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A Genealogist In The Archives: Preserving Spiral Notebooks

Friday, April 20, 2018

Preserving Spiral Notebooks

Spiral notebooks are a type of record book that could pose a problem for any genealogist. Spiral bound notebooks have been around for many years. 
Originally called a loose–leaf spiral notebook in which the pages are held in position by a spiral or coil of metal wire. The use of these notebooks for all kinds of purposes is still done today. Many genealogists have these types of books in their genealogy records where family members made notes, kept a journal and even recorded their favorite recipe!
Example of Spiral Bound Notebooks, Houston County, TN. Archives

There are actually three options for preserving a spiral bound notebook. If the coiled metal in the notebook is not rusted or damaged in anyway, it would be permissible by records preservation standards to leave the entire notebook intact. Even though archivists strive to remove all metal, in this case, sometimes it is best to leave things as they are. I recommend that the pages in the notebook be digitized completely and then place the entire notebook in an archival file folder and then into an archival box.

The second option is to remove the metal coil but unscrewing it out of the notebook. Some notebooks will allow for this option to be performed with no trouble at all. But if there is any resistance or difficulty trying to unscrew the metal coil out of the notebook, stop immediately. The last thing you want is to damage the pages in the notebook that contain genealogical information.

The third option and one that many archivists choose to implement is to remove the metal coil from the notebook. This is especially true if the metal coil is rusted, damaged or causing damage in any way to the pages inside the notebook. 
In this process, it is recommended that all the pages in the notebook be digitized first. It should be noted that removing the metal coil will make scanning the pages of the notebook much easier. Next, using wire cutters, snip the metal coil in several places along the length of the coiled metal. Slowly and carefully, remove each section of coiled wire. If the wire will not remove easily, make more cuts with the wire cutters to make smaller pieces to make removal easier. If the metal coil is rusted and sticking to the pages, remove the metal very slowly as to not inflict more damage. This process is tedious, but well worth the time taken.

Once the metal coil is removed, make sure to keep the pages in their original order and place the notebook in an archival file folder. If desired, a plastic paper clip can be used to clip the pages of the notebook together but if the notebook is kept in a file folder, a fastener is not needed. The file folder can then be place in an archival box or in a filing cabinet.
As always, if you do not feel comfortable doing the preservation procedures yourself, please consult with a professional conservator.
Preserving our most precious genealogical documents and records is the only way they will survive for our descendants to enjoy.
(This information was originally published in The Archive Lady column at Abundant Genealogy, June 1, 2017

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  1. In some cases, might it be better to, very carefully, use an acrylic ruler and razor-knife to cut the pages from the metal spiral if that spiral is in such damaged condition? It should go without saying that each page should be checked first for any writing that may be too close to the spiral and hence cut off. Also, some spiral-bound notebooks are perforated for the pages to be torn out, would that be a consideration, again verifying there is no overlapping writing? Is the goal to keep the original information or also to keep every square inch of the paper it's written on too?

  2. Lee, it would be perfectly acceptable to trim the edges. The goal is to preserve the information but to also preserve the integrity of the document in it's original form for provenance. Thank You for reading my blog! Melissa Barker

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