Archiving Your Materials

I consider this to be one of the most important parts in the creation of a family cookbook. Not only do you have new pieces that should be carefully archived, but you also may have old and fragile items that need preservation. A few carefully taken steps now could prevent any future losses of those precious items.

Originals should be stored in a cool, dry place. Don’t store photos or other papers in air-tight containers, though this may be your first inclination. Doing so traps any present moisture in with the documents, which could ruin them. News clippings should not be stored next to other documents. There is acid in newspaper, that can migrate to the surrounding paper, eventually ruining it. You can see evidence of acid migration by the brown stains left on paper that newspaper has been in contact with.

Don’t store news clippings next to photos, and don’t store negatives with photos (for two reasons: if something catastrophic happens, you’ve lost the photo and the negative; and negatives contain chemicals which can degrade pictures). Acid in the newspaper is also quite bad for photographs.

Make scanned copies of everything and save that data onto a CD. If you don’t have a scanner and CD burner available to you, it’s likely someone in your family does. It’s a good idea to make notations about the things you scan and photograph. Take a picture of the box Grandma keeps her recipes in as well as scan its contents. Make notes about its age (if known) and the contents: “56 handwritten, 12 clipped from packages, 30 newspaper clippings,” etc. If some of the recipes are marked with a name, be sure you ask who that person is/was even if you think you know who Rosie was; you may be wrong. If the recipe is marked Lime Pickles (Hazel), in your notes, indicate who Hazel is and also include a surname. If the person was a neighbor or a sister-in-law, include that information. Act like you’re cataloging someone’s collection you never met, and write down all the details you can find.

CDs should be kept away from heat, as that could cause the disc to warp and be rendered useless. It’s a good idea to have more than one copy of the scanned information. Make two copies (or more) and store the other copies away from where you keep yours. Give it to a relative, or put it in a safety deposit box if you have one. That way, if anything happens to your copy, there’s a backup.

Is this paranoid overkill? Maybe, but it’s better to be safe than sorry! Also, if you distribute some of those backup copies to other family members, you share a family treasure with them.

For more information about archving and document preservation, read Katherine Scott Sturdevant’s excellent book, Organizing & Preserving Your Heirloom Documents, ©2002. And while you’re at it, you should read her other book, Bringing Your Family History to Life Through Social History, ©2000. Both books are absolutely invaluable for the family historian.

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