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Your Life is Your Story, Issue #044 – Preserving Your Family Records
August 23, 2007

"Your past is your story up to now. The future is the story yet to come. The present is where you live with that experience, your hopes and your dreams."

Your Life is Your Story Newsletter

August 23, 2007
Issue #044 – Preserving Your Family Records

From Tom Gilbert – Editor and Writer,

In this Issue:

Opening remarks: The Ultimate Gift
Featured Article: Preserving Your Family Records
Resources You Can Use: MemoryPress, NARA, Guide to Collections Care

Opening Remarks: The Ultimate Gift

What is the ultimate gift? The answer to that might vary depending on who you talk to. I got thinking about it after watching the film, The Ultimate Gift, just out on DVD and based on the best-selling novel by Jim Stovall.

In the movie a wealthy patriarch dies and the family assembles to hear the last will and testament. They are a greedy and selfish bunch, all expecting they would get their share of the billionaire’s fortune.

But Red Stevens (played by James Garner) had other plans. He wasn’t going to distribute his wealth to those who wouldn’t appreciate it and the heirs are disappointed, to say the least. However, Red does have plans for one particular family member. His grandson, Jason Stevens (played by Drew Fuller), is a spoiled twenty-something who has had everything handed to him, never worked a real job, and thinks he deserves all that and more. His attitude is fueled in part over his bitterness at the death of his father when he was still a young boy. Red had recorded a series of video interviews of himself laying out a plan – a test if you will – for the grandson that would teach him some values and, if successful with various tasks, hand him the "Ultimate Gift".

It’s a great story and emphasizes what really matters in life. There are several "gifts" the grandson discovers. He learns about the gifts of work, money (including not having any so you can appreciate it the more), giving, gratitude and love. It reminds me of the importance of creating your ethical will , a document that records the values you most treasure and want to share with others after your death.

You can find out more about The Ultimate Gift, both movie and book, at

Thank you for the opportunity to present another ezine issue to you. Feel free to email me with questions and comments. I welcome the feedback.

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While the main focus of this newsletter is to share thoughts, ideas, and insights on life story writing you should know that I offer various services and also mention some products and services that can be helpful. You are under no obligation to purchase anything, but if any of these products or services are helpful and you decide to utilize them then I am most grateful.

Thanks for reading. – Tom

Featured Article: Preserving Your Family Records

Protecting and caring for your various family records means storing them properly. It also means protecting them from the elements, everything from heat, wetness and light, to other possible pollutants.

Conservators and archivists live for this stuff. They can tell you about the PAT (Photographic Activity Test developed by the American National Standards Institute). They understand the importance of properly mounting photos in the right kind of albums, preserving important documents, why you don’t mix newspapers with photographs (newspaper is highly acidic and can damage the neighboring photographs) and a host of other preservation topics.

I was in Santa Fe recently to attend a free workshop on Preserving your Family Records. It was presented by Linda Blaser, the National Preservation Officer for Regional Records. She works for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and she was knowledgeable, informative and presented the information in an easy to understand and down-to-earth style. As I am not a professional conservator I appreciated that approach. It made me feel right at home with her tips on how to protect and preserve your important family documents.

There is a lot to consider regarding the preservation of your family records. Most of us don’t need to go to the extent that professional or governmental archivists do, but it’s worth knowing what types of materials you should use to protect your documents. It’s also important to understand how the environment affects your materials.

Properly matting and mounting photographs prolongs their life and protects them. If you are matting and framing be sure to choose acid free mats and a lignin free board backing. You also want to use a strong, but thin hinge with a reversible adhesive at the top of the picture you are mounting on a mat. This avoids the permanent wrinkling that can occur from inevitable humidity and temperature changes that can create expansion or contraction of your picture.

There are many types of photo albums and they’ve changed over the years, too. Because of what we’ve learned about preserving photographs many photo albums today are of a better construction and use better mounting techniques. However, don’t be in a rush to remove old photographs from albums just because the photo album is falling apart. You could damage photos by taking them out without proper care. Sometimes it is better to preserve the photo album as best you can. If the photos are highly valued family treasures you might consult a professional conservator.

Best practices for photo storage include using archival plastics. These are PVC free and not vinyl. A good option is using archival plastic sleeves in acid free/lignin free notebooks.

Another mistake people often make is storing books, photo albums or loose documents in boxes or folders of the wrong size. You want a snug, but not too tight fit. If the container is too big the materials move around and that creates wear and tear. Too small and you can cause creasing, bending and folding.

People often wonder about how to preserve their media collection, like old family films and videos. If you can make copies to DVD that’s good, but you need to preserve the originals in cool, dry places. Cassette tapes and videos need to be played once in a while as the rollers can get dirty, dusty and grimy. With electronic media keep in mind that once you’ve saved a document you need to resave it when you use updated software. This is known as refreshing. If you don’t you might find you can’t open or read a document with software three generations or more removed from the original. If you are storing documents to DVD/CD formats it’s recommended you use only gold archival discs, not the silver discs.

There is a more information about preserving your family records and I just listed a few of the highlights I learned from the workshop. You can find out more from conservation supply vendors, archivists and online research. It’s a good idea to take inventory of your family records and consider what is important to preserve and take steps to do that properly.

You can read other articles on life-story writing here.

Resources You Can Use


The new and improved MemoryPress memorybook is professional, easy to use and affordable. Create a book online, including pictures and text, invite others to contribute, have a professional layout of your choice, and a turnkey high quality binding and printing all through one process. Find out more here.


NARA is the National Archives and Records Administration, a United States government agency. They provide a wealth of information, including helpful tips about preservation practices, archiving, conservation of materials and much more. In addition to their many online resources and information NARA's primary purpose is to acquire, preserve, and make available for research the most valuable records of the federal government, as well as the papers of each President since Hoover.

Visit NARA online at Of special note is the preservation section.

Guide to Collections Care

Another helpful resource for preservation and care of paper, photographs and book collections can be found online at a library and archival solutions and supplies company known as Gaylord.

Visit them online at the Gaylord website. Be sure to check out their Resources section for a number of great tips on preservation, storage and other archival solutions.

Closing Information

That’s it for this month’s issue. Thanks for reading. Be sure to visit our blog regularly, and here’s to telling your story. Do give it some serious consideration because I just know you’ve got a great story to tell! Be sure to see the Get Started section.

Any comments, ideas or feedback is greatly appreciated. Just reply to this ‘zine and tell me what you think!

Until next time, – keep your story alive!

Tom Gilbert

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