Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, shows how to preserve and share a World War II Ration Book!
Melinda in Florida asks: “I have been given my Grandmother’s World War II ration books. She used to tell me stories about the rationing of food and other essential items and how the family used their ration stamps. What would be the best way to preserve these books? I would like for my descendants to know about these stories and what the books meant.”
Melinda asks a great question about an artifact that was essential to everyone during World War II. Every American was issued a series of ration books during the war. These ration books contained removable stamps for certain rationed items such as sugar, meat, cooking oil, cigarettes, and canned foods, just to name a few. Once a person’s ration stamps were spent for the month, they could not purchase those items until they received their new rations books for the next month.
I can remember my own Dad telling me about how his family would pool together their ration books and the cigarette stamps would go to those who smoked, the other stamps would be used to make family meals which they would all enjoy. I still have his ration books in my own genealogy records collection.
When we have historically important documents, photographs, memorabilia, and artifacts in our genealogy records collections, it is vital that we preserve these items so the history can live on, be shared and not forgotten.
Preserving war ration books can be quite simple. Keeping the ration books in their original form is recommended. Even if the books are falling apart, missing pages or if the stamps are coming out of the book itself. The less you do to your documents and memorabilia the better. First and foremost, I would encourage Melinda to digitize the entire book. This way, if something were to happen to it, she can retrieve the digitized images.
I would suggest that Melinda use a soft bristle brush to brush away any surface dirt or dust. If the cover of the ration book is stained or dirty, use a dirt eraser sponge that is specifically used for cleaning documents. Use the sponge lightly on the cover, do not scrub and do not use on pencil writing because it will erase the writing.
Once the ration book has been cleaned, place the book in an archival sleeve. The archival sleeve should be acid free, lignin free and passed the P.A.T. (Photographic Activity Test). Archival sleeves come in all shapes and sizes and can be purchased at an online archival store (see list of stores below).
Now that the ration book is encapsulated, I would suggest that it be put in an archival file folder or in an archival document box. This is a second layer of protection for the ration book. Depending on how much room you have for storage, file folders in filing cabinets may work for you or maybe you need to store several documents in a document box.
The most important part of preserving ration books is the storage conditions. We should always store our records, photographs, and memorabilia in a cool, dark, and dry place. The place where you store your records should have consistent temperature and humidity levels that do not fluctuate. The temperature in your storage area should be between 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and your humidity levels at 35-45 percent. Most importantly, keep all your records out of direct sunlight. I have seen sunlight completely wash away an image on a photograph and wash off the writing on a document. A dark closet or even stored under a bed is a good place. Attics, basements, and garages are not places we should be storing our genealogical records.
I would also encourage Melinda to include the stories from her Grandmother about the ration books with the books themselves so that the history and stories will survive right along with the books.
Online Archival Supply Stores
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Light Impressions
- Archival Methods
- Print File Archival Storage
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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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