Preserving your family's precious memories

June 18, 2012 4:20:32 PM PDT
You can't put a price tag on them -- those sentimental family heirlooms and photos that are often the only keepsakes you have of loved ones. Experts say caring for them the right way can not only save you money, but salvage priceless memories.

We're talking about everything from those black and white photos stacked loosely in a cardboard box to other family pictures stuffed in an album and packed away in the attic or a closet. There's a chance you aren't storing, displaying or caring for them properly, and restoring them could cost you big.

"My mother recently passed away and my father passed away about 14 years ago and so this is all that we have left," said Julie Kuenstle.

Kuenstle and her siblings recently discovered the photos, some nearly a century old. It's emotional for her, knowing some are in bad condition.

She said, "To see these photos ruined, it's a little saddening and disheartening."

But Donna Meadows with the Houston Museum of Natural Science says all is not lost. She has tips for every family when it comes to preserving priceless photos.

Tip 1 -- Hands off. Grab a pair of gloves.

"The reason why we use this is so the oils from our skin and our hands don't get all over the artifacts," Meadows explained.

She says clean white cotton gloves will work.

Tip 2 -- Be careful how your family photos are stored. Meadows says if they're not stored properly, it could cost you the most money and heartbreak.

Albums with the sticky clear film are dangerous when it comes to preserving pictures. Don't store them on or in a cardboard box.

Meadows said, "That cardboard is actually giving off gassing chemicals that you don't want to have reacting to the chemicals in the photo."

Meadows says the traditional plastic albums are not good either. The best option is archival enclosures sold at photography supply stores.

Tip 3 -- Watch where you store your photos and family treasures. Keep them out of the heat and humidity.

"Garages and attics is not a good place for anything," Meadows advised.

And stay away from the light.

"Light is the enemy," Meadows said. "Unfortunately you want to keep any kind of artifacts away from the light, any kind of harsh light. That could mean just drawing the blinds during the day."

Kuenstle said, "My brother and I are very concerned about preserving this because I have three children and it's important to me that my children know who these people are."

Some additional tips -- don't use tape to attach photos. The tape can remove the image and destroy the picture. Also experts say you should never use ink to label the back of a picture. Use a pencil instead. The ink could eventually bleed through.

Lastly, it never hurts to make a copy of the photo and display that instead. But scan it, don't make a photocopy.

As for other heirlooms like quilts and dresses passed down in the family, experts say you should keep them in cool, dry temperature, away from insects and a lot of light. Do not store them in cardboard boxes, or fold them too sharply. The creases could break down the fibers.

Finally, as for old film and VHS tapes, we're told you should get those transferred to DVDs as soon as possible.

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