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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Are You Preventing Preservation?
by Rhonda R. McClure

July 12, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Preservation. The word conjures up pictures of acid-free paper and of special sleeves to insert photographs. In fact, when we hear the word "preservation" usually all we think to do is use special paper and protect our photographs.

There may be things that you are doing each day, though, that could be detrimental to those very documents and photographs that you have been making an attempt to protect.

Preservation goes beyond paper.

Destructive Paper Clips

Recently the daughter of a former client requested the research files I had maintained for her mother some ten years ago. Her mother passed away a few years back and I had held onto the files in the hopes that her daughter would indeed become interested and carry on the research. However, as I was getting out the files, I discovered that some of the pages were rusted from the paper clips used back then. While the documents are still readable, I was surprised to see the metal paper clips.

I stopped using those long ago, but apparently had never replaced those metal paper clips in her files with the plastic coated ones that I now use. This got me to thinking, though, about other researchers who may be using metal paper clips or rubber bands.

Rubber Bands Gone Bad

How often have you had a rubber band break down. You know, when they lose their elasticity or worse yet they become gummy or gooey. That residue is sometimes left on our precious documents.

I know that when my grandfather sent me a package one time of old papers and odds and ends he'd found in his house, there was a pile of letters that were kept together using a rubber band. The letters dated back to the thirties, though I do not know when they were bundled together. As I began to go through this collection from my grandfather, I discovered that the rubber band was sticky and had gummed itself to the envelopes, especially the outer two envelopes where the rubber band now made a line across the envelope.

Beware of Staples

While you may think that staples are designed just to frustrate you when you try to remove them, actually to our papers they are more than just a frustration. Staples are another culprit that can ruin your documents. Staples are made of metal and metal rusts. That means that your staples may rust in the paper.

Staples are also notorious for tearing our documents. Depending on how consistent you were about stapling multi-page documents, you may not remember that a given set of pages is stapled and pull too quickly or in the wrong direction, only to hear that awful ripping sound.

In Conclusion

While acid-free paper and protection sleeves for our photographs are important they are by no means the end to our document preservation. There are so many influences that pose potential threats to our precious documents. Think before you touch your documents with markers or pens. Think about how long that paper is going to stay around before you put a metal paper clip on it. As the old adage goes, better to be safe than sorry.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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