The Archive Lady: 5 Easy Steps to Preserving Scrapbooks

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Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shares her 5 steps for preserving those cherished family scrapbooks!

Gloria in Alabama asks “I am trying to get organized in 2020 and I have several scrapbooks that belonged to my aunt. My aunt was into everything and she saved everything in her scrapbooks. What is the best way to preserve and archive scrapbooks?”

Scrapbooks are a genealogist’s gold mine! If you ask anyone that knows me, they will tell you that my favorite record collection to do research in and to process in the archive is scrapbooks.  I am asked about preserving scrapbooks a lot because they can be intimidating, but they don’t need to be.

Scrapbooks are like time capsules, nobody knows what will be found in them until they are opened. There are different styles of scrapbooks from newspaper clippings, obituary, diary, sports teams, personal history and many more. Many ancestors painstakingly glued all kinds of documents, photographs and ephemera into scrapbooks to remind them of what they experienced during their lifetime and to pass along those experiences to their descendants.

Scrapbooks at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Scrapbooks at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Archiving and preserving scrapbooks is actually quite easy and anyone can do it with these five easy steps:

  • Digitize each and every page of the scrapbook. Use a flatbed scanner, digital camera or an overhead scanner. DO NOT use any kind of a self-feeding scanner or a hand held scanner. These types of scanners could potentially damage the pages or the items pasted to the pages. Make sure to digitize the scrapbook in original order from the first page to the last page. Be sure to label the digitize images and include metadata about each image.
  • Purchase archival tissue paper. Archival tissue paper can be purchased at any online archival materials store (see list below). It is a good idea to get a size that is about 1/4″ to 1/2″ larger than the scrapbook page. This will insure that the tissue paper covers the entire scrapbook page. If you have larger pieces of tissue paper, cutting the tissue paper to size is perfectly fine. If there are items coming loose or falling out of the scrapbook, use plastic paper clips to clip them to the page where they belong. DO NOT use any kind of glue to paste the item back into the scrapbook.
  • Place the tissue paper in-between each and every page of the scrapbook. The tissue paper will act as a shield to protect anything on the pages from bleeding onto or damaging the adjoining page. Also, if any items are falling out of the scrapbook and exposing the glue, the tissue paper will keep the glue from touching items on other pages.
Tissue Paper Interweaved in Scrapbook, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Tissue Paper Interwoven in Scrapbook, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
  • Purchase an archival box that is as close to the size of the scrapbook as possible. The box that is used should be a flat box with a separate lid. Do not use an upright Hollinger box or other box that requires that the scrapbook be stored standing on its end. It is important that all scrapbooks be stored laying down. Place a piece of tissue paper in the bottom of the box, then lay the scrapbook on the tissue paper. If there is still room in the box and the scrapbook is sliding around, crumple up archival tissue paper and tuck it around the scrapbook to secure it in place so it doesn’t move. The scrapbook should fit snuggly so that it doesn’t move around in the box.
Boxed Scrapbook, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Boxed Scrapbook, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
  • Label the box with information about the scrapbook. For instance, “World War II Scrapbook, Belonged to John Jones, 1941-1945”. Store the boxed scrapbook in a cool, dry and dark place. Keep away from sunlight and handle the scrapbook as least as possible. Consult with the digital images as much as possible so that damage is not done to the original scrapbook from handling.

These five easy steps to preserve scrapbooks will insure they will survive for many years to come.

Archival Supply Stores

Legacy Family Tree Webinars and Quick Guides by Melissa Barker

Scrapbooks! Do you want to know how to find scrapbooks about your ancestors or do you have scrapbooks that you own and would like to know how to preserve them? Get my latest Legacy Family Tree Webinar and QuickGuide:

Scrapbooks: A Genealogist’s Gold Mine

Scrapbooks: A Genealogist’s Gold Mine

Scrapbooks: A Genealogist’s Gold Mine Legacy QuickGuide

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Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

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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