MHSA

Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta


 

Preserving Old Documents/Books

Date Confusion

O.S. (Old Style, i.e. Julian calendar) dates and N.S. (New Style, i.e. Gregorian) dates have been employed by Mennonites in their record-keeping in the 1900s.

This has to do with the movement of many countries from one calendaring system to another.

For more information, see Wikipedia's explanation of the contemporary Gregorian Calendar (links to explanation of Julian Calendar as well).

We are always interested in information related to Mennonites, especially for those who lived in Alberta or whose relatives lived in Alberta at some time. We are a collecting archives and library, and so are always looking to improve the volume and nature of our resources for inquiring researchers.

Best Practices

The following are considered best practices for anyone or any organization who/which finds itself a steward of old documents or records. We hope that our fascinating family (and other historical) records are secured for future viewing.

  1. Preservation - Families really like to keep original documents "at home". The emotional attachment to scraps of wrinkled, discolouring or personally handwritten records can be powerful. Proof of that is that archives exist! However, most homes are incapable of offering the proper preservation conditions of controlled temperature, humidity, and contact with acidifying contaminants.

    What is hardest on records (causes them to age prematurely) is fluctuates in temperature and humidity - which is normal in family homes and even businesses (likely you have a digital thermostat in your home that deliberately modifies temperature while you're away).

    The acidifying contaminants can be having a newspaper clipping stored in the same file folder, or the use of a post-it note, a paper clip, or simply housing the material in an acid-based file folder.

    Putting the record into an archive is a much improved way to make sure that the record will last longer, and so can be read for many generations in the future.
  2. Use - As long as one person has the record, use is restricted by their willingness/ability to show the record to others.

    Taking it out to show someone and handling it adds to the acidifying risks (fingers that just ate a fatty cookie at a family gathering or was licked to turn the pages).

    As to taking it out of your home and into your car on a hot day - well, just think of the heat and ultraviolet effect of the sun's rays and how your car overheats in a sunny parking spot .... of how it chills on a winter day when it's parked.

    And, each time you photocopy (or scan or photograph) it to make a sharing copy of it, you are diminishing its longevity as well.
  3. Dissemination - Only you and those near you will ever get to see the record.  Unless you transcribe and publish (electronically or in paper) from it and circulate that widely.

    So, we encourage folks to donate their original family records with an archives like the MHSA (we can recommend one closer to you if your family has/had no connections to Alberta).  You can make it a condition of donation that:

    a scan be made of the entire record (covers, contents, blank pages even if you like) and put to high-quality CD/DVD in an image format that you're comfortable with (we recommend tif for preservation because it doesn't lose quality when it's copied over and over, but a viewing version in jpg is also a good idea).

    All archives will honour the right of a donor to come and look at their originals so that the emotional sense of the records can still be felt. Generally, it is open to others as well (though that can be controlled if there are good reasons, such as the potential for identity theft or violation with local privacy legislation).

    Once you have the CD/DVD, you know you can make as many copies as you like for yourself and your family, secure in the knowledge that the records were only impacted by intense light on one occasion.

An Alternative

If you choose not to follow the suggestions above, we're disappointed, but have another suggestion. We at least suggest that you make a copy of the records for an archives, so that others can use (copies of) 'originals' to validate or support or deny research in the future. In this way, archives can assist you in preserving and potentially disseminating the content, even though we've lost the opportunity to help you preserve the documents/books themselves.

Last Updated 11 Dec 2011

General Queries/Comments: Contact MHSA