Monthly Archives: May 2014

Action Plan – Two – Handling and Sorting

The last post explained how to assess the collection of old photos and documents that somehow ended up in your possession. In this post I will get into details on how to handle your old photos and documents. Most are common sense, but some might surprise you.

  • Have a clean area to work in, ideally near a large window, for light. Don’t sit in the sun and don’t turn on any artificial light. Generally avoid exposing the items to light as much as you can, so if you intend to work on them today, do it, and then tidy them up again. Don’t leave them lying around for days on end.
  • No food or drink anywhere near your working area, please.
  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling any items, and many times in-between (to be using cotton gloves is a bit of a myth it turns out, for which I am glad, because it’s really hard to sort through anything paper while wearing them: ‘Misconceptions about White Gloves‘).
  • Carefully flatten folded photos and documents. There are ways to separate them if they are sticking together. I have read about them, but I’ve never had to use them. ‘How to Flatten Folded or Rolled Paper Documents‘.
  • Hold at the edges only.
  • Remove staples, paper clips, rubber bands, sticky envelopes.
  • If you must write on your items, do so with a light pencil only, don’t press down too hard. Write legible, someone might have to pick up the work after you, don’t make their job harder because they cannot read your notes.
  • Use plastic sleeves when documents are too brittle to be handled without support. They should be enclosed but not encapsulated.
  • Never laminate papers or photographs.
  • Do not use glues or sticky tape to mend ripped items.

When sorting larger amounts of photographs, I find that initially spreading them out on our very large dinner table is the best way to go. Then I might sort them by occasion (wedding), chronologically or even by amount of deterioration eg. all undamaged photos first, then gradually getting worse.

In this initial sorting stage you could just keep everything in large acid free envelopes (cut off the sticky bit, glues and papers don’t mix). Or you could already look into where you will put everything as a long-term storage solution: acid free folders and boxes, and chemically stable plastics. This is a big subject, and I will get into this more in the next post.

I have a couple of high quality archival boxes which fit A4 sizes. With acid free cardboard separators and lots of acid free paper in-between I can easily keep photos and documents sorted, labeled, and separate from each other. It helps to have things orderly, because it will likely be impossible to do everything you want to do with them in one week. I tend to keep photographs and documents separately.

For this task not to get too tedious and frustrating, set yourself achievable goals. Finish one step at a time and don’t be afraid to walk away from it all for a couple of weeks.

Once everything is sorted to your satisfaction, and you found a way to tidy items up properly and store them safely, it’s time for the next assessment: which of them and to what degree do they need a surface clean?

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Action Plan – One

So it has happened. Because of a sad family loss or other tragic circumstances beyond your control you ended up being in possession of a shoebox full of old photos and documents.

You’ve looked through them. Faces, places, stories, that may be familiar to you. And very likely, you come to realize that this is a puzzle with a lot of missing pieces. That’s what I thought when I ended up with lots of photos of my Grandmother from when she was young. I certainly recognized her, but who were the people in the photos with her? Why were they laughing? Where was this taken?

The documents you inherit may be old, fragile. The photos may be damaged, ripped, stained, moldy.

You’re thinking: “What on earth am I going to do with all this?”

First thing: Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. It happens all the time.

This post will be the first of a few that should help you get enough advice to get an idea of what may be involved in the process of assessing and storing old photos and documents.

In my experience, there are three categories of photos and documents:

1. They have no value other than that of the personal/sentimental kind, as it would be for family history. Their damage is minor, there is no mold present. The primary focus should be on getting them digitized, photos sorted and labeled and documents transcribed. This will ensure that should they deteriorate further or get lost, you have saved them for the family. Digitizing also means that you can share them with family that might not be living close by you. Sharing files online is an awesome advantage of our digital age. Once digitized, sorted and transcribed, the originals need to be stored correctly.

2. If you suspect the photos or documents to have collector’s value, you may want to get an appraisal for them. If their value is minor, you don’t intend to handle them much but still want to keep them save, you might want to follow the steps above. If their value is substantial and the plan is to handle them frequently, I strongly suggest you consult a conservator.

3. The whole lot is moldy and smells. This is a health hazard. I hope you were wearing a particle mask and gloves while flicking through them! Keep the moldy stuff well away from anything else, before it contaminates everything in its surroundings, and please consult a professional conservator ASAP.

Understand this: Photographs will fade over time, no matter what you do. Paper will deteriorate, no matter what you do. But you can slow down the process by avoiding their exposure to light, heat, humidity and pollution.

The photo below shows some snippets from a collection of about 20 letters from WW1, that I had the great honour of digitizing recently. This involved preparation of the previously folded letters for photographing, by carefully flattening crushed edges and pressing them overnight between acid-free sheets of paper, building a suitable document stand with a large white background, photographing them by daylight, without direct sun and no flash or any other artificial lighting sources. They were in very good condition so only needed some basic digital retouching to increase contrast and enhance the faded ink. Lastly they were all saved on a USB thumb drive, for their owner to share with the family.

One hundred year old letters. It was very moving to read what young men so long ago wrote home to their families.

So if you’re tempted to just shove that shoebox back into the back of the closet: don’t. It’s someone’s history. Treat it right.

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The Best Job in the World

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.” Elbert Hubbard

Living the dream of turning a passion into a business sounds like the best decision in the world. But amidst the daily grind of office work & bookkeeping the passion can sometimes get buried under paperwork. Literally.

When that happens it’s high time to take a step back and remind yourself why you started on this ‘business journey’ in the first place.

I find that the best way to rekindle some of the fire within is to embark on a personal project.

For me it usually involves photos. Go figure 😉

But then of course, being a creative person, it’s never as easy as this. Because I have so many ideas that it’s actually hard to decide on just one. I confess there are quite a few projects hanging around in my head, some got started, some are still in the planning phase. Deciding on which one to do and sticking with it till the end is really hard. But every now and then I actually do finish one! Proud moment, sweet success!

This photo shows a project I did a few years back, where I scanned lots of photos of myself and my husband from the years before kids -yes, they did exist, the kids were amazed 😉 – and had them printed on this 30×50″ canvas.

It hangs in the hallway and is a constant talking point. Lots of memories, lots of love. It keeps reminding me why I decided to make my passion my business and that I do have the best job in the world.

 

FamilyProjects