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A Genealogist In The Archives: To Remove or Not Remove Tape on Documents

Friday, January 20, 2017

To Remove or Not Remove Tape on Documents

Do you have documents, photographs or ephemera that have been mended with sticky cellophane tape?

Original Land Grant, Houston County, TN. Archives

Many of our ancestors used tape to fix torn documents, ripped photographs and damaged ephemera. Cellophane tape is not archival. It contains damaging chemicals that can damage documents, photographs and ephemera.

So, what is a person to do, remove the tape or leave it alone?

As Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist ( likes to say:

"It Depends"

Many of us want to rip that tape right off our documents and get that sticky stuff off of our precious records. BUT WAIT! How much more damage will you do by ripping off that tape? Probably a lot!

In an archives setting, archivist approach tape on documents with much caution. If the tape has deteriorated itself into brittle pieces, sometimes the pieces will come off when the edge of the tape is lifted up. That would be ideal but not always the case.

In most cases, if the tape is stuck very strongly to the document and if it is deliberately pulled off, damage could be done to the document. In many cases in the archives, we leave the tape on the document. The damage the tape is doing to the document is not near as bad as the damage that could be done if it was ripped off.

Newspaper Clipping with Tape, Houston County, TN. Archives

If the archives is a large enough to have a Conservator on staff, the document would be sent to the Conservator to have the tape removed using techniques that they have been trained to use. In most small county archives, like the Houston County, TN. Archives, there is no Conservator on staff and we usually choose to leave the tape on the document to keep from any damage.

Now, let's say you have a document that has a piece of tape that extends off the page, like this:

Houston County, TN. Archives

The best practice is to cut the excess tape off and leave the remaining tape on the document. Any home archivist can do this procedure with confidence that they will not harm the document.

Houston County, TN. Archives

Houston County, TN. Archives

My advice to any genealogist/home archivist is to leave the tape alone and on the document. If you really want to get the tape off the documents, seek out a conservator in your area to help with that process. Many state archives have conservators on staff or they can give you a name and contact information of one that they use for their records.

Our genealogical documents are very precious and keeping them preserved and protected so that we can pass them down to the next generation should be our top priority!




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  1. Melissa,

    I want to let you know that your wonderful blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Hi Melissa, I sure do have documents and photos mended with old cellophane tape, so I appreciate your expert advice. My approach has been to put old documents and photos in archival sleeves so the tape doesn't get ripped off inadvertently. Then I write captions on labels and stick them to the sleeves. Here's one of my blog posts about that.

  3. Marian, Thank You for sharing you blog, I love it! And putting those documents in archival sleeves is an excellent idea! I am so glad you are adding the information about the documents and photos as well, your descendants will appreciate that you did! Thank You for reading my blog!