The Archive Lady shares her tips and tricks to preserve and share a cherished set of diaries belonging to a reader’s grandfather
Robert in North Dakota asks “I have my grandfather’s diaries that he kept for many years. They include personal information, reports about the weather, comments on local and national events and his daily chores working on his farm. I have about 20 of these diaries and I don’t know how to preserve them. What do you suggest?”
Robert has a true treasure with this grandfather’s diaries. Any of our ancestors’ diaries that survive should certainly be preserved and shared. I am so glad too that Robert’s grandfather was a farmer, I am sure his diaries are an insight into the farming life.
1645 Matthew Gant Diary, Connecticut State Library
First and foremost, I would encourage Robert and anyone who has diaries they are trying to preserve, to digitize them. Luckily most of us have access to inexpensive digitization equipment and services that will do this work for a reasonable cost. There’s no excuse to NOT digitize our genealogy records.
If you are going to do this project yourself, be sure to use a flatbed scanner and not a self-feeding scanner. The self-feeding scanners can cause damage to documents if they are fed through the scanner incorrectly or if there is something wrong with the scanner. You will not realize what is happening until it’s too late.
With a diary that is in a bound book, I encourage genealogists to use an overhead book scanner or a camera tripod with your cell phone. Cell phones take wonderful digital photographs these days and it is a tool many of us have close at hand. You will need to support the diary or any bound book with a thin pillow. This is so the binding does not become distressed and become damaged. You will also need to use something that can hold the pages of the diary open so you can take the digital photos of each page. Digitize the diary from the first page to the last page and keep the digital images in order in your computer files.
Book Pillow, University Products
Once you have digitized the diary, it is important to save your digital images and back them up to three different places. For instance, you could save the images on your computer, on an external hard drive and at an online cloud storage database. The reason we save our digital images of any kind in more than one place is so if we need to, we can retrieve them if one of the storage places fails. I would also encourage genealogists to share a copy of your digital images of documents and photographs with other family members on a thumb drive or portable hard drive.
Once the digitization is completed and you know the essence of the diary is preserved, it’s time to preserve the actual diary.
The archival materials you will need to preserve diaries include archival tissue paper and an archival box. If you have more than one diary, it is acceptable to store more than one diary in a box separated with archival tissue paper. You can purchase archival tissue paper and boxes at any of the online archival stores in the list below. Be sure to lightly wrap each diary in the archival tissue paper and lay them in the archival box. If the diaries are moving around in the box, crumple up some tissue paper and put it around the diaries so they will not move around in the box and possibly cause damage. Store the diaries in a cool, dark, and dry place in your home and enjoy reading the digital version that you have readily accessible to you on your computer.
Archival Tissue and Boxes, Gaylord Archival
Lastly, share the stories from the diaries with family members. While you may be preserving these diaries by digitizing them and storing them in archival materials, the stories will live on when they are told over and over to each generation.
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If you have a question for The Archive Lady, please send them via email and I could use your archival question in an upcoming edition of The Archive Lady column. Melissa Barker, a.k.a. The Archive Lady E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Archival Materials Websites
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Light Impressions
- Archival Methods
- Print File Archival Storage
Melissa Barker’s Legacy Family Tree Webinars and QuickGuides Presenter Page
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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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