13 January 2007

Are you sure your family heirlooms are stored properly?

Are you downsizing or helping a relative move to a senior community? What will you do with the family memorabilia? How will you preserve it?

Preservation and conservation are important issues to family history researchers. Although we may think primarily about photographs and documents, what about books, a dried wedding bouquet or your own more contemporary mementos?

Storing family heirlooms is problematic, as they are likely stored in attics, basements or garages where temperature and humidity can play havoc with the items.

This story stresses the importance of environmental factors, provides information on archival quality storage containers, and advises obtaining expert advice before sending old textiles - like Grandma's wedding veil - to a neighborhood dry cleaner.

It also discusses what to do when a family heirloom collection may be parceled out to relatives, offers some useful links and even provides a quiz to assess the current storage risk to your own treasures.

Former anthropology teacher Jennifer Cobb realized her own treasures were deteriorating due to storage conditions; her efforts to protect these artifacts led her to found Heirloom Preservation LLC.

People have a lot of preservation issues they don't even know about. So much is lost due to ignorance and neglect," says Cobb, who has decided to make helping people preserve their legacies her life's work. Today, Cobb works with individuals, families, historic preservation groups and small museums.

Cobb also deals with people whom she calls "The Keeper of the Stuff." I'm sure many Tracing the Tribe readers will identify with that title!

"What happens in a family, I've observed, is that usually it's one person who has the stuff. I call them The Keeper of the Stuff," Cobb says with a chuckle. People earn the title because they are interested in genealogy or history "and people in the family find out and they find a letter or they find a dress" and pass those items along to the Keeper who finds it "interesting, fascinating, they love it." However, the trouble comes because the Keeper doesn't know what to do to properly preserve the items. In many instances, "They start to feel guilty," says Cobb. "They put (dealing with) it off because it's too overwhelming."

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