How To Preserve Your Family Treasures

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 may be 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 that are around your home.

You can preserve your family memories, stories, and lives of course by writing a book. In a book, you can write an account of your family members.

But what do you do with all this other stuff?

Well, I will explain further in this post.

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 the photographs that you have in draws, cupboards, and shoe boxes. Before you handle 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 you handle the photographs!

Please be careful though when you write 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, please write softly with a pen, and with legible handwriting.

Before you begin to scan your collection of photos 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 in 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 back up 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 peace of mind.

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

With these two choices, there are 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 the lights off and close the 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 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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Learn How To Archive Family Photos Here!

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 you need to treat them with care. You will therefore want to preserve these too.

Documents and Letters

Share and care!

From time to time 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 them to wear latex gloves.

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

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

Similar to 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 you display 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 want to be gentle with these artifacts but there are considerations for each particular metal.

Similar to 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 is in acid-free cardboard boxes. If wooden boxes are to be used then it is best to apply three coats of polyurethane resin and leave it 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 you preserve your medals you will need to wear gloves. It is also important to work in a well-ventilated room as you will be working with chemicals.

First, dip a cotton bud in acetone and then 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 can 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 use cotton gloves.

Family History Coins

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

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


To handle the silver valuables you can wear cotton gloves. This will prevent oil from your hands from 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 to 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.

Please share with family and friends if you think this post will help others by using the social media buttons below.

Article Name
How To Preserve Your Family Treasures
Learn how to preserve your family treasures. I will look at documents and letters, old family photographs, coins and medals, and your precious silver too.
Publisher Name
The Genealogy Guide
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32 thoughts on “How To Preserve Your Family Treasures”

  1. I did not realize I needed a back up such as a flash drive. I will have to do this. I took my pictures to a camera store, and was able to get them printed on film with the size I wanted. They too recommended that I put the pictures on my computer which I did. I decided to build a pictorial exhibit about my dad, who was quite a genius and was very creative.

    People should use their imagination and put up a pictorial exhibit about their family. Also people should also write the stories they remembered. I wrote and scanned mine of yellow paper to put on the pictorial exhibit and having the pictures laminated at the Office Depot.

    1. That’s lovely that you have done a pictorial exhibit for your dad. What a wonderful idea. And to add stories to their is also a great idea. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Everyone needs a filing cabinet somewhere in their home. I swear; Whether it’s taxes, photographs, or birth certificates, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve needed a filing cabinet.
    For documents and photos, after you scan them, hope punch the copies and put them in a binder to avoid having to rescan sensitive documents because of the copy getting crumpled.
    Also, plastic document covets do wonderful for really flimsy documents! If you get the thicker ones that have a closing flap, you won’t have to worry about skin oils when handling it.

    1. I have a filing cabinet myself for all my bills and other stuff.

      The plastic pockets is a good idea. I forgot to mention that. I too have that for my family history folders. Each sheet is in a plastic pocket

  3. There are so many times that I have heard of someone having to go through a family members home and sort out what was left behind. Most of these items are usually just dropped off at flea markets and such, because not everyone realizes the value of some of the things such as the silver. Don’t get me started on the old pictures, those are even more priceless, that is a topic of converstation all in its own. Great work 🙂

    1. You are right. In those circumstances the relatives need to spend time going through the possessions. In time they may regret what they have lost

  4. Wow! I never thought about the detail in preserving a family history!

    Our family has dabbled in genealogy. My mother-in-law is by far the most detailed one out there. There are boxes and boxes of memories organized and filed, both online and offline. My mom is a little less detailed, but has put together a significant amount of information.

    Who has the space for all this offline stuff? I know for us, it has taken up entire bookshelves. How do you deal with space issues?

    1. Thats great to hear that both your mother-in-law and mother do family history.

      It is a good idea to also have paper files as backup, as long as it is organised. Depending on how dedicated you are then that will mean how much space you will need. And also how much room you are afford to use for this hobby. Sometimes an entire bookcase and a filing cabinet is plenty enough space. Hope that helps

  5. Hey Owain
    As a fellow genealogist I have to applaud you on this very well thought out and written article. It goes into all of the important details in preserving your family history. When I started along time ago there were no such guides. I think all of the advice you have given in this article is top notch and will do people starting out a world of good. I hope many new genealogists are lucky enough to find this article.
    Great job

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words. I did spend quite some time on this as I wanted to try and focus on all different treasures that people possessed.



  6. Interesting article on how to preserve family treasures. I like the idea of scanning the pictures onto a file. I have some pictures that I have in frames, and I cannot remove them. They are stuck to the glass, so I just leave them in the frame sitting on the table. Is there a way to remove these from the frame without damaging the picture? One is of a picture of my mom with my son, both of whom have passed away, so the picture is important to me.

    1. As the pictures are stuck to the glass you could remove the glass from the frame and then scan the glass and picture together. However, with this approach the picture may not be in focus. Another way is to take a photo of your picture on cloudy day. You can then crop your picture on your computer. If you are able to find the negatives you can scan them using a special reading device.

