Preserving Genealogic Artifacts and Photos
[ Home | New | Search | Guide | Counties | Surnames | Music | Site Map | Links | Exit Frames |


and their care

and conserving other genealogical artifacts


About Albums
Archival Suppliers Photographs

Light, Heat, Humidity, Acid!

These are the enemy to your archived treasures.

Use archival quality photo corners to mount photos, etc., so that you don't stick anything to them. Depending on whether photos are black and white or color, there is some thought that buffered vs. unbuffered acid free paper may make a difference in longevity of the photos. Black and white keep far longer than color. Keep the negatives in archival quality sleeves, if you have them, and keep them OUT of the light, cool.

Like the newspaper clippings, consider copying photos and putting the COPY on display, while preserving the original as carefully as you can.

NEVER put photos and newspaper clippings (or other high-acid items) in the same plastic page protector. And always use an archival quality backing sheet to mount everything on. Usually you won't want to use colored backing, except for very light colors - even if the package says "acid free." The bright or dark colors may be a problem due to the dyes involved. Usually, only the light tans, light greys, etc., are able to be truly archival quality.

An Ounce of Preservation by Craig Tuttle ($US 13.)is a marvelous book for people who want to really understand preservation of their important family documents, photos, etc.

To preserve newspapers, photocopy (i.e. "Xerox" copy) onto archival quality paper, and thus album copies would be pretty safe to be examined. At the same time, get some Wei T'o or Bookkeepers spray to deacidify the newspaper. It's a bit costly, but well worth it if you really want to preserve the items. Put the originals away in archival quality plastic sleeves/page protectors, in the dark. Preserving Newspapers



Albums are an important consideration. The oldest (c.1860) albums were usually made of leather, cloth, or wood and were highly ornamented. The pages were thick cards with a paper backing with a slot into which the print or tintype was slid. The front was cut out to reveal the image. These continued to be popular into the early 20th century, for tintypes and albumens. (Albumen, the white of a chicken egg, was used as a base for holding light sensitive silver solutions to a paper in many of the early methods.)

Most of the early photographs were printed on very thin paper stock, then mounted on a thicker board to prevent curling or cracking of the photograph. These were often mounted on black paper pages in a scrap-book. Often there were notations made in white ink on the black. This type of album continues to be sold today, with small mounting corners to hold the photo.

For both the above types of album, the ideal method of preserving the images is to remove them into mylar pockets. Often, however, it will be desired to maintain the album as it is, with the ancestor's notations. A sheet of acidfree paper or mylar inserted between each page will slow down the deterioration of the images. This is called interleaving. It will not stop the attack on the back of the photo or card by the sizing chemical (highy acidic-made from lignin which breaks down into acids and peroxides) and the dyes used in making the black paper. Some of the glues used were also highly acidic.

If your object is to be absolutely safe, or at least, as safe as you can be, store negatives in archival acid-free paper envelopes and prints in individual folders of acid-free paper, or in albums of acid-free paper using archival corners (mylar, I think). The negative envelopes and prints, however mounted, should go into archival boxes of acid-free material and be kept in an area where humidity is about 50%, and temperature held to 72 degrees F. More important than exact temperature and humidity, is that both are stable, changing very little.

One would so archive the original prints, the copy negatives, and a very carefully made, archivally washed print of the copy neg. Additional prints of the copy negative could be used for any other needs. A convenient way to treat these is to use "archivally safe" plastic print pages, available from your local camera store. These are not truly archival, but are a lot better than "sticky-page" albums, and are very convenient to use. Store the pages in the dark, in an area where rapid changes in temperature and humidity don't occur.

In the 1970's a new type of album, the "magnetic page" album, was introduced. A thick paper is coated with glue strips and a plastic covering. Some of the coverings are Mylar, but most today are PVC. Both the glue and the PVC deteriorate, releasing acidic fumes which attack the images. If you have these albums, the photos must be carefully removed. Lift the image carefully from one corner. If it sticks, STOP! before you tear your image. Sometimes allowing the page to chill will help release the picture from the glue. When that does not work you need to attempt to dissolve or melt the glue. One method is to remove the plastic covering and place a page into a microwave oven and turn it on for five seconds. Wait five to ten seconds and turn it on for another five seconds. Follow this procedure for five or six cycles. This MUST BE DONE WITH PAUSES or you will overheat the glue and it will burn the print! Once the glue is dissolved, try to lift up the corner again VERY CAREFULLY. If this does not work, do not force it or you may rip the print. Instead, leave the the plastic covering off and save the pages in a separate album with interleaving.

You are likely to be able to find acid-free paper at your local office supply store - without the shipping cost. Hammermill paper is GENERALLY acid-free, but not an absolute.

It's also WELL worth purchasing a pH testing pen for about $4 or $5. You can check your paper and perhaps be able to continue using it.

