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A Genealogist In The Archives: What's the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What's the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation?

These two words, "Preservation" and "Conservation" can be confusing. Many people use them interchangeably but truthfully they are not the same.

Let's Talk About It!

First, let's look at some definitions:

Preservation: n. ~ 1. The professional discipline of protecting materials by minimizing chemical and physical deterioration and damage to minimize the loss of information and to extend the life of cultural property. - 2. The act of keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction, especially through noninvasive treatment. - 3. Law · The obligation to protect records and other materials potentially relevant to litigation and subject to discovery.

Preserved Letters, Houston County, TN. Archives


Conservation: n. ~ 1. The repair or stabilization of materials through chemical or physical treatment to ensure that they survive in their original form as long as possible. - 2. The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future through examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education.



Letter in Pieces, Houston County, TN. Archives

Letter Conserved, Houston County, TN. Archives






















(Source: Society of American Archivists Glossary Terms http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms)



My easy definition and explanation I like to give to genealogists for these two terms is "To Preserve something is to protect it, to Conserve something is to fix it".

Right now, many genealogists have made commitments at the beginning of the new year to organize their genealogical records. This could mean filing piles of paper, putting photos in archival sleeves and putting everything in an archival box or filing cabinet.

This is "Preservation" at it's best! You are "keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction" all those wonderful genealogical records that you have in your care. Preserving those records, photographs, memorabilia and family heirlooms for future generations. I encourage all genealogists to actively preserve all the family records and artifacts and use archival materials to achieve that preservation.

Removing Metal Staples is Preservation, Houston County, TN. Archives


Now, let's say you have a photograph that is damaged and you want to "repair or stabilize it...to it's original form", then you would need to Conserve this photograph. Most likely, you will want to seek out a Professional Conservator that specializes in repairing and fixing photographs. Most genealogists don't feel comfortable doing these types of repairs and if you don't have the knowledge of the materials and methods of Conservation, then you need to leave it to the professionals.

But where to find a Conservator?

I suggest contacting the state archive in your state. They will either have an conservator on staff or they will have a name and contact information for one that they use for their archived materials. There could be different conservators for different mediums such as one for only photographs, one for only documents, etc.

I would also suggest going to the website American Institute for Conservation (http://www.conservation-us.org/), they have a section entitled "Find a Conservator" where you can find someone in your area to help you with your conservation problem.

So, hopefully now you know more about the different between Preservation and Conservation.

I encourage all genealogists to actively preserve your genealogy research, documents, photographs and family heirlooms.

If you have any questions about researching in archives or about records preservation, please E-MAIL ME!





REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ALL ONLINE, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVES TODAY!

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