Help me preserve my fathers memorabilia
July 20, 2007 2:36 AM   Subscribe

My father passed away recently and in going through his papers, etc. I have come across a large array of letters, receipts, bills, and various photos. I want to preserve these in some sort of scrapbook form, with the emphasis on preservation rather than scrapbooking cuteness, but accessible and respectful nonetheless. What site should I visit for advice, guidance and inspiration?
posted by vac2003 to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Firstly, my condolences. Secondly, for preservation, would you not scan the docs?
posted by pompomtom at 4:45 AM on July 20, 2007

If you're going to scan, there's lots of stuff out there on digital scrap-booking. That would allow you to be creative in your presentation without damaging the originals.
posted by Leon at 4:57 AM on July 20, 2007

Preservation and access are generally at opposite ends, at least on a non-Smithsonian budget. For accessibility I concur with the above - scan them. It's not the same, I know.

Traditional scrapbooking involves glue. You don't want to use glue. What you can do, if you have the cash and the desire, is encapsulate each paper in polyester film. Googling encapsulation supplies will bring you to the suppliers - you don't really want a kit, you'll probably want a big roll of film and the appropriate tape. Places like University Products" have the kind of things you want. This is kind of hardcore, though, and you might wish to do this only for the most fragile of objects. You still don't really want to be handling it all the time.

For a large array, I'd get some acid-free file folders and file boxes and just file. The scans will keep you from needing to go through them all too often. If there's a lot of newish, acidic (rapidly yellowing) paper, you might want to get a few sheets of buffer paper and toss them in those folders (and keep those folders away from the ones that aren't looking funny).
posted by cobaltnine at 5:06 AM on July 20, 2007

I am very sorry for your loss.

I recently was handed the task of preserving all of my grandma's papers, photos and letters and had to make the same kind of choice. I hope it's OK to share with you my approach to the project.

Because there would be multiple people interested in looking at them besides me (other grandkids, future generations, etc.) I decided that it would probably be best to create some kind of book. To start with, I will be scanning each piece at a high resolution. During this process I will be wearing cotton gloves, as much of this stuff is very old. After everything is scanned it will go into archival envelopes which then are placed into archival boxes.

In researching this topic here and on the Internet in general, I have found some great resources for this task. The first is this book, Saving Stuff : How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and other Prized Possessions by Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar. As I understand it, one of the authors is a conservator the Smithsonian. He surely knows his stuff and lays everything out in a helpful and interesting way. Great book. The second thing I found that may help is this site, Light Impressions. They seem to have a lot of preservation tools that you may find helpful.

After I get all of the materials scanned, I will probably do a series of books. I had more material here than I realized! I have a family history planned as well as a photo book and a book that just contains love letters my grandma and grandpa sent to each other in the 40's. I'm a graphic designer so I'm really looking forward to sinking my teeth into these projects and illustrating them. I'll probably get them printed at a vanity press such as and if you're not a graphic designer - don't worry, they have tools that can help. And it doesn't necessarily have to be pretty - most of the times the materials are appropriate just the way they are. Also, I plan on adding an archival CD with all of the information contained in the book on it so that future generations can access it and add to it and so forth.

Anyway, my plan may or may not be applicable to your project. It does illustrate that a simple plan can quickly snowball into a large year-long project - at least if you're ME. If you have any questions, my e-mail's in my profile! Best of luck!
posted by bristolcat at 6:05 AM on July 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss. But this is a good question. My uncle passed away a number of years ago, and just recently, I came across a lot of theater-related stuff of his (he was an actor) that I want to preserve. I went to a local stationary/office supply store, and found a number of books that fit the bill - similar to regular photo albums, but made specifically for archiving. However, the most time-intensive task will be the sort before storage.
Sorry, I didn't answer the question, just wanted to throw in my $.02 - that I'm in a similar boat. Good luck!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:29 AM on July 20, 2007

My suggestion would be to make an appointment and visit the closest university library with an archive/rare book/special collections department. This sort of thing is their job, and they've typically dealt with every sort of paper, letter, envelope, etc that you can think of and know the best way to preserve them.

As well, they can give you guidance regarding the digitization of them (agree with the above responses on that) and doing so with appropriate metadata so that future generations don't ask "Wonder what image 072007-00005 is?"
posted by griffey at 8:40 AM on July 20, 2007

Thank you all for the helpful responses and for your condolences too. The Light Impressions site looks like a useful place for some supplies. I have scanned some of the letters, etc to send to my sister who lives in another city so I may try to be creative in putting them together digitally. And cobaltnine, thanks for your word of warning about glue!
posted by vac2003 at 12:17 PM on July 20, 2007

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