17 June 2015

Are you properly preserving your family heirlooms?

As family historians we often become the keepers of invaluable family artifacts – documents, photographs, textiles and more.

Are we doing the best we can to make sure they are preserved for future generations?

Thanks to Craig R Scott and his Heritage Books FB page we learned about a great piece about preserving artifacts on The National WWII Museum New Orleans page.

Use the following guidelines to keep your historic memorabilia in the best shape possible. Here we cover general hazards to artifacts and specific techniques for preserving textiles, paper, photographs, metal, leather and wood.

The post starts out by summarizing the seven hazards to historic artifacts and not surprisingly the number one item listed is light, followed by temperature, humidity, pests, human beings (yes we are a hazard!), chemical reaction & air pollutants and inherent vice.  I found the concept of inherent vice interesting since it wasn’t a term I had heard before. Do read about “how” these are hazards. 

The post then goes on to summarize how you might best preserve the objects in your care.

As usual I also sought some more guidance, possibly inspired by a recent trip to the Beaufort NC Maritime Museum and the Blackbeard exhibit, I cam across a post Artifact Preservation on a Shipwreck Diving website. One assumes that most of our artifacts haven’t sat in a salt water bath for hundreds of years and have been a bit more loving stored and my objective was to find out if there are any special needs for ceramic and glass artifacts.

Fortunately, a couple of years ago, I took part in an event where you could meet up with a conservator/appraiser to ask about your family heirlooms.  At the time I learned that what I brought were not terribly valuable monetary-wise though they still all hold a lot of sentimental value for me.  

As part of that program, I did also learn how to best store my one textile item (an 1875 silk shawl) and implemented what I was told.  Of course, after reading over the mentioned post, I now learn that there is more I should be doing if this shawl is to continue to exist for future generations ...

I guess I’d best turn my attention to the metal objects I have which are definitely NOT the shiny objects they once were ...

Editor’s Note: If you do a web search on preservation of artifacts, you can find many helpful websites.  I have a tendency to look into resources created by museums and historical commissions.  After all, this is a key element of their mandate and they have lots of expertise.  Here are links to the Texas Historical Commission, Basic Guidelines for the Preservation of Historic Artifacts, and the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute Taking Care page.

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