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Caring for your family papers

The purpose of this leaflet is to give guidance on the future preservation of personal and family archives. These may include many of the following:
  • family bible
  • letters
  • photographs and albums
  • accounts and financial records
  • passports and licences
  • certificates of births, marriages and deaths, etc.
  • property deeds
  • maps and plans
  • scrapbooks and journals
  • cuttings, notices and other ephemera

Materials and their vulnerability

Materials within personal archive collections are largely organic and can be as varied as the collections themselves, it is the diversity of these materials and their needs that lead to storage and preservation problems.  Materials may include: Paper, parchment, photographic supports and emulsions, book structures and associated covering materials such as leather, cloth and parchment. 

Most damage to family collections is caused by a combination of factors; these may include; damp, mould, insects, unsuitable packaging and frequent or careless handling. All materials are damaged by light, particularly ultra violet light. Low-grade papers such as newspapers and posters degrade quickly and become brittle particularly if exposed to heat and light. Photographs can be on a support of glass, plastic, paper or metal, which all require special care. Their emulsions are very absorbent and delicate and must not be touched.

It must be stressed that these guidelines give only general advice on passive preservation. We do not advocate that individuals should undertake any active conservation procedures themselves. If you think that remedial work is required, you should seek the advice and guidance of a qualified conservator.



For the safe storage of archives, a constant temperature and humidity within the range of 13 -18º C and 45-60% Relative Humidity (RH) is recommended. (RH is a measure of how damp or dry the air is)

In practical terms this means finding a cool dry place.  In most homes particularly modern houses, a cool dry place might be a bedroom, spare room or dining room which has only background heating most of the time.  Cellars are prone to high humidity and damp and roof spaces will often be subject to extreme fluctuation, being cold and damp in the winter and hot and dry in the summer.

High or low RH and temperature are damaging in many ways. High RH and temperature will support the growth of mould, micro biological activity and the development of acidity.  Conversely, low RH will result in the drying out and embrittlement of the cellulose fibres within paper. 

Constancy in storage conditions is essential as fluctuations in temperature and RH are damaging to materials. Fluctuating conditions can be particularly damaging for complex structures such as bindings, which comprise of many different materials that all react differently to changes. The goal is to maintain a stable and consistent environment and to avoid extremes.

All items should be kept out of direct sunlight. If items must be displayed, then ultra violet filters will help to reduce damage; these can be fitted to windows and lights.  Curtains and blinds can also help to reduce exposure.

Archival storage materials

Archival storage materials provide support for fragile items and protection against light, dust, careless handling and damage during transport.

All material in contact with an original item should be of archival quality and acid-free.  These materials are often described as "archival quality", "conservation quality" or "acid free". It is important to remember that products will not be of archival quality unless specifically stated.  Approved suppliers will always supply details of their products' chemical and physical properties.

Suggested packaging materials and uses include:

  • Silversafe® paper: storage and interleaving of photographs
  • Acid free paper: storage, making of folders, four flap enclosures
  • Acid free board (folding box board or museum board): support of fragile material, box making
  • MicroChamber® products: box making, storage, box /shelf lining
  • Polyester film: (Melinex®, Mylar®): pocket making, general protection
  • Archival quality Manilla: folders/four flap enclosures
  • Archival Kraft (brand name) paper: wrapping and packaging

 (See list of suppliers for purchase / product details)

Do's and don’ts


  • Don't use self-adhesive photograph albums. Traditional photograph corners or polyester pocket albums are recommended.
  • Don't use newspaper to wrap documents or to line shelves and boxes as it can be highly acidic
  • Don't use ordinary envelopes, files, folders, tissue paper, or corrugated card. These are often of poor and unknown quality.
  • Don't use wooden boxes. The oils and adhesives in these can be acidic.
  • Don't use photographic paper or print boxes, cardboard boxes, shoe boxes etc.
  • Don't use polythene or plastic bags, PVC. plastic envelopes and files. These all contain plasticizers and chlorine which release harmful chemicals as they degrade.
  • Don't use frames that have poor quality mount board or are backed with wood.
  • Never under any circumstance use any form of pressure sensitive tape, even so- called safe tape on archival material


  • Do keep newspaper cuttings separate from all other material.  Ideally, they should be stored in separate acid free or MicroChamber® envelopes.
  • Always remove any rusty paper clips or staples from collections. 
  • Do store documents and photos flat, this will help prevent distortion. 
  • Do consider rolling large items around the outside of an archival quality tube. 
  • Do store items individually in acid free envelopes or folders.
  • Do use plastic sleeves made from archival grade polyester. Polyester is ideal for single unfolded sheets as the item can be viewed without removal from the protective sleeve.
  • Do store books in acid free boxes or wrap them in acid free dust jackets to prevent further damage.
  • Do use acid free tissue paper/Silversafe paper to interleave between pages of volumes with colour plates to prevent off-setting or blocking.
  • Do protect prints and drawings in their frames by placing a sheet of u v filter material over the face of the glass (not the drawing). Filter sleeves can also be placed over lamps/lights used to illuminate objects.
  • Do keep prints, drawings and water colours in individual acid free folders, and store them flat in a box.

