources or in damp locations such as basements, kitchens or bathrooms. Typical diffuse home lighting is not harmful over the short term, but display in rooms that receive direct sunlight can cause rapid fading.
Light will cause fading and other irreversible damage that may become objectionable over time. So avoid extensive display of treasured documents and photographs that you want to pass on to future generations. Instead, make and display a duplicate copy while the original is stored safely in a storage container with other valued papers and keepsakes.
You can find more information on preservation on the National Archives website at www.archives.gov/preservation.
Question: I found my family in the 1940 Census, but I’m not sure what to do now. Is there something else I should be looking for?
— Jo Anna Worthington
Answer: Finding the record is only part of the game. The next step is to figure out how to use the information in it. I’ll use George J. Hickman’s family from the 1940 census as our example.
Step 1. Learn everything you can from the record.
The 1940 census has a lot of information. For now, we’ll look at
- Names, ages, birthplaces, and relationships
- Residence in 1940 and 1935
Get started by selecting “View image.”
Names, ages, birthplaces and relationships.
The image shows that George is living with his wife, Edna; four daughters, Doris, Deloris, Frances, and Betty Joyce; his son, George; and his Uncle William. Everyone was born in Virginia except Edna, who was born in West Virginia.
Doris and Deloris are both 8. Twins?
Uncle William is listed as single. He was likely never married; otherwise, he would probably be listed as divorced or widowed.
Where they lived in 1940 and 1935.
The Hickmans lived on Road #685 in Natural Bridge, Rockbridge County, Virginia.
Street names and addresses, when available, are listed vertically in column 1.
If the family lived in the same house in 1935, you’ll see “Same House” in column 17, or if they lived in the same town but a different house, you’ll see “Same Place.” The Hickmans have an “R” in column 17. This R means rural and tells us they lived in another town with a population under 2,500.
What they did for a living.
Columns 28 and 29 tell us George was a tinner in the building industry, and Uncle William was a section hand for the railroad.
Step 2. Write down what you learn.
Don’t tell yourself, “Oh, I’ll remember this.” You won’t. Save the record to your Ancestry.com family tree. If you don’t already have an Ancestry.com family tree, you’ll have the option to create one using this record.
Also, take notes about what you find on a record – even consider creating a notebook with a page or tab for everyone in the family. That way you’ll know where you found that key birth date or maiden name and you won’t have to dig through all of the records you’ve discovered to find that information again.
Step 3. Ask new questions.
Every time you learn something new about your ancestors, chances are you’ll end up with a few more questions, too. Here are some things we don’t know about the Hickmans:
- Where exactly did they live in 1935? Why did they move?
- When did George and Edna marry?
- When did Edna move to Virginia?
- Why was Uncle William living with the family
- Were Doris and Deloris twins?
- What is a tinner? What did a section hand do?
- Who were their neighbors? Did any other Hickmans live in the area?
Each of these questions are linked to another record collection.
Question 1 – where they lived in 1935 – may be answered by a city directory, which may also tell you George’s occupation. If it changed between 1935 and 1940, that may mean George took a new job with a new employer, which triggered the family’s move.
Question 2 could be answered by a marriage record.
Question 3 will require Edna’s maiden name, which can be found on that marriage record, which can then be used to find Edna with her parents in earlier census records, and so on.
Familiarizing yourself with all of the records available on Ancestry.com and the type of details contained in each will make your search for more answers simpler.
OK, this wasn’t a specific question, but inspired by reading the comments of my previous article: Are These The Same People? In that post, I built what I call a Family Census Table that I used to determine who was in the family and when.
Maybe it will be useful to do a few examples of what you might include, and also talk about what you can do with the information once you’ve collected it.
Let’s do our first example with my great great grandparents Jeremiah and Mary Gillespie.
I’ll build a table in Excel, but you can do it in word, on a piece of paper, or whatever makes sense. In this first, example I’m going to work through, I’m not going to include place, but we will in later examples:
Now let’s find the 1880 census and record what we see.
Harriet was listed as a daughter, and George and Paul as sons. There are big gaps between the children, so there very well may be other children.
On to 1870.
OK, there are some serious discrepancies here! But let’s collect all four and then think about them.
And now for 1860:
No George. And this is the first we’ve seen of Sarah. One more, let’s look at 1850:
OK. Now what do we do with this somewhat confusing information? Let’s start with a list of questions that we might have by looking at this family.
- Are the Mary in 1880 and the Ann in 1870 the same person as the Mary E in 1860 and 1850?
