Looking After Documents

We often have documents such as birth certificates, postcards and letters from our ancestors. These can be particularly tricky to look after, so here is some advice to get started. We encourage you to print this page and store it with your medals as a reminder of how to care for them.


  • Don’t store your documents in the attic (too hot), basement or garage (too damp). Pick an interior room, or cupboard.
  • Avoid extremes in temperature or humidity. Store away from radiators and vents. Avoid extended exposure to light.
  • Keep them off the floor. They are more likely to be damaged by water or insects on the floor.
  • Store papers and documents in protective boxes or folders. Avoid using plastic containers or sleeves that smell like a new shower curtain (PVC). PVC generates acids that fade documents over time. Consider purchasing archival quality boxes and sleeves for precious documents.
  • Don’t overpack boxes of papers and documents. Boxes should be comfortably full without being overcrowded or having empty spaces.
  • Store papers flat or in rolled storage for oversized papers.
  • Do not use paper clips, staples or rubber bands to organise documents. They can damage documents by discolouring them or tearing them. Carefully remove them from antique papers.
  • Do not ‘dog ear’ fold to mark or organize pages.
  • Don’t cut down documents to fit in a frame or album. It’s important to keep the whole document. By cutting the document you might remove important historical evidence by accident, such as signatures, margin notes.
  • Avoid laminating original documents. The plastics in laminate sheets can become brittle over time, and can produce acids that attack the paper and ink. Lamination is also irreversible!
  • Vendors for archival quality boxes, tissue and folders: Preservation Equipment Ltd, Conservation by Design, Conservation Resources UK Ltd.


  • Minimize handling and handle with care.
  • Always have clean, dry hands when handling documents. Consider wearing clean gloves to prevent dirt or stains. Thin vinyl gloves are better than woolen gloves.
  • Keep food and drink away.
  • Consider making copies of documents that you want to look at often (such as birth certificates, letters) to avoid handling the originals.


  • Only make necessary marks on documents. Consider making copies of the originals to annotate or label the folder the item is kept in.
  • Necessary marks should be made in pencil on the edge of the document.


  • Avoid using sticky tape. In the long term the adhesive in the sticky tape with fail and will leave discolouring on the paper (see right).
  • Avoid using superglue, Blu-tack, rubber cement or Pritstick to fix documents The adhesive will fail in the long-term.
  • If in doubt consult a conservator. Contact Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery, 01302 734293, [email protected].


  • Make digital copies or photocopies of documents. Store the copies in a different place to the original.
  • Back up digital copies.
  • Do not throw away your original documents after you digitize them. They are not replacements for originals.