HOWEVER: Acid-free isn't the whole issue. Paper that is acid-free NOW, may not be in 10, 20, 30, etc., years. The lignin in most paper will continue to deteriorate over time and form acid, thus changing the eventual pH of the paper to the acid side of the scale. Depending on how important your item is, you may want to get acid-free, lignin-free paper. The choice of buffered or unbuffered, however, depends on what you're using it for (for example, as a backing for color vs. B&W prints).


There are a number of places which manufacture and/or sell archival supplies for properly conserving your precious photos, certificates, and such. Take the time and put a bit of money into making sure these precious resources remain available for many more generations! :) Here are a few such resources:

Global Genealogy

Conservation Resources International, Inc.
8000-H Forbes Place
Springfield, VA 22151
Telephone 1-703-321-7730

Gaylord Brothers
P O Box 49001
Syracuse, NY 13221-4901
Telephone 1-800-6334-6307

Light Impresions
439 Monroe Avenue
P O Box 940
Rochester, NY 14603-0940
Telephone 1-800-828-6216
for fax: 1-800-828-5539

University Products, Inc.
517 Main Street
P.O.Box 101
Holyoke, MA 01041-0101
to order/questions: 800-628-1912
fax: 1-800-532-9281

You can purchase complete line of conservation and archival supplies in Canadian dollars from:
Carr McLean Ltd
461 Horner Ave.
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M8W 4X2
Tel: 1-800-268-2123




Most 19th century photographs were made on glass plate negatives, excepting of course the Calotype, which used a paper negative, and the Daguerreotype and Tintype, neither of which required negatives. Early glass plate negatives used a process that required them to be coated just before use, and hence were known as "wet-plate" negatives. Although dry plate negatives were introduced as early as 1864, they were not very sensitive, and it was not until after improvements were made that dry plates began to be widely used in the early 1880's. Both wet and dry plates may be further classified according to the emulsions used, usually albumen, gelatin or Collodian.

In the late 1800's, gelatin, and later plastic films gradually began to replace glass plate negatives. Gelatin sheet film was introduced in 1884, roll film in 1889. Geletin was found to be too fragile, and was supplanted by Nitrate based films, which are highly flammable. In 1939 "Safety" film was introduced, a non- flammible plastic based material.
HYALOTYPE The Hyalotype was a positive image on a glass plate. Used in "Magic Lanterns" the image was projected onto a screen, the precursor of modern slides. Invented in the 1850's, this format did not become popular until after 1875 when they began to be widely used.
AMBROTYPE The Ambrotype is essentially a glass negative with a black background that makes the image appear positive. It is a cased photo. Invented about 1854, the form lost popularity in the early 1860's when tintypes and CDV's replaced them.

In addition to the Carte-de-Visite, Cabinet Card there were a variety of other card mounted photos, in more-or-less standardized sizes, some of the most common being called Victoria, Imperial, Prominade, Panel, and Boudoir. Panoramic photos were also often card mounted, though the size was not standardized. None of these other sizes are as common as the CDV, Cabinet Card and Stereotype.
CABINET CARD Cabinet Cards are a card mounted photograph introduced in 1866, and tremendously popular, especially in the U.S., from its introduction until just after the turn of the century. The Cabinet Card is easily distinguished from other card mounted photos by its size, typically 4.25 x 6.5 inches (108 x 164 mm). Like the CDV, the vast majority are portraits, and most of them are not identified with the subjects name. Many do have a photographers imprint.
CARTE-De-VISITE Carte-de-Visite's, or CDV's, are a type of card mounted photograph introduced in the mid 1850's and tremendously popular especially in America and Europe from 1860 until almost the turn of the century. The CDV is easily distinguished from other card mounted photos by its size, typically 2.5 x 4 inches (63 x 100mm) or slightly less. The various characteristics of card mount, image and photographer's imprint often allows these images to be correctly dated to within a few years of their origin. The vast majority are portraits; unfortunately most of them are not identified with the subject's name. Even this is not always an insurmountable problem however, if a collection of photos from one photographer are compared to images in county histories or previously identified images from the same area, it is sometimes possible to match them up.
TINTYPE The tintype was introduced in 1856, and enjoyed widespread popularity until about 1900. The tintype gets its name from the fact that the image is produced on a thin metal plate. Like the Daguerreotyp and Ambrotype, the emulsion was directly exposed in the camera, without any need for a negative, so the images are often unique. (In later years, cameras with multiple lenses were developed so that as many as a dozen tintypes could be exposed at once.) During the 1860's and 70's small tintypes were often placed in CDV sized cardboard mounts.

Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes, and occasionally the earliest tintypes, were sold in cases, sometimes made of wood and leather, or a wood frame with heavy embossed paper or cardboard. In 1854 the "Union" case was introduced, sometimes described as being made of gutta-percha, this hard black material can be viewed as one of the first commercial uses of plastic. The Union case was molded with various designs, and have unfortunately become so popular with collectors that the photographs are often removed, leaving them susceptible to damage.
DAGUERREOTYPE Many believe the daguerreotype to be the most beautiful of photographic processes. Introduced in 1839, it was the first widely used means of photography. The daguerreotype uses a polished, silver plated sheet of metal, and once seen is easily recognized by its mirror-like surface. The plate has to be held at the correct angle to the light for the image to be visible. That image is extremely sharp and detailed. Daguerreotypes fell out of favour after 1860 as less expensive techniques supplanted it.

Preserving Daguerreotypes: Commonly nicknamed "Dags" these silver plates are very fragile. DO NOT DUST THEM or touch them with anything! Fine scratches will be the result. These images average 140 to 150 years old at this point. They need to be kept out of direct sunlight, excessive heat and moisture. They tarnish, and it is possible to find a professional service which will dip them to remove the tarnish, but dipped too often the image slowly is washed away. They can be scanned (a few times only and with great care) and modern photos can be taken of them. If your dag is in need of retouching, have a photo taken and retouched instead. Further information can be obtained from the Daguerrian Society.

The earliest paper prints were Calotypes, which also used a paper negative. Paper photographs are often classified according the emulsion used to coat the paper. Albumen prints were introduced about 1850, and was idely used from 1860 to 1890. This emulsion was usually placed on very thin paper, and the drying emulsion tended to cause the paper to curl, hence the practice of pasting these papers to cardboard backings. Other papers may be called Salted, Carbon, Platinum, Bromide, etc. Modern "paper" prints are often not paper at all, but plastic.
CALOTYPE The Calotype, sometimes called the Talbotype after its inventor, William H. F. Talbot, is a paper print made from a paper negative. Never widely popular in the U.S., this format was more common in England in the 1840's. The image produced lacks sharp detail, the soft focus being due to use of a paper negative.

Negatives from 1888-1951 can (and the earlier ones often will) be cellulose nitrate film. This is highly flammable, and chemically unstable. It is considered hazardous waste, and should be disposed of as recommended by your local fire department. These negatives can be identified by the word "nitrate" along the film's edge, and/or a very acrid odor. If you have any cellulose nitrate negatives, they should be copied and then properly disposed of.

From 1937 through the mid-60s, cellulose acetate "safety" film was in use. However, it can result in wrinkling and bubbling of the emulsion, and thus should also be copied as soon as possible. The word "safety" appears on the edge of such film.

Once you've either determined that the negatives are both stable and safe, or you've copied them, preserve them according to recognized preservation methods. Just saying "acid free" is not enough. There are specific types of storage products and methods for various kinds of media, and the above sources can describe and supply virtually anything you need.

Just Black & White, specializes in copying, enhancing and restorations of family photographs. Please visit or phone 1-800-827-5881 for more information.

Andrew Morris has a good page

A good resource
Another professional site
More Internet resources
A site with information about photo genealogy. The site sponsors a mailing list, has an archive of messages available for viewing, and has a very helpful handbook for newbies.

- Store items in acid-free materials. Many dry cleaners have acid-free boxes and tissue for sale. Be sure to specifically ask whether the materials are acid-free. If the person doesn't know or isn't sure, go somewhere else. This is too important. Wrap materials in acid-free tissue paper before folding them - The paper helps cushion the material. Sharp folds and creases actually break the textile fibers and cause more damage.

- Never use metal pins or clips. Steel safety pins and paper clips will rust over time, regardless of how carefully you think you are controlling humidity. They will leave rust stains that probably can never be removed.

- Never store fabrics in plastic bags. Plastic bags are great for short-term storage of materials from the cleaners. However, remember that plastic is a petroleum-based product. Over time plastic breaks down. It gives off fumes and chemicals that can discolor and destroy many fabrics.

- Never store precious fabrics with polyester materials. 100% polyester clothing, just like a plastic bag, is a petroleum-based product. Store these treasures separately.

- Never store precious fabrics in plastic boxes.

- Attach labels with needle and thread. If you want to attach a label of some sort to identify the origin of the item, you have a couple of choices. One way is to choose an acid-free paper card and write the information using only an indelible marking pen. The other way is to cut a piece of fabric and label it with an indelible marking pen. Do not use felt-tip or ballpoint pens; their ink tends to run, discolor, or fade and can also damage the item you wish to preserve. Sew the label in an inconspicuous place using a strong cotton thread.

- Fabric needs to breathe. Take those materials out from time to time. Unwrap and unfold them. Give them some air. Then, repackage them and return them to their proper place.

- Be careful of sunlight. Sunlight can cause materials to fade and disintegrate. If you keep some items on display, be careful where you place them.

To the Guide or Back to the Front Page

© 1997-2000 Fianna Webmaster Team
Last modified Monday, 10-Sep-2018 17:03:13 MDT
This page hosted by Rootsweb