Safeguard family artifacts and heirlooms

Throughout our lives we acquire objects of sentimental, historical or functional value to ourselves. These items may have been passed down in our families from previous generations and some things are acquired through a hobby as a collector or history enthusiast. It is very important to preserve these significant artefacts and try to learn about their history. This is not to say that we become hoarders, but that we should keep the things that need to be kept and learn how to keep them.

Many people enjoy the popular program Antiques Roadshow on PBS. When the expert talks about the presented object, he always also explains the history of the object and its care. The estimated value always comes last.

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When we think of artifacts we think of documents – documents with signatures, correspondence, important newspaper clippings, art, photographs, albums, jewelry, silver, china, lamps, furniture and many other things not mentioned. Important things are often stored in attics or sheds that are not air-conditioned. Items are stored in boxes that are exposed to insects (ants, cockroaches, spiders, etc.) and small animals such as rodents or squirrels, dust, dirt, and mold. Important items need to be sorted out and then stored properly.

Depending on the material used, different types of artifacts should be preserved. For example, paper documents such as birth, death or marriage certificates should be protected from moisture, heat and light. Do not fold, staple or glue them.

newspaper clippings should be kept separate from other documents as the chemicals used in the production of the newspaper will damage the other documents and change their colour. Keep all documents in acid-free envelopes or boxes. These can be purchased at craft stores or ordered from places that sell library supplies.

Clothing, textile or fabric are sensitive to moisture, light and dust. They should be kept in special preservation boxes wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, muslin stuffing, or cedar shavings.

photographs can be damaged by direct sunlight regardless of the age of the photo. When you display them, use a frame with UV-protective glass. When storing them, lay them flat in an acid-free storage box and place them between photos with acid-free tissue paper or acid-free sleeves. Make copies of photos and papers or scan them on the computer and keep them in a different place from the original items. A fireproof safe is a great place to keep the extra copy. Should you suffer a disaster, you have a better chance of keeping the copy of your artifacts.

Heirloom jewelry is a special keepsake for many and should be worn and enjoyed when appropriate. Inspect each part regularly and have it repaired if necessary. Depending on the type of repair, the value of the piece may be affected. –

Overall, the biggest threats to your artifacts are heat, light, water (both moisture and flooding), dust, pests, mold, breakage, and chemicals. To prevent this, never store heirlooms in the garage, basement, attic, storage unit, or shed where the humidity or temperature can fluctuate.

If you choose an item to keep as an artifact, remember to write down the story and keep it with the item. Future generations may not realize the importance of the item and throw it away without history connecting it to your lineage. But it is very important that family members experience what is available to them when learning about their family history. If you think about it, artifacts are part of our history and at the same time we are part of the artifact’s history.

The Augusta Genealogical Society offers virtual programs, or lectures, usually monthly, that cover many of these techniques of genealogy. Visit the website for information about 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 Please allow a week for a response to your query.

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