Family Archives

Family Archives

Photographs, recordings and films require a special care. How to secure a home photographic archive? How to take care of old films and recordings? How to store tham? Below you will find a guide to be used by anyone who has at home photographs taken 5, 50 or 150 years ago.

Home archive – basics

The basic rule of storing photographs, recordings and films says that the room temperature and humidity should be constant. Furniture to store photographs should be made of metal, all packages should have a PAT(Photographic Activity Test, ISO Standard 18916). Photographs should be taken into hand in a cotton glove or with clean hands which will prevent fatty marks (photographs are to be held gently by the edges). Photographs may be described with a soft pencil only. If you want to fix them to the ground, use polyester or paper straps intended for installation of photographs (with PAT).

Storage of photographs

Albums

A lot of family photographs are collected in albums, stuck on sheets of thick, black paper. In order to prevent harmful substances (acids, glues, dyes) used for album production from getting into the structure of a photo, separate adjacent pages using cotton paper separators. However, beware of deforming the cover, which will have to house more sheets. For particularly valuable hisotrical collections, a paper conservator should be consulted on the possibility to prevent destruction by deacidifying album sheets and repair of the damaged covers. It is also a good opportunity to have the photographs professionally cleaned and harmful glue removed from them.
Albums with photographs should lie. This prevents deformation of heavy album sheets and covers. Each album should be packed into a separate box with adjusted format. This will prevent dust from settling on covers, which are frequently valuable themselves – they are sometimes ornamented and made of noble materials. The additional box will also reduce temperature and humidity fluctuations.

We advise you against using contemporary albums, which are not the safest solution for the photographs. Glues covering stick-on album sheets will get into the photograph structure; the photographs may fall out of plastic pockets, get glued with the plastic inside, and the plastic may secrete harmful odours.

Photographic copies

Copies are to be stored individually, in packaging specially designed for photographs, made of acid-free cotton paper or polyester. Photographs made using noble techniques with their own frames (daguerreotypes, tintypes, etc) are to be stored individually in a horizontal position, in acid-free cardboard boxes.
In the case of valuable photographs stuck to a cardboard, think about having the ground deacidified by a paper conservator.

Negatives, slides

Photographic films are to be stored cut into strips in polyester dust jackets (with PAT). If individual frames are put into plastic frames, use special slide boxes.
Sometimes it is not possible to unroll the films which remained rolled up for several dozen years. Do not unroll them by force – you might damage the dried emulsion and irretrievably lose the images. The best solution is to scan film rolls, wrap them in cotton paper (or interleave them with a thin strip of paper along the film length) and put into an approved box. If you notice that films with particularly valuable photographic materials are seriously damaged, give them over to conservators.
Materials on films should be stored at a low temperature, preferably in a fridge or refrigerator. This is particularly important in the case of nitrocellulose films. They should be stored in cotton envelopes or wrappers (in polyester packaging, gases produced as a result of chemical reactions accumulate and cause a quicker destruction of archive materials).
Glass negatives should be packed individually in envelopes or cotton acid-free wrappers. They should be stored tightly arranged in fitted cardboard boxes, preventing them from relocating and breaking.

Digital photographs

Digital photographs are to be groupped in catalogues with e.g. name of the event, place, person. Always remember to make at least one copy. Photographs and their copies should be stored on separate discs at different places (e.g. on a computer disc and on an external hard disc).

Storage of photosensitive films

Film rolls are to be stored in a cool room, in a cardboard, plastic or metal box. If rust appears on the metal case, put the roll in a new box immediately. Inflammable (nitrocellulose) films must be stored at a low temperature, separately from other materials. Keep them preferably in a friedge or refrigerator.

Storage of audio and video cassettes

Magnetic taes are not to be stored in metal boxes or on metal shelves (risk of demagnetization and loss of data). Video and audio cassettes are to be stored in a vertical position.

Digitalization

Nowadays, the most popular way to secure a photograph, film or recording is to digitalize them. Digitalization enables to maintain the contents which may become illegible under the influence of inevitable processes (e.g. photographs fade, video tapes demagnetize, etc). Seriously damages photographs or recordings should be given over to professionals who will digitalize them in a safe manner, using appropriate equipment. Digitalization is often the only way to save and read the vanishing image: graphic programmes will retrieve the hardly visible image components. Digitalization also helps watching photographs and films and listening to recordings without wearing out the original carriers. Never throw away the original photographs, films or recordings, even if they are digitalized.

Donating materials to the NDA

If you think that your archive should be commonly accessible and stored perpetually, you may donate it to the NSA.