Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, reveals the best strategy for rolled photos and documents as part of your genealogy research
Theresa from Colorado asks: “I received from my uncle a cardboard tube of pictures and supposedly a marriage certificate from 1919. I have not removed them. How do I safely remove and unroll them, as well as fix them for the long term?”
Theresa asks a question that a lot of genealogists want to know about when it comes to their rolled photos and documents. Should they be flattened, or should they stay rolled up? It is my professional opinion as an archivist that all rolled photos and documents should be flattened. The act of rolling and unrolling photos and documents can be very damaging. The creases and bends made in the photos and documents, over time, can cause tears and rips which can be severely damaging.
Rolled Maps, Houston County, TN. Archives
Flattening a rolled photo or document can be a fairly simple process. With these step-by-step instructions, flattening photos and documents can be done by the home archivist. Many genealogists have a hard time purchasing archival materials due to the price. It is true that archival materials are two to three times more expensive than non-archival materials. Not everyone can afford to purchase archival materials all the time and it is quite understandable.
The process of flattening and storing the photos and documents that Theresa has is quite simple and very inexpensive. The materials needed for this process are items from around your own house. Possibly the most difficult part of this project will be the time it takes for it to be completed.
The step-by-step instructions for flattening photos and documents are as follows:
- Locate a flat surface where the rolled photos and documents can lay to be flattened for an extended period without being disturbed. Be sure the area that is chosen is not in direct sunlight.
- Lay a bed sheet, tablecloth of just some copy paper on the flat surface to unroll the photos and documents. Do not lay the photos and documents directly on the table; use some kind of clean buffer between the table and items you are unrolling.
- Gently unroll the photos and documents on the flat surface with the front of the photos and documents facing down towards the table. Unroll the photos and documents slowly and carefully to not tear or damage them. Temporarily place heavy books on the photos and documents to hold it down until it is lying flat. Be sure to not stack the photos and documents on top of one another without a sheet, tablecloth or copy paper between each one.
Heavy Books, Houston County, TN. Archives
- One at a time, remove the heavy books and at the same time lay another bed sheet, tablecloth or more copy paper on top of the unrolled document for protection.
- Replace the heavy books along all four edges of the photos and documents. It is even better if heavy books can be placed on the entire surface of the photos and documents.
Books Holding Down a rolled Map, Houston County, TN. Archives
- Leave the photos and documents in this position for 2 weeks. After the 2 weeks, check and see if the items are flat. If they are not flat, leave them for an additional 2 weeks. Repeat this process until the photos and documents are flattened. It is possible this process could take a month or more.
Flattened Maps, Houston County, TN. Archives
Once the photos and documents are flattened, store them in archival boxes and on shelves.
Flattening our photos and documents in this manner is easy, inexpensive and will keep them from becoming damaged from handling.
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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
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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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