Monday, August 13, 2007

Preserving old family bibles

From: Gwen
I have a dilemma and I thought you might have some insights for me. Some years ago, I inherited 3 old family bibles. They are dated 1823, 1831 and 1889. They are chock full of written births, deaths, marriages, etc. -- some dating to 1779. The problem is, as you can well imagine, the books are deteriorating. Some pages have already turned darker or are covered with age spots and the covers of the Bibles are falling off. The pages are all intact. I feel that the pages that have the entries on them are probably not benefiting by continuing to sit in their decaying volumes but I almost hate to cut the pages out to put them in archival folders. What would you do? Would you remove the cover page and the entry pages and throw the rest away? No repository that I know of will accept the old bibles. I did contact the National Genealogical Society and they are happy to have copies of the cover and entry pages but don't want the bibles either.


Ol' Myrt here sees the problem as two-fold:
  • WHAT to do with the genealogy content? Share the content.
  • WHAT to do with the old bibles themselves? Protect & preserve the artifacts.


  • Make multiple photocopies of the pertinent hand-written notation pages. You may have to go to the public library to use a photocopy machine that is made specifically for copying pages from books, with a book mount to hold your bibles in the semi-open (not flat) position. Expose each page to the bright photocopy light only once wherever possible, since continued exposure to bright light will causes paper to age more quickly.
Archival quality products are a little pricey, but you can probably find others in your genealogy or lineage society who would like to go in on the purchase of things like file folders & paper. One just cannot put a price on preserving precious ancestral artifacts.

  • Use "acid free" & "lignin free" archival quality paper, such PermaLife Paper 8½ x 11 - 500/pkg Item#2263. “Here's the ideal paper to make photocopies, so your originals stay safe. It’s also ideal for creating permanent records, interleaving artwork, wrapping, and lining boxes. This 20lb. White bond paper is acid- and lignin-free, has a pH of 8.0-8.5, and will not become brittle with age.”

  • Scan the photocopied pages to link them with the appropriate ancestor’s file in your genealogy management program. The scanned image is easier to share with your online cousins.

  • Place one copy of the photocopies in an archival quality file folder, 1 for each bible, such as those found at “TrueCore™ Document Folders. Safeguard your letter documents in our non-buffered, acid- and lignin-free file folders (pH 8.5). Made of silky-smooth TrueCore™ 133 10pt. card stock.”

  • Place each folder and its accompanying bible in an archival-quality box. Look into something like the TrueCore storage boxes from “All Drop-Front boxes are made of either .060 TrueCore™ board with a pH of 8.5 - 10.0, or .055 TrueCore™ board with a pH of 8.0 to 9.5. Both boards are buffered with calcium carbonate, 3% reserve. The tan board is light-fast and non-bleeding. The black board is pigment-based and light-fast. Both boards are acid-free and lignin-free, high alpha-cellulose purified pulp. Both pass the P.A.T. These heavyweight boxes have metal reinforced edges for added protection. Each box has a fully removable cover and a drop-front bottom so the contents can be inserted and removed safely, without bending or damage.”

    If your bibles are larger, perhaps this style of box without dividers might work. See Item#7200 Inner Dimensions: 11 3/4" x 13 3/4" x 4 7/8".

    If one of your bibles is an unusual size, consider having a custom box created by

    If necessary, cut special “foam” to fit the box making a frame for your bible to absorb the shock when moving and to prevent it from sliding around in the box. See’s Custom Foam Inserts
  • Visit your state or county archivist for advice on how to stop the red rot or other deterioration that is happening. Find listings at:

    o The Academy of Certified Archivists
    o The Society of American Archivists
    o US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics “Archivists, Curators & Museum Technicians
Most specifically DO NOT
  • Place anything in a plastic zip-lock storage bag.
  • Keep them in a hot attic or moist basement.
  • Place the bible on display in full sunlight.
  • Store the bible in the upright position, as the pages will tend to pull away from the binding since the cover is slightly larger than the pages.
  • Rush to have a book-binder rebind the pages.

Our mutual friend Elsie had a new cover created for her circa 1776 family bible, with very sad consequences. First the book binder removed & discarded all the pages with handwritten notes, including several detailed front pages. (I shudder to think.) Secondly, the binder cut short each page, and now it is impossible to read anything on the "inside" of a page.

Ol' Myrt also cautions her readers: please, be careful about giving those bibles away. One of your immediate family members may develop an interest in the next few years. If you do not have a child or grandchild that wishes to inherit these precious family bibles, you will eventually find a distant cousin who can prove relationship to the common ancestors, maybe through discussions on a surname mailing list or message board.

In our case, we only read from the Goering Family Bible (circa 1889) one time a year, at Christmas. Now that I also have the Charles Switzer Weiser Family Bible, I guess we’ll begin alternating years.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

(c) 2007 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I have recently "inherited" eight very old family bibles that are filled with family history, pictures, marriage certificates, etc. I have been trying to figure out what to do to preserve them so finding your web side and recommendations is wonderful! And,I believe your recommendations will be invaluable as I go through each bible.