A box of old letters in your grandfather’s basement? Files from your mother’s business? Scrapbooks your older sister created when she was a teenager?
We may not think our personal papers are historical—perhaps we don’t want to think of ourselves as historical—but the papers that we and our families produce can be significant to our children and future researchers.
If you would like to consider donating your documents and photos to State History, contact us. But if you can’t bring yourself to part with those letters or that scrapbook, you can take precautions to ensure a long life for your family papers.
Historical materials that are unpublished and one-of-a-kind, such as:
Contrary to popular belief, major newspapers do not need to be saved. They are microfilmed or digitized and are available to a worldwide audience.
Preserving documents is more than merely saving them from the landfill. State History’s staff is trained in the latest conservation techniques to ensure the longevity of historic items and to provide access for researchers. But if you’re not ready to part with your papers, there are a few easy tips to protect them from the ravages of time:
Light will dramatically shorten the lifespan of a document or photograph, and major temperature fluctuations will wreak havoc on the items. Avoid storing items in a garage, basement or attic, as these are the areas of the house with the most temperature changes. Don't store them where there could possibly be a flood.
Newspapers are extremely acidic, and their mere presence can ruin other items in the same folder. Put all newspaper materials in the same place, but separate them from other materials.
Any number of pests can severely damage historical items. If possible, keep the items in a tightly sealed container.
If possible, wear linen gloves when handling historic photos. Otherwise, hold the photo on its edges, and do not touch negatives. Be careful not to tear manuscripts.
If you are displaying something, don't let direct sunlight hit it.
The acid in non-archival boxes and folders can damage documents and photos.
If you decide to donate your papers to State History, simply call us at 801-245-7236, or email Melissa Ferguson.
Some donors may be able to claim tax deductions for the value of their gifts. If you wish to use the value of the donation as a tax deduction, discuss this with a tax advisor upon donating the collection. State History does not provide appraisals, but we can give you names of appraisers.
How much of our history is discarded in the trash? What kind of stories and perspectives have already been lost? As a people, we hope that our lives will have an impact in this world, that our stories will mean something to future generations. When we lose our history, we lose our cultural memory. Regardless of its home, make sure grandpa’s letters and your sister’s scrapbook are located in a safe one.
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
This site also covers a lot of preservation topics, including architecture, textiles, furniture and more.
Caring for your Family Archives
The National Archives gives lots of advice on preserving documentary materials (photos, papers, etc.)