How to Preserve Old Documents, Photographs and Files?

One of the most asked questions on genealogy blogs and in Facebook genealogy groups is how to preserve old genealogy documents, papers, photographs, and digital files. WHEW! Big questions and no easy answer.

Preservation vs Conservation

These two terms are used sometimes interchangeably, but really have different meanings. Preservation activities are those that help to prolong the life of a genealogy record, artifact, or book. Conservation are the methods used to treat and repair an individual item.

What do you want to preserve?

Once you decide what you want to preserve, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) offers a great website with understandable directions and advice. First go to I hover my mouse over Family Archives in the first box and click to go to that page. You will see a list of articles that offers the family researcher tips of how to preserve family papers and photographs.

The Library of Congress Preservation Directorate also offers advice for every day genealogists. The home page for preservation is I find this site to be a bit more difficult to navigate, but stick with it as the Library of Congress offers great information. On the left hand side you might choose family treasures and click on it. One of my favorite pages on this site is the Collections Care page . You can identify the item you want to know how to preserve and click on that link for more information.

The Northeast Document Conservation Center offers leaflets that provide tips on preservation. These information pamphlets are often updated, and you might find at least some of them applicable to your home preservation needs.

The last source you might use is the American Institute for Conservation. This site takes a bit more effort to look through, but loads of good advice and tips.

Digital Preservation

A newer concept to consider is how will you preserve all of your computer files whether they be pictures, text messages, or text files. The Library of Congress offers this free download: Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving, which might help you consider some solutions. Another great page on the Library of Congress site deals with Preserving Your Digital Memories.


Most of the links mentioned already discuss photograph preservation. Cornell University Library, Department of Preservation and Conservation offers a download called Preserving Your Family Photographs.  For the more advanced photographer/genealogist, you might be interested in Universal Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines (UPDIG).

For additional tips on preserving photos, check out – How to Protect Photos, Documents and Other Papers

The key preservation is to prevent damage or further damage to your records, originals or copies. These free websites may help you in your endeavor. Have fun!