The program for May 8 was presented by Mr. R. Bruce Arnold.
Genealogical Records – Proper Storage of Family Data
Mr. Arnold generously offered to make available copies of his
PowerPoint presentation to interested individuals. Contact him at
brucearnld @aol.com to request the file. Mr. Arnold discussed paper,
microfilm, and electronic devices, the three prevalent forms of storage
media used in genealogy.
An oversight of the history of papermaking covered single sheet
production in China through the French invention and English
development of machines which could produce continuous rolls.
Mr. Arnold was a participant in a program which developed and
validated ASTM test methods and standards to evaluate the stability of
papers. These methods provide sound accelerated aging methods which
reproduce the long term effects on paper of acid content, light and
polluted air. The results of such standardized tests are used for valid
predictions of paper stability regardless of paper composition.
Sizing is required on paper to provide a surface suitable for ink.
Until approximately 1790 the sizing used was not damaging to paper.
When paper could be produced in large quantities, the industry turned
to a sizing made from tree rosin and alum to meet the increased demand.
This type of sizing becomes acidic when exposed to water vapor. It took
50 to 70 years to recognize the serious deterioration problem caused by
the acidic sizing. By 1970 the industry switched to an alkaline sizing
to solve the paper degradation problem.
To halt acidic degradation, original papers can be placed between clean
sheets of alkaline paper. To assure preservation of the text on such
acidic paper, it is recommended that photocopies be made on alkaline
paper. Another preservation option is a spray solution commercially
available which can be applied to acidic papers to neutralize the
acids. A pen type device is also available from vendors of archival
supplies which, when passed over the surface of a piece of paper will
indicate if the paper is acidic
Lignin is a major component in trees. Lignin content in paper is
sensitive to light with the result that exposed paper will yellow and
darken. The discoloration of newspaper is a prime example.
Pollutants in the atmosphere such as NO2, particularly where
concentrated in today’s cities, deteriorate the strength of papers.
Libraries are continually working to preserve their vast numbers of
books and papers against atmospheric pollutants. UC Berkley has the
premier model for document preservation today.
The best practice for producing written information to be kept for
generations is to use alkaline based, lignin free paper. For color
fidelity, lignin free paper must be used. The user should be very aware
that recycled paper generally contains lignin, and that the adhesive in
Scotch brand type tape degrades paper. If sheet protectors are used,
the premium archival type is composed of Mylar. Polyethylene protectors
give off damaging substances. Commercial preservation services, Iron
Mountain, Inc. among others, provide storage and management of paper
and electronic records, film and sound assets.
Microfilm is used in the forms of reels, aperture cards and microfiche.
Until 1990 acetate was the most common base material. Unfortunately
acetate will eventually disintegrate by reacting with water to form
acetic acid (vinegar).
Three types of polyester based microfilm are used today: silver halide,
Diazo and Vesicular. The silver halide microfilm is the best type for
preservation purposes, but requires special equipment for reading. The
Diazo film tends to fade over time with use in readers. The Vesicular
film is easily scratched or stretched in use.
When committing valuable material to microfilm it is important to
evaluate the future availability of the required microfilm
The hard drive in your computer is basic storage for your electronic
files. All important files should be backed up with one or more copies.
Storage of these file copies on a separate device reduces the risk of
loss from damage to one computer or hard drive. Four options for
separate storage were identified and discussed. Information stored on
each of these devices must be progressed as technology changes to
assure the ability to read the data with updated software and
1. Compact disks (CD) are thought to last about 25 years. The surface
on the label side of the disk is more susceptible to damage than the
2. An external hard drive with storage capacity of up to 40 GB can be
purchased for under $100. For security, portable drives can be stored
in a location separate from the computer.
3. A flash drive is small, portable and relatively inexpensive, with
storage capacities up to 32 GB. It is about the size of a BIC lighter
and connects directly to a USB port on a computer.
4. Remote storage on servers accessed over the internet is offered by
various commercial companies, such as Mozy (free to 20 GB), WinZip and
Mr. Arnold recommends paper, properly selected and stored, as the most
durable storage media available to today’s genealogist.