Your family has a story worth telling and sharing with those born long after you write it. Once you’ve collected all those letters, interviews, and conversations about the past, take measures to make sure they last a hundred years or more and that your descendants are able to read them. We may live in the Internet age, but the best technology for family history is lo-fi. Here are some tips for preserving your family history in the best format possible.
Paper Beats Rock…and Digital
Pen and paper are, ultimately, the best ways to send a message to the future. Technology is in constant flux, and the digital format you use today may not exist in a scant few years. Digital back up, for the short term, is still a good idea, but while a thumb drive can hold plenty of words and pictures, it may soon be as useful as a floppy disk is to you today. When kept safe, scrapbooks, journals and diaries, and photo albums are forever. That said, you should know that the pen and paper you use make a difference.
Some Pens Are Mightier Than Others
Most inks may seem permanent, but that’s not necessarily true, even for the ones labeled “permanent.” Cheap ballpoint pen ink can smear, and felt tips can fade in a few short years. Archival pens are your best preservation tool. They provide clear, strong, sharp strokes in pigment-based ink that won’t splatter, feather, or be absorbed by the paper on which it is written. Archival pens are preferred by professional preservations, curators, scientists, and other occupations that rely on long-lasting records. And they come in every color too!
Acid-Free and Archival
You’ve probably seen an old paperback book or newspaper. The paper is brittle, faded, yellow or brown, and perhaps even crumbly. If you’ve ever wondered why, the fact is that paper made from wood pulp contains a material called lignin. Paper containing lignin will gradually break down and disintegrate, and exposure to heat and light can speed up the process. Acid-free paper is a better alternative. The acids present in the wood are neutralized during the paper-making process. For your family history jottings, pick up a quality journal made of acid-free archival paper that can last a hundred years or more.
Fire (and Water) Fighting
Once you’ve finished compiling your family history (though as projects go, can it ever be truly finished?), find a place to store and protect it from damage. The easiest method is to pack it all in a plastic or cardboard box or bin, then stick it in the basement or attic, but who knows what the future might bring? Your archive’s two biggest enemies are fire and water. Store your project in a cool, dry, and easily accessible place. If you have the budget, purchase a fireproof and waterproof safe or box where you can store your journal, as well as any family photos, memorabilia, and the like.
With these tips for preserving your family history, you can rest assured your hard work won’t be for nothing and that future generations will have the chance to get to know you and your family.