Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Fourteen: Remediating the Damage

By US gov - US gov, Public Domain,
As genealogists, we may come in contact with documents and records that are clearly damaged from water, mold, natural deterioration, fire or many other causes. It is important to understand that our efforts to curate this damage may do more harm than good.

One common reaction to preservation is putting records and other documents in "protective" plastic sheets. In the past, it was also common to mount photos and other documents in albums or scrapbooks with a variety of methods from glue to photo corners. Often times, the plastic page holders and the mounting materials for scrapbooks does more damage than simply putting the documents in a book. The process of preservation is often referred to as curation. Curation is the action or process of selecting, organizing, and looking after the items in a collection or exhibition. Preservation is part of the curation process.

Unfortunately, adequate curation is usually beyond the resources and means of the average genealogist. Especially when there is water damage, the process can be lengthy and costly. Here is a summary of the process from the Northeast Document Conservation Center entitled, "Emergency Management, 3.6 Emergency Salvage of Wet Books and Records." If you take the time to review the instructions in this article, you will see that the process may be entirely beyond the resources of an individual.

One of the most commonly referenced major document losses occurred with the 1890 U.S. Federal Census. I have referred to the situation that resulted in the loss of these census records several times previously. The common explanation for the lack of records is attributed to a fire. But the fire did not cause the loss of most of the records. A more complete explanation of the loss is found in the following:

The Fate of the 1890 Population Census," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 64-81 (Spring 1996), Part 1 and Part 2.

The loss was only partially caused by the fire. The real loss was caused by the failure of the bureaucratic government agencies to take the proper steps to ameliorate the damage. Here is a summary statement from the second part of the above article:
More than 150 years passed between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of a U.S. National Archives, however, and the nation paid a high price for this delay. Critical records succumbed to war, fire, flood, theft, moves, agency reorganization, administrative error, improper filming, ignorance, apathy, and the ravages of time. It is really quite remarkable that so many valuable records are extant and available for research. The tragedy of the 1890 census remains a constant reminder of the necessity for a vigorous National Archives and unrelenting vigilance about the historical record.
The worst response to document damage is that taken by the U.S. Government: delay and ultimate lack of action ending up with the destruction of the damaged documents. There is no question that a great of the 1890 U.S. Federal Census could have been saved by proper action. It is probably the case that more genealogically important documents and records are lost through being intentionally thrown away than are physically damaged by all of the other possible damage methods combined. It is very likely that every day some library or archive destroys genealogically valuable records. Of course, this fact indicates that, as genealogists, we should be more knowledgeable and more actively involved in document and record preservation.

Part of the reason for this series is to raise awareness of the need for preservation and curation in the genealogical community.

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:
Part Nine:
Part Ten:
Part Eleven:
Part Twelve:
Part Thirteen:

No comments:

Post a Comment