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A Genealogist In The Archives: Preserving A Lock Of Hair

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Preserving A Lock Of Hair

Genealogists love anything they can get their hands on about their ancestors. Whether that is documents, photographs, ephemera and memorabilia, we want to collect it all. Many times family members hand down or bequeath genealogical related records and memorabilia to the next generation.

A lock of hair could be one of those unique items that a genealogist could receive among all the other documents and photos. In some families, it was even customary to clip a lock of hair from the deceased to save the memory of that person.

Here is how to preserve a lock of hair so that it endures for generations to come. For this example, I have used a lock of hair housed in the Houston County, TN. Archives Manuscript Collections.

This lock of hair is housed in an old harmonica box and is tied with a delicate blue ribbon in the Houston County, TN. Archives. On the top of the box is handwritten "N.H. Scholes, Halls Creek, Tenn". You can also see a place where there was once a postage stamp. I estimate that this lock of hair and box are dated to the late 1800's or early 1900's.

Harmonica Box with lock of hair. Located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

First, the lock of hair was photographed, in the box and out of the box, to document the original disposition of the artifact. It is important that the lock of hair in the possession of the genealogist be documented in a similar way.

Photo of artifact inside the box as received. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Photo of artifact outside of the box. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Next, the box was lined with a piece of acid free, archival safe tissue paper.

Harmonica box with acid free tissue paper. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Then the lock of hair was carefully placed in the tissue paper lined box.

Lock of hair in the box with acid free tissue paper. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Last, carefully fold in the sides and ends of the tissue paper so that the lock of hair is entirely covered. Replace the lid back on the box.

Completed preservation of the lock of hair. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

The box with the lock of hair is then placed in an acid free box for additional protection. If you just have a lock of hair with no original storage container, purchase an archival safe box to preserve the lock of hair.

Locks of hair in the genealogists collections need to be preserved right along with the paper records and treasured for generations to come.



Do you have old family letters? Want to know how to preserve them?

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Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist


  1. When I was cleaning out my mother's dresser after she passed I found an old envelope in the back of a drawer. In it I found six (separately tied with kitchen string) blonde ringlets. I know right away that these were my mothers hair because I had heard the story from my grandmother about the day they were so carefully cut by my grandfather and preserved. A treasure for sure!

  2. I will inherit a whole braid of hair that was cut off when my mother was about 12 years old. They just cut off the braid as she went to really short hair. It was interesting to see what colour her hair was as a preteen. She had quite bright red hair and, even though she is 81 now, still has a very light red colour left. I'm guessing wrapping it in archival tissue paper will work too.

    1. Amber, yes wrap the braid in archival tissue paper before putting it in an archival box. What a wonderful treasure you have! Thank You for reading my blog.

  3. What a lovely story! So much information, thank you. I have attached the story of my granny when she joined up in WW1 in the UK in 1918. There is a photo of her plait in the story, which she gave me years ago. I was going to frame it, with her photo. Do you think I should? Or, instead hide it away in archival tissue paper? It seems well preserved and I have it in my drawer in a plastic bag....I know! You must be shuddering now. Granny was 102 when she died.

    1. Marian, I would suggest that you get a really good copy of document and frame the copy and archive the original. That way you can enjoy it but also preserve the original. Thank You for sharing your story and for reading my blog!

  4. I have a lock of my own hair that my mom saved from my first haircut. I have it in a plastic bag, but this showed me that I should probably find a better storage container. Thanks!

    1. Laura, you are right, it would be a good idea to preserve your lock of hair in an archival box with archival tissue paper. Be sure to put a note in there explaining whose hair it is and the story of why it was saved. Thank You for reading my blog!

  5. I received the Bible of my 3rd great grandfather Parson Daniel Rawls (1783-1862).

    It is at LEAST 175 years old. In it is a lock of hair (with no explanation of whose it was).
    Could be anyone's.
    It was common practice with some to put clips of hair in Bibles

    1. Hello, yes it was common practice to tuck locks of hair in Bibles. I hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to test hair that do not have roots for DNA to try to identify the family member it belongs to. Thank You for reading my blog!