      I’m sorry that I can’t help you further. You may not get the best results but these are ways that you could try. Best of luck

  7. Excellent read! You see, I need to offload all of my pictures into my computer. My smartphone is almost maxed out as far as storage goes. Plus I could use some of the pictures in my posts. All I need to do is learn how to
    Transfer them from my smartphone to my computer.
    I enjoyed the rest of your artical and the strategies you provided.
    Thank you,
    Edward Mijarez

    1. I am not too clued up on smartphones but you could try using a USB lead connecting your phone to the computer. Hope you have some luck that way.

      Glad you liked the article.


  8. I liked your site very much as it gave me a vast amount of information, on how to clean and care for all the items a person would like to save. Your site was very easy to maneuver and made it very easy to find information! As I was going through your site I felt that it flowed together nicely, which made it a much more enjoyable for me! Nice job on site and information!..Bob

    1. Thank you very much Bob for your kind words. It is really appreciated and makes me want to continue writing more and more posts. As I do write more I will be restructuring the site, but I will still be making it easy for you and others to find what information that you need

  9. Hi Owain
    You have supplied some great advice for preserving family history.
    I like the idea of using the protective glass for displaying photos on the wall.

    I have a LOT of digital photos of my daughters that I store on a hard drive. I am looking at cloud storage as an alternative. Would you have a recommendation for a particular cloud service that is cost effective and user-friendly?


    1. Hi Wade,

      Personally I use Google Drive. It allows you to store up to 15GB free. So if you have a google account then you can easily just set that up. I have never had a problem with this and so I would recommend it highly.

      Hope that helps you,


  10. Memories are so important, especially family memories. Even if I don’t know some persons that I see in my family’s photos, I know they were my grand grandfathers etc and I’m curious about them and I want my children and their children to know about their ancestors as well.
    That’s why I find preserving ,,old stuff” very important

    1. It’s important for us to preserve these family treasures and also try to tell our ancestors stories. If we don’t do that now then a part of their will have disappeared from history. We may know things that have not been recorded and if we don’t write it and preserve it then it will be lost forever. The same goes for family heirlooms.

      Sorry that all sounded doom and gloom. It isn’t really. It is a joy to preserve these things and it does make you proud that you have done it and that these treasures can be around for generations to come

  11. Owain, great article!

    We certainly do have a nice collection of ancient artifacts and photos. But they are certainly not being properly taken care of at the moment. So your suggestions and advice will greatly increase the longevity of these articles.

    Your suggestion to of scanning all the photos and documents is great. That way there is something we can view without harming the originals. I’d like to keep them safe and in a cool dry place!

    But as for things like medals and small metal objects, is there any reason not to have them on display in the home? Since they won’t really fade.

    Thanks for the great information.


    1. As you say it is a good idea to increase the longevity of these family treasures. You could put medals and any small metal objects within a display case if you wish. This would stop dust and anything coming into contact with them.

  12. This is so cool. I come from a family of immigrants from Italy, and unfortunately I do not even know what my family name was originally. I wish my ancestors would have been able to access this website and save me some headaches now in the future lol. Anyways this is an awesome website and I really enjoyed reading through it.

    1. Thank you so much for enjoying this article and my site. I plan to add many more interesting posts in the near future. Please stay tuned :-

  13. Hi Owain

    Excellent post! Great article and very informative. For me for sure is the photos/portrait of my family or relatives, that is the easiest way to preserve or treasure all the happiest moments that we are been together. Because even the other member of the family are gone we can still reminisce or recall every enjoyable experienced by looking only in pictures. Congratulations! You did very well!


    1. Thanks very much, I appreciate. I have seen how much even the ordinary family possessions around the house can be important. And it’s also good to preserve these along with family stories and anecdotes. You could even take photos of your possessions and write them in a family history book. This article may be of use to – How To Create A Family History Book

  14. Hey Owain,

    As I am reading through this post, my mind is racing like crazy. All those photo scattered everywhere and coins from different places, some of which can be found under floor boards!

    Thank you for the detailed and painstaking guide to protecting genealogy and you wrote this with passion and care. I learned a lot of important steps here to preserving these important things money can’t buy. Love your post.

    1. In everyday life it’s a always a good idea to put similar possessions together. That way you know exactly what you have got and you can get to things quickly. There’s no difference to your family heirlooms, apart from displaying and preserving them.

      You’re right in saying that these are important things that money can’t buy. All the best with sorting out your family treasures.

  15. I love your post. My family never talked about our family all that much. Not because they were ashamed or anything, but I suppose it was just the culture. When I was little I used to go through some of the stuff my parents had of things my grandparents passed down to them. I will definitely be taking care when handling these items in the future. Thanks for the great info!

    1. These family treasures certainly need to be cared for so that they can be around for future generations. What’s also important is that each of them tell a story about the person it was connected to. You’re welcome for the tips.

  16. Great article, Owain! I’ve got boxes and boxes and boxes of photos, and I think of my mom, who has thousand upon thousands of slides. So much history of our family is contained in those boxes alone, let alone considering all the other areas you mentioned. You’ve provided some really helpful tips. Thank you, and keep up the great work with your site!
    Best wishes,

    1. Thank you so much. Similar with photographs slides and negatives can be copied. Also they can be digitised onto the computer along with old video recordings. There are services out there which can do this for you. I will cover this in a future post.

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