Paper - basic preservation 

  • Light surface dirt or soiling may be gently removed with a soft (vinyl) pencil eraser.  Take extreme care with soft or fragile areas and avoid using an eraser near to any pencil marks, and any other delicate media. 
  • Dry mould spores can be removed by lightly brushing off with a soft brush.  This must be carried out in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.  Care must also be taken not to inhale mould spores. Consider wearing a face mask or dust respirator. Masks must conform to European standard EN 149 category FFP2S. E.g. 3M 8810
  • Never under any circumstances be tempted to use pressure sensitive tapes - Sellotape®, Scotch® tape etc., as the adhesive used will change chemically and physically and may become impossible to remove later. 
  • Do not use water or chemical treatments as these may cause irreversible damage if carried out incorrectly.
  • When handling works of art on paper, you should attempt to handle the paper as little as possible and keep your fingers away from the image. 
  • Pastel and charcoal drawings need extra care, as they will smudge with the slightest friction. Polyester film is not suitable for the storage of these or of water colours because a static charge can be created which would lift-off the media.
  • Newspapers are best stored flat to avoid the repeated opening and closing of folds, i.e. they should not be folded except for the single centre fold. They can be gently opened out in separate stages:
    • Open the first fold and place between sheets of clean dry blotting paper then put under light but firm pressure for at least 24 hours.
    • Repeat this process for the second fold and leave for 24 hours.
    • Repeat throughout the paper until all pages are relaxed and flattened.  The newspaper should then be stored either in a polyester sleeve or an acid free paper folder.
  • The "four flap folder" is recommended as a safe and versatile storage device that is easy to make, using acid free manilla or MicroChamber®. 

Photographs – basic preservation

  • Gloves should always be worn when handling photographs. Grease and acids from our hands can be absorbed into the emulsion, which is impossible to remove and will cause tarnishing.
  • Pencil should be used for identifying your photographs. Pencil is graphite, which is chemically stable and will not alter over time, ball point pen, fibre tip and other inks can fade or change chemically. 
  • Photographs may be cleaned by the use of a very soft artist's brush or, preferably a puffer similar to those used to clean computer equipment.  This will remove loose dirt or dust, but care must be taken not to use anything stiffer as it may scratch the surface of the emulsion.
  • The best possible preservation care for any photograph is to take a good quality copy printed onto archival quality paper.  The original should then be packaged and stored in Silversafe paper under ideal conditions.

Volumes – basic preservation

  • Good handling and storage are the best methods we can employ to prevent damage. Books are designed as mechanical objects, and as such they all have the potential to break down with wear and tear.
  • Never force open the cover of a volume if there is any resistance, many books may not open beyond 90 degrees if the structure is particularly stiff.
  • Never extract a volume from the shelf by pulling on the top of the spine, grasp the book either side of the spine and pull gently. It may be necessary to push-in the volumes on either side to make this possible. 
  • Turn pages with care. This will help to avoid tearing. 
  • If pages are falling out of a book due to the binding having broken down, try to keep them in their original order. 
  • Never use any type of pressure sensitive tape to repair tears. 
  • Large volumes are best stored flat to prevent any strain on the binding.
  • Loose or detached boards can be held in place by wrapping the volume with a clean dry linen wrap. 
  • Silversafe / MicroChamber / acid free paper can be used for interleaving coloured or heavily printed pages to prevent of-setting. Books can be stored in archival boxes for protection.


Preservation Equipment Ltd,
Church Road,
IP22 2DG 

Phone: 01379 651 527
Fax: 01379 650582


View Preservation Equipment's website

Conservation Resources UK Ltd,
Unit 2 Ashville Way (off Watling Road),
OX4 6TU  

Phone: 01865 747755
Fax: 01865 747035


 View Conservation Resources' website

Secol Ltd,
15 Howlett Way, 
Fison Way Industrial Estate,
IP24 1HZ   

Phone: 01842 752341
Fax: 01886 833688  


View Secol's website

Conservation By Design Ltd,
5 Singer Way, 
Woburn Road Industrial Estate, 
MK42 7AW   

Phone: 01234 853555
Fax: 01234 852334


View Conservation By Design's website


National Preservation Office,
The British Library,
96 Euston Road,
NW1 2DB   

Phone: 0207 4127612


View National Preservation Office's website

The Institute of Conservation,
3rd Floor,
Downstream Building,
1 London Bridge,
SE1 9BG;   

Phone: 0207 7853805
Fax: 0207 7853806  

View The Institute of Conservation's website

Archives and Records Association
Preservation and Conservation Group,
Prioryfield House,
20 Canon Street,

Phone: 0207 278 8630
Fax: 0207 278 2107

View Archives and Records Association's website

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