The Archive Lady: Preserving a Lock of Hair
Janet in North Carolina asks: “For some reason my family liked to clip locks of hair from our deceased ancestors. I have several locks of hair that I would like to preserve. Can you tell me the best way to preserve locks of hair, what materials I will need and if it would be okay to put them on display?”
Janet has some family heirlooms that many of us may have in our genealogical artifact collections. Clipping locks of hair from the deceased has been a very popular family tradition in many families. Many times strands of hair from the deceased was incorporated into mourning jewelry or some other form of remembrance display. Keepers of the family memorabilia may come across locks of hair in the boxes of records, photographs and artifacts they receive from family members today. Knowing how to properly preserve these items is important so that they are not destroyed or damaged. We always want to be able to pass down our heritage and family heirlooms to the next generation.
One of the first steps in preserving anything is to document the item digitally. Since a lock of hair is a three dimensional item, it is best to take really good photographs of the hair and the container in which it is stored. This should be done so that if anything happens to the lock of hair, it has been preserved digitally.
The next step is to obtain an archival box to properly store the lock of hair. Any of the online archival materials stores have boxes that will fit a small item like a lock of hair (see list below). These stores also sell clear suspension boxes that will allow for the lock of hair to be displayed and seen. A suspension box is a clear, polystyrene box that has flexible polyether polyurethane membranes in the top and bottom that conforms to the item, holding it securely in place. If the lock of hair is not going to be on display, a small archival box will do.
Using archival tissue paper, lay the lock of hair on the tissue paper and then put the tissue paper and hair in the archival box. If there are any notes or information to go along with the lock of hair, be sure to include that in the box as well. If the original container has writing on it or information, it would be perfectly fine to put the container in the archival box with the lock of hair, separated with tissue paper. It is very important to preserve all original items with an artifact if possible.
Putting locks of hair on display would need to be done with caution. The clear suspension boxes would be a great way to preserve and display the locks of hair. It is extremely important that the area where the hair is displayed not be placed in direct sunlight. The sun is very damaging for displayed photographs, documents and artifacts like locks of hair. The sun will damage the hair by bleaching it out and cause the original color of the hair to change. Keeping genealogical records and artifacts out of the direct sun is always recommended. It is better to bring out the locks of hair for display at family events, reunions and to show family members. Otherwise, it is recommended that the locks of hair stay in a cool, dry and dark storage area.
Having a lock of hair from an ancestor is a precious family heirloom and should be preserved properly so that future generations can experience their ancestors.
Archival Material Websites
Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival tissue paper and boxes can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Archival Products
- Light Impressions
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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