The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Documenting the Family Treasure Chest
January is the perfect month for getting organized at work and at home. It also can be a time to focus on personal collections that have special meaning or worth.
During a family visit over the holidays a discussion about the history of a china set led into the importance of documenting histories and information about family heirlooms.
Here are few things you can do to get started with your family treasures:
- Create an inventory that includes what the object is and its location (This is also a good time to decide if the item/s need to be stored elsewhere due to condition or space issues, or if it is time to find the item a new home). It is usually easiest to work on one room or area at a time. If you create a digital version of the inventory, be sure to print out a copy as well. Consider where you will store the digital inventory and create a backup.
- Take photos of the items, which can be digital or analog. Once you have the images downloaded or printed, be sure to add the pertinent information to them. If objects are part of a collection (set of china, series of books, flatware, etc.), a broader description (where did it come from, who had it, who made it, what are the materials) can be included as an introduction. Again, it is important to have more than one set of images for backup purposes.
- Decide if you want to label the items themselves as well, but proceed with caution. What the objects are made of and their condition need to be taken into consideration before adding information to the physical item, as inks and adhesives can damage materials.
- Let family members know about the existence of the inventory and photos, especially if there are plans for passing on items.
The inventory with images also will provide family members with details they may not be aware of otherwise. Instead of just having a nice vase from Grandma, the inventory explains that it was bought by Grandpa during a trip to Paris where they first met.
And finally, inventories also are handy to have if a disaster occurs and items need to be replaced or for insurance purposes.
- How to Care for Glass and Ceramics, Canadian Conservation Institute
- Preservation of Low-Fired Ceramic Objects, Conserve O Grams, National Park Service
- Resources for Private and Family Collections, Northeast Document Conservation Center
- Artifact Appraisals, Museum Conservation Institute, Smithsonian Institution