Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, has the solution to prevent rusty paper clips from damaging your family history documents!
Erica from Montana asks “I inherited a box of records and many of them have metal paper clips that have rusted and left stains on the documents, should I removed the rusted paper clips and can the rust stains be removed in some way?”
Erica has asked a great question that I get all the time as an archivist. Many times, genealogists and archives receive documents that come with metal paper clips attached to them. Over time, metal paper clips will rust, especially if they are exposed to moisture. It is essential to remove all metal from genealogical documents. This means removing paper clips, staples, straight pins, metal brads and anything that was used to hold documents together and made of metal.
Once the old metal paper clips have been removed, there may be a rust stain remaining on the document as Erica has found in the documents she inherited. It is important to clean the area where the rust stain is located. The rust can be transferred to other documents if they come in contact with each other.
Using a soft bristled brush (a small paint brush or make-up brush will do), brush the area where the rust stain is located on the document. This will remove any loose particles that are present. Next, using an archival dry cleaning sponge, gently rub the sponge over the area where the rust stain is located on the document. Several passes may need to be made with the sponge to remove the rust stain. If the stain is severe and has been there for a very long time, it is possible not even the sponge will remove all of the stain. The archival dry cleaning sponge can be purchased at any online archival materials store (see below). Here is what an archival dry cleaning sponge looks like:
Now that the rust stained area has been cleaned, using the proper materials to re-attach the documents back together is important. Never use any metal products to attach documents. It is a natural habit to reach for the stapler and metal paper clips to attach papers together. While this method of attaching papers together is acceptable for records that are not archival or genealogical in nature, they should never be used with genealogical records. Instead, use plastic paper clips or plastic coated paper clips to keep genealogical documents attached. Plastic paper clips can be purchased at any office supply store and are very inexpensive.
It is also important to not let any part of the rust stain that remains touch any other documents. A simple step to take to insure this doesn’t happen is to take a small piece of archival copy paper, about 1”x 1” in size, and fold it in half. Slip it over the place where the rust stain is and then use a plastic paper clip to attach the piece of paper and the group of pages together. This way, when the attached papers are filed with other documents the rust will not transfer to the other documents.
Erica’s question should encourage all genealogists to check their genealogical records for any metal attachments like staples, metal paper clips, etc. and begin the process of removing and replacing them with plastic paper clips. As genealogists, we want our records to endure and be passed down to our descendants. We can only do that if we take the care needed to preserve our family records.
Online Archival Stores
Here is a listing of several archival stores that will send out FREE paper catalogs:
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University 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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