How To Preserve Your Family Treasures

We all have family treasures that are either on display or are hidden away in various places around our homes. So, you maybe wondering how to preserve your family treasures for generations to come.

How To Preserve Your Family Treasures

So many heirlooms to preserve!

Well, it does depend on what your heirloom is. It can be anything from photographs to letters, papers, medals and coins.

There can be quite an assortment of different valuables laying around your home.

You can preserve your family memories, stories and lives of course by writing a book, detailing family members as well.

But what do you do with all this other stuff?

Well, I will explain further in this post.

Please watch the following video to give you ideas on how you can preserve your family treasures.

Please watch this video!

Before you do continue reading this post I would like to share with you the following 6-minute video.

Here you will be shown exactly what you need to do to preserve your family treasures.

Credit:   Senator John Heinz History Center

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To begin with collect all of your photographs that you have tucked away in draws, cupboards and shoe boxes. Before handling the photographs remember to wash your hands and hold them by the edges.


You will want to first label on the back of them who is in them, and where and when the photo was taken.

If you don’t know the answers to these questions then you may like to ask a relative who may be able to help you.

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Take care when handling photographs!

Please be careful though when writing on the back of these photographs. If you are like me then you are heavy with your handwriting.

This can cause damage as the pen protrudes through the front of the photograph.

So, write softly with a pen with legible handwriting.

Before you begin scanning I suggest you check out my 6 Steps To Take Before You Scan Old Photos post.

After you have done this then you will want to scan these photographs into your computer.

Scan Photographs

This of course is another form of preserving your family history.

If anything were to happen with your collection of photographs then you will regret that you did not save them digitally.

What setting to use?

It is important though to scan your photographs at the correct settings.

You will want to set the DPI to between 300 and 600.

DPI stands for Dots Per Inch and with a higher number this will mean a higher quality picture that is saved onto your computer.

You can then reproduce these as framed pictures or canvases and you will not have degraded the picture quality.

Keep several copies!

Once you have done this then you may wish to backup these picture files onto a portable hard drive, flash drive, or even a Cloud service, i.e. online storage.

Even though you can store your scanned photos digitally it is always a good idea to make several copies just in case anything were to happen.

This will give you piece of mind.

The next stage to preserving your family photographs is then to decide whether you want to display them or put them away in a safe place.

With these two choices there also important points to consider which I will cover.

How best to display your photographs

As you have scanned your photographs you may wish to display printouts rather than the originals.

Display Your Photographs

However, if you decide that you would rather display the original photographs then please bear in mind that light can fade them after a while.

Useful tips to remember:

  • Place them on walls that do not get constant light.
  • Use lower intensity lights.
  • Turn lights off and close curtains when no one is in the room.
  • Alternate photographs that you wish to display.
  • Use ultraviolet filtering glass or acrylic.

How to store your photographs

When you have carefully scanned your photographs you will then want to store them away safely.

To do this you will need to consider the following:

  • Store in polypropylene pages or sleeves, or acid-free sleeves.
  • Do not use glue or adhesive, instead use corners that are acid-free, or that are made from either polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene.
  • Put in acid-free boxes.
  • Keep the temperature to below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, (this will slow the rate of chemical decay and also reduce insect activity).
  • Keep the relative humidity to between 15% and 65%, (too low will cause brittleness and too high will cause mold and insect activity).
  • Areas to avoid storing include the basement, attic and garage.
  • Away from damp sources such as leaking pipes.
  • And also away from food and water as these will attract insects.

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Documents and Letters

Your family documents and letters are just as important to you as your photographs. They are a part of your family history and so need to be treated with care. You will therefore want to preserve these too.

Documents and Letters

Share and care!

From time to time like you may like to take them out to show visitors. When you do you could ask your guests to take care with them.

If your documents and letters are particularly old then you could ask your them to wear latex gloves.

This will help prevent the oils from people’s hands getting onto these and damaging them.

Your guests will appreciate seeing such old documents and will not mind wearing a pair of gloves.

Similar with photographs it is a good idea to scan these documents.

You do not need to set the DPI to a high standard but 3oo is sufficient. After you have done this then you can also back up these files to external devices and the Cloud.

Best way to display your documents and letters

When displaying your documents and letters you will want to follow the same precautions as with photographs. If you want to display originals then you will want to pay particular attention to lighting.

Display Your Letters

An acid-free mat or spacer will also help prevent your document from touching the glass of the picture frame.

How to store these records

All of the same guidelines that are used with photographs can also be applied to your documents and letters.

There are though a few more tips to consider when storing these family heirlooms.

  • Store these documents unfolded and flat in sturdy boxes that are adequate size.
  • For larger items they can be best rolled into an archival quality paper tube.
  • Up to five documents can be rolled together and stored into the same tube.
  • Any paper clips or elastic bands that can damage these documents need to be removed.
  • Newspaper articles need to be spaced between acid-free paper as they are highly acidic.

Please check out my helpful 5 Steps To Take To Preserve Old Documents and Letters post.

There you can follow the entire process to ensure that your family legacy is preserved for future generations.

Medals, Coins, Silver and Other Metals

With regular care your metallic family heirlooms can also be preserved for further generations. You will obviously want to be gentle with these artifacts but there are considerations for each particular metal.

Similar with your photographs and documents you will want to store these under the same light and temperature conditions.

Your heirlooms that are made from gold, brass, bronze or copper can be all cleaned with a damp cloth and then wiped dry.

Similar action can also be taken with pewter which is sometimes mistaken for silver.


The most cost-effective method to store these are in acid-free cardboard boxes. If wooden boxes are to be used then it is best to apply three coats of polyurethane resin and left to dry.

Military Medals

What to do and don’t do!

Acid-free tissue paper can be used to wrap the medals.

Please be aware that polishing medals will damage them.

You will instead need to degrease the medal by using acetone.

Before preserving your medals you will need to wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated room as you will be working with chemicals.

First dip a cotton bud in acetone and wipe over the medal.

Then wet a children’s toothbrush and brush in circles to remove the dirt.

Be careful when using solvents!

The ribbon itself can be dry-cleaned using solvents such as petroleum spirits, white spirits or methylated spirits.

Before doing so you will need to test for colorfastness.

To do this place some blotting paper underneath the ribbon and apply some solvent with a cotton bud to a color.

Then blot the area with another piece of blotting paper.

If any dye comes off on either piece of blotting paper then do not use that solvent.


These particular family heirlooms will need to be stored within polyester sleeves, polyethylene bags, or either polyester or acrylic boxes. If you wish to show visitors your coins then it is best to do show using cotton gloves.

Family History Coins

The safest way to clean these is to use warm water with a mild soap and using a children’s toothbrush.

Once you have cleaned the coin then rinse in distilled water and then soak in alcohol.


To handle your silver valuables you can wear cotton gloves. This will prevent oil from your hands getting onto the silver. It will also prevent fingerprints as well. If you do not want to wear gloves then please make sure that you have clean hands.


Do note though that regular use will prevent the build up of tarnish.

Similar with your coins you will want to use mild soap and warm water. Polishing silver is permissible and you may wish to use a silver polishing cloth.

When storing these items please keep them separate from corrosive items such as newspaper or wool. They can though be stored in soft cloth bags.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this article regarding how to preserve your family history treasures. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

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