I am guessing I am in the same boat as lots of family historians who over time have accumulated boxes and boxes of old photographs and documents. When you start collecting, it becomes known along the branches of the family tree that you interested in family history and thus you become a memorabilia magnet. In my case, storage and preservation, have become a problem. What began as small envelopes of photos and newspaper cuttings has developed into box loads. The question is how does one store these items correctly in order to stop the ravages of time?
Many of the items I inherited, came into my possession in the old boxes that had been home for decades. Despite the fact that the old boxes were not acid free, the contents have mostly weathered the years surprisingly well. Old photos and postcards have not discoloured too much, although newspaper cuttings have turned rusty brown. Letters, on the other hand, have become brittle and break upon touch. The spines of old books also tend to crack and split when opened. With many of these items, the less they are handled the better. So, I will share with you some of my solutions to this growing problem.
Old Letters and documents
If the letters have been folded and stored in the original envelopes for decades, they often become brittle, especially along the fold lines. I have removed letters from envelopes and flattened out the folds (if possible without damage). Archival storage boxes and envelopes/sleeves are available from various sources for the ongoing storage of items such as letters. An alternative method, which I use, is to place the letters in the acid free sleeves of a scrapbook album. The sleeves usually contain a sheet of acid free card that is great for providing support for letters. Always place the original envelope in the sleeve with the letter, along with any other enclosures. To avoid handling, separate the pages of the letter.
I have been storing my larger photographs in large boxes, however, recently have scoured the internet for archival solutions. Although you can purchase archival plastic bags or sleeves, an easy solution is to use zip lock food storage bags which are just as effective. Store one large photograph per bag. In my endeavours to bring some order to my collection, I have just ordered some archival boxes for storing my larger photos. Checkout this site. https://www.archivalmethods.com/video/drop-front-box-video
Meanwhile, I have gone through my collection of smaller photos and grouped them according to family names and placed bundles in small zip lock lunch bags. For the moment, I have stored them in general photo boxes which are not acid or lignin free. I have marked each bag with the contents and listed each on an index card. This is a temporary measure as my current aim is to get organized. In time, I will purchase archival boxes.
Some of the old books that I inherited were in good condition, until I began to read them. Handling causes the spines to crack and pages to come apart. One particular book in my possession is an historical volume and fortunately I found it available for reading online. As with photographs, I have placed books and diaries in zip lock food storage bags for safekeeping and refrain from touching them as much as possible.
These items are the tip of my iceberg. At least I have made a start. I now intend to go through each box of my Lyons Family collection and group items together – postcards with postcards, letters with letters, etc. The overall task seems overwhelming, however, I figure that if I do one box at a time, the task seems more doable. Hopefully, my suggestions might be helpful to anyone out there faced with the same dilemma.