Enemies of Your Genealogy Documents: Metal Fasteners, Paper Clips, and Tape

Genealogists, like archivists, encounter staples, metal paper clips, rubber bands, tape and other fasteners attached to records. These were used frequently to keep documents together back in the day. Knowing what these items can do to genealogical records and how to remove them is a skill that every genealogist should have. The Archive Lady Melissa Barker shares her advice on what to do with these materials when you encounter them in genealogical documents. 

You’ve probably encountered various forms of metal fasteners while combing through genealogical records. It is common to clip several documents together that belong together. Unfortunately, this practice continues today in record offices all across the globe. While it may be practical at the time for ensuring important documents stay together, it can actually be problematic when it comes to document preservation. Let’s take a look at the various types of fasteners and what you can do to ensure the survival of your precious documents. 

Metal Fasteners

Genealogists ask me all the time why they should remove all metal fasteners from their genealogical records. Many believe these metal fasteners are part of the historical nature of the documents and should be left alone. Unfortunately, metal fasteners are a danger to genealogical records. The damage they can do to your documents can be extensive.

Over time, some metal fasteners can actually cause genealogical records to tear or become damaged. If the clipped-together documents are read over and over and the pages are flipped multiple times, the metal fasteners could cause ripping, tearing, and other damage to the document.

Sometimes metal fasteners get exposed to moisture and that causes the metal to become rusted and actually adhere to the document. Metal fasteners that stick or attach themselves to genealogical records will cause damage. To prevent this damage, I strongly recommend that you carefully remove all metal fasteners from all documents. 

Rubber Bands

Rubber bands will deteriorate over time. The rubber breaks down in the presence of temperature and humidity fluctuations. Rubber bands will either become sticky or brittle over time. They will also leave a brown stain on your documents.

Removing rubber bands can be a difficult task if they have adhered themselves to the records. The most important thing to remember is to be patient when trying to remove rubber bands.

Cellophane Tape

In 1925, Richard Gurley Drew invented cellophane tape while working for Johnson & Johnson. This type of tape was often used on documents to mend tears and sometimes to attach pages together. As practical a solution as it may seem, cellophane tape or transparent tape should not be used on genealogical documents either. 

Using cellophane tape is very destructive to documents and photographs. Tape breaks down over time and, like rubber bands, are susceptible to temperature and humidity. Tape will break down and become very sticky or it will become brittle. Either way, tape can cause damage to documents by sticking to the pages and leaving a yellow stain on the records.

After Enemy Removal

Once you’ve removed the enemies of your documents, you’ll want to take additional steps to protect and preserve them. My quick and easy-to-read article of How to Archive Family History Documents will get you started. 

If you do not feel comfortable removing metal fasteners, rubber bands or cellophane tape from your records, please consult with a professional conservator for help. You can find a professional conservator at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works here. 

Final Thoughts

It may seem like removing these fasteners from historical documents could be destructive, but in fact, the fasteners themselves cause destruction over time. Your best bet for the survival of these important records is to remove them. Taking steps to preserve the life of your most precious family documents is something we can all agree is a good thing!

Images courtesy Melissa Barker and the Houston County, TN Archives.

Listen to this segment on the Premium Podcast

Preserving documents and artifacts is a crucial part of genealogy for any family historian. The Archive Lady Melissa Barker is a regular contributor to the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast to help you tackle these preservation challenges and answer your most pressing questions. Listen to this interview with Melissa Barker all about removing fasteners from documents in Premium Podcast Episode #161, available now to all Premium eLearning Members! Not a member? Sign up and start learning today!

Melissa Barker

Melissa Barker

Melissa Barker is a Certified Archives Records Manager, the Houston County, Tennessee Archivist and author of the popular blog A Genealogist in the Archives and an advice columnist. She has been researching her own family history for the past 27 years.
(Additional content by Lisa Louise Cooke)

How to Archive Family History Documents

Jennifer recently wrote in with a question about how to archive family history documents, and I knew just who to turn to: The Archive Lady! Melissa Barker is joining the Genealogy Gems Podcast and blog to help answer your questions about your precious possessions.

The archive lady Melissa Barker

Let’s get right to Jennifer’s question:


I recently received my grandfather’s birth certificate from my cousin. My family knows that I am researching our family tree and are not surprised when I ask them for information or to take a picture of family gatherings and send it to me. Most of my mother’s side of the family live in Wisconsin and I am in New Hampshire, so I don’t get to visit with them often. The birth certificate is very old and fragile and I’m wondering how do I store it so it will be around for future generations.

Thank you for any ideas.

It’s fabulous to find genealogical documents online, but there’s nothing like touching and possessing the original. I reached out to our Archive Lady here at Genealogy Gems, Melissa Barker to get her advice on archiving family history documents.

(Full disclosure: the links below are affiliate links that will take you to the products Melissa’s recommends in Amazon. While there’s no additional cost to you, we will be compensated for the referral. Thank you for helping us keep this blog and the Genealogy Gems Podcast free!)

How to Archive Family History Documents from the Archive Lady

“Jennifer, what a wonderful treasure to receive, your grandfather’s birth certificate. Preserving original records such as birth certificates is so very important for future generations.

First, I would suggest that you scan the certificate or take a photograph of it so that it is preserved digitally. Then the certificate needs to be encapsulated in an archival sleeve. Usually these sleeves are made from Mylar, Polypropylene or Polyester and can be bought at any online archival store. These sleeves can be top loading or they can be open on two sides, which are called L-sleeves. Place the certificate in the sleeve for the first layer of protection.

archival sleeveThen I suggest that you place the encapsulated certificate in an archival file folder and place in an archival Hollinger box. This will give you 3-layers of archival protection for your certificate.

Store all documents and photographs in a cool, dark and dry place.

Following these easy steps will ensure that your grandfather’s birth certificate will be enjoyed for generations to come!”


More Resources for How to Archive Your Family History

LOC scrapbook videoThank you to Melissa for helping Jennifer and all our readers understand how to archive family history documents in proper way. The Library of Congress has a FREE video about how to create and properly preserve digital or print archival scrapbooks.

It’s a 72-minute video by various experts with a downloadable transcript on these topics:

  • Basic preservation measures one can do at home for long-lasting albums and scrapbooks
  • Pros and cons of dismantling old scrapbooks and albums in poor condition
  • How to address condition problems
  • Preservation considerations for digital scrapbooks and albums
  • How to participate in the Library’s Veterans History Project.

And here on the Genealogy Gems blog we have an article for you about understanding the impact that humidity can have you on your family history collection. Click here to read Humidity and Your Family Archive: Why It Matters.

Pin It on Pinterest