Here are 4 quick tips to archivally preserve a birth certificate, as it is one of the most important documents you own. While many people make paper or digital copies of birth certificates (a recommended thing to do), preserving the original always remains quite important.
Tips to Preserve a Birth Certificate
1. Handle with Care
Many birth certificates, especially older ones, are incredibly delicate. Handling the document incorrectly may cause it to wrinkle, stain or even tear. If you’re going to handle your own, your kid’s, or perhaps your ancestor’s birth certificate, always wash your hands to ensure that no dirt, lotion or naturally-occurring oils from your fingers get on the document (regular soap and water is just fine for this job). Paper can be handled without gloves because clean, lotion-free hands will not stain the paper and gloves can make it hard to handle delicate paper. Photographs and negatives, however, require gloves as fingerprints can cause permanent stains. According to an article in the Global Post, wearing white cotton inspection gloves will also protect a birth certificate from unwanted dirt and oils. If you’re showing the document to someone else, make sure their hands are clean or that they’re wearing gloves to prevent damage, and consider always handling your birth certificates in clear page protectors or other archival enclosures (see below).
While the documents illustrated above are actually grade-school diplomas from a family archive rather than birth certificates (for security reasons – hey its a jungle out there!), the overall philosophy and types of enclosures illustrated work for both forms of important documents. The archival 3-ring print page (left) and crystal clear bag with an added 2-ply acid-free mat board stiffener (right) are ideal products for preserving a birth certificate. (Please click on images for more information.)
2. Store Well
Birth certificates, like many other important family documents on paper, are vulnerable to various types of damage. Heat, moisture and sunlight can ruin a certificate’s appearance and even its structural integrity. To preserve a birth certificate, the Smithsonian Institute Archives suggest that rather than laminating it—a practice that is NOT recommended—keeping it in a archival 3-ring print page, a crystal clear bag, or a side loading print sleeve will help protect the document from moisture, dirt and dust. For added protection, consider placing the latter two enclosures (with the certificate within) in a flap envelope, as this will offer “double protection.” If you’re into genealogy and have a number of birth certificates in the family collection, use an archival metal edge box (which come in assorted sizes, colors and depths), acid-free file folders, or a document storage kit to keep them all together and archivally safe. Don’t fold, paper clip or staple the document, as repeated folding can lead to tears while paper clips and staples can (and do!) leave impressions and rust stains.
3. Keep It Safe
Original birth certificates should always be kept safe and in a place where you will be able to easily find them. This being the case, consider keeping the original documents in a home safe or a safe deposit box, as recommended in an article from Safewise. You may want to place other important documents such as marriage certificates and wills in the same centralized and secure location. Doing this can protect the originals from light, heat and other natural elements, as well as safe from burglars. For convenience, make extra copies and keep them in the archival enclosures that best fit your needs in a place that’s more accessible, such as a bedroom or hallway closet. Never store your birth certificates or other important document and artifacts in your attic or basement, as temperature and humidity fluctuations can damage them over time.
Yet another way to preserve a birth certificate involves scanning the document and keeping it as a file on your computer, making sure that this file is password-protected in case your computer is stolen, broken into, or hacked. It is advised that you copy your computer files containing important documents like birth certificates onto high-quality DVD-Rs that are specifically engineered for long term archival survival—unlike cheap office supply store DVD-Rs which should be avoided—and then storing these DVDs along with your originals in a home safe or safe deposit box. Wherever you choose to store your original birth certificates and their copies, make sure its in a place with controlled temperature and humidity.
4. Display Wisely
Some people consider putting their own or a loved one’s birth certificate on display in a frame or a baby book. If you wish to do this, please consider using a good copy, not the original. Also stay mindful that copies of birth certificates are still vulnerable to burglars. While usually not a priority for thieves who might target your residence, in this day and age of identity theft one can never be too careful. If framed and hung on a wall, please consider using easy-to-install Frame-Lock Security Hardware to thwart a burglar who might try and make off with your precious birth certificate.
If you have any additional questions on ways to preserve a birth certificate, or would like more information on the archival storage and presentation materials that are right for you, please contact us here at Archival Methods. We’re always there to help with any archiving, storage, or presentation questions you may have.