Throughout our lives, we acquire items of sentimental, historical or functional value to us. These items might have been passed down from prior generations in our families and some things are acquired through a hobby as a collector or history enthusiast. It is very important to preserve these meaningful artifacts and try to learn about their history. That is not to suggest that we become hoarders, but instead we should keep the things that need to be kept and learn how to preserve them.
Many people enjoy the popular “Antiques Roadshow” program on PBS. When the expert appraiser is talking about the item being presented, he or she always explains the history of the object and how to care for it. The appraised value always comes last.
When we think about artifacts, we are considering documents – documents with signatures, correspondence, important newspaper clippings, art, photographs, albums, jewelry, silver, china, lamps, furniture and many other things that have not been mentioned. Many times important things are stored in attics or sheds that are not climate controlled. Items are stored in cardboard boxes that are subject to insects (ants, roaches, spiders, etc.) and small animals, such as rodents or squirrels, dust, dirt and mold. Important items need to sorted out and then preserved properly.
Different types of artifacts should be preserved according to the material used in the item. For instance, paper documents, such as birth, death or marriage certificates, should be protected from moisture, heat and light. Do not fold, staple or use tape on them.
Newspaper clippings should be stored separately from other documents, because the chemicals used in manufacturing the newspaper will damage and change the color of the other documents. Keep all documents in acid-free envelopes or boxes. These can be purchased from craft stores or ordered from places that sell library supply items.
Clothing, textiles or fabric are sensitive to moisture, light and dust. They should be stored in special preservation boxes wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, muslin stuffing or cedar chips.
Photographs can be damaged by direct sunlight regardless of the age of the photo. If you display them, use a frame with UV protection glass. If you store them, place them flat in an acid-free storage box layering them with acid-free tissue paper or acid-free sleeves between photographs. Make copies of photographs and papers or scan them on the computer and store them in a different location than the original items. A fireproof safe is a great place to store the extra copy. Should you suffer a disaster, you will have a better chance of having the copy of your artifacts preserved.
Heirloom jewelry is a special keepsake to many and should be worn and enjoyed when appropriate. Periodically examine each piece and have it repaired when needed. Depending on the nature of the repair, it is possible the value of the piece may be affected. –
Overall, the major threats to your artifacts are heat, light, water (both humidity and flooding), dust, pests, mold, breakage and chemicals. To prevent these occurrences never store heirlooms in the garage, basement, attic, storage unit, or shed where the humidity or temperature can fluctuate.
When you select an item to keep as an artifact, remember to write the story and keep it with the item. Future generations may not see the significance of the item and discard it without the story connecting it to your lineage. But it is very important for family members to learn about what is available to them in learning about their family history. When you think about it, artifacts are a part of our history and at the same time we are a part of the history of the artifact.
The Augusta Genealogical Society has virtual programs or lectures, usually monthly, that cover many of these techniques pertaining to genealogy. Visit the website for information on upcoming programs or to join the association.
The Augusta Genealogical Society’s Adamson Library is currently open by appointment only. Contact the Augusta Genealogical Society by email at [email protected] Please allow a week for a response to your request.