Preserve Documents, Photos, and Heirlooms

What would you do if you found:

A box of old letters in your grandfather’s basement? Files from your mother’s business? Scrapbooks your older sister created when she was a teenager?

We may not think our personal papers are historical—perhaps we don’t want to think ofourselves as historical—but the papers that we and our families produce can be significant to our children and future researchers. 

The best thing for an historical document is to share it with others.

But if you can’t bring yourself to part with those letters or that scrapbook, you can take precautions to ensure a long life for your family papers.

What should I preserve?

Historical materials that are unpublished and one-of-a-kind, such as:

  • letters
  • diaries
  • professional and business papers
  • speeches/lectures
  • minutes/reports
  • memoirs/reminiscences
  • photo albums and photographs
  • genealogical information
  • maps
  • artifacts
  • architectural drawings
  • audio and video recordings
  • printed materials

Contrary to popular belief, major newspapers do not need to be saved. They are microfilmed or digitized and are available to a worldwide audience.

How do I save documents and photos?

Preserving documents is more than merely saving them from the landfill. There are a few easy tips to protect them from the ravages of time:

1. Keep the materials in a cool, dry, dark place.

Light will dramatically shorten the lifespan of a document or photograph, and major temperature fluctuations will wreak havoc on the items.  Avoid storing items in a garage, basement or attic, as these are the areas of the house with the most temperature changes.  Don't store them where there could possibly be a flood.

2. Separate papers and photographs from newspapers or newspaper clippings.

Newspapers are extremely acidic, and their mere presence can ruin other items in the same folder.  Put all newspaper materials in the same place, but separate them from other materials.

3. Keep the items free from pests.

Any number of pests can severely damage historical items.  If possible, keep the items in a tightly sealed container.

4. Handle with care.

 If possible, wear linen gloves when handling historic photos.  Otherwise, hold the photo on its edges, and do not touch negatives. Be careful not to tear manuscripts.

5. Keep away from sunlight

If you are displaying something, don't let direct sunlight hit it.

6. Use archival storage materials

The acid in non-archival boxes and folders can damage documents and photos.

How do I donate my papers?

If you decide to donate your papers simply email us at

Are there financial benefits to donating my papers?

Some donors may be able to claim tax deductions for the value of their gifts.  If you wish to use the value of the donation as a tax deduction, discuss this with a tax advisor upon donating the collection.  The Paulding County Historical Society does not provide appraisals.

How much of our history is discarded in the trash?  What kind of stories and perspectives have already been lost?  As a people, we hope that our lives will have an impact in this world, that our stories will mean something to future generations.  When we lose our history, we lose our cultural memory.  Regardless of its home, make sure grandpa’s letters and your sister’s scrapbook are located in a safe one.


You can get more information on these websites:

The American Institute for Conservation of  Historic and Artistic Works  
This site also covers a lot of preservation topics, including architecture, textiles, furniture and more.

Caring for your Family Archives  
The National Archives gives lots of advice on preserving documentary materials (photos, papers, etc.)