- Why is George listed as a son of Jeremiah in 1880, but not in the household in 1860? He should have been 4.
- What happened to Sarah? She should have been about 10 in 1870, too young to be married. Where is she?
- Where are James and William in 1880?
- Jeremiah and Mary are no where to be found in 1900, did they die between 1880 and 1900?
- Can we find Harriet, James, William, George and Paul in 1900?
In the next post, I’ll talk about where you might want to go next with this research and how to get there.
If you put every family you are working on in a table like this, I guarantee that you will look at it and start asking questions. And that is the best way to get answers. :-)
What a disappointing way to learn that the 1820 and 1830 censuses are rubbish for finding anyone who’s not the head of household.
I don’t have as much experience navigating death records, but it may be time to give those a go. Marriage records would be the obvious choice, if I’d found a year for her marriage to Friederich yet.
Not impossible, but not recommended.
Every once in a while, I just browse the stack of genealogy charts I’ve got, looking to see where lines stop and what information (if any beyond a name) there is to go on. Being a lightweight Sherlockian, I was a bit ecstatic to notice a Holmes way back in my grandmother’s line. Naturally, all I’ve got is a name (Susanna Holmes), who she married (Frederick/Friederich Adam Heinz), and the name of her son (Frederick H. Hines), who may not be her (or his) only child.
I did some perusing on Google last night on my phone and came across a family tree someone’d put together. The names all match, but the year of birth for Frederick Hines doesn’t, and some of the possibly unsourced years for Heinz don’t line up either.
Three guesses what I’ll oh-so-casually be doing today.
As awful as my head is for names (unless I’ve been looking at the names for a long time), places are even worse. One locale that’s stuck in my brain, though, is “Lachine,” and so, when it came up while Googling sinkholes, I decided to find out what area history could tell me.
Last night Ancestry.com posted images from twelve more states, bringing the total to 37 states and the District of Columbia. With 70% of the images now indexed, you’re chances are better than ever for finding family. Newly added is Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Utah. (Search all 37 states here.)
Take a look at some of the notable names we found in this release.
You don’t enumerate Chuck Norris; he enumerates you. OK, so that’s probably not true. Since Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris was only 0/12 of a year old, he probably wasn’t wielding a pen, a sword, or any other weapon. But by 1950, we bet he was already kicking some butt and taking names.
Walter Cronkite was already reporting the news in 1940, working as a newspaper writer for a news service in Kansas City, Missouri. And that’s the way it is April 2, 1940.
Another award-winning newscaster was just getting his start in life. Thomas J. Brokaw is listed as a “permanent guest” in a hotel in Bristol, Day Co., South Dakota, age 1/12 of a year. We’re glad he decided to venture away from that hotel so that he could bring us the news in a career that has spanned five decades.
The “man in black” was just a boy age eight when the census taker came to call in 1940. His dad earned $140 a year as a laborer in a public school to support his wife and five children, and reported additional income, probably from the farm they lived on.
Jack Lemmon (John Uhler Lemmon III) was no grumpy old man in 1940. He was only 15 and is enumerated with his parents. His father made more than $5,000 that year as a retail and wholesale salesman in the flower industry.
As Spock, Leonard Nimoy once said, “Insufficient facts always invite danger.” We can’t tell whether it was insufficient facts or just poor recording that led the enumerator to not only list Leonard’s last name as Mimony, but to also list him as female and the “granddaughter” of the head of household (his mother Dora’s father). While not exactly dangerous, it did make it harder to locate him.
Angeline Brown, age eight, living in Edgeley, LaMoure Co., North Dakota, would not stay there for long. In 1942 the family would move to Burbank, California and Angeline would go on to become the movie and TV star that most of us know as Angie Dickinson.
The “Rhinestone Cowboy” was living on Bills Delight Road, in Saline, Pike County, Arkansas in 1940, the seventh son of Wesley and Carrie Campbell. His father, a farmer, reported working 60 hours during the week of March 24-30 of that year.
Harry S. Truman
The 33rd president of the United States was a senator in 1940, five years before being elected to the country’s highest office. He’s living in the house at 219 N. Delaware St. in Independence, Missouri—a house built by his wife Bess’ grandfather. This was the Truman family home when they weren’t living in Washington, D.C. His census record indicates that he had four years of high school. He is the only 20th century president that didn’t get a college degree.
None of these are relevant to my family, but this is relevant to my interests and fascinating to boot.