Taking care of your history

Jules here, from down by the Seashore – to share some tips to keep your family’s treasured documents safe and sound for years to come.

I spend my days at the Petone Settlers Museum recalling stories of local significance, and lending a helping hand to people as they look deeper into their family ties here in Petone.


Jules blog photo Grandmother and Granfather

Grandmother and Grandfather Коць

Using the Petone Settlers Museum Database, combined with knowledge of local history, we are able to trace some of the passengers from those early voyages to the Wellington area.


I always enjoy listening to the stories of our visitors, and I am impressed by the work and time people have put into researching and strengthening these family ties.

As those who have met me know, I am not originally from New Zealand. I carry with me my Canadian accent, as I spent most of my childhood just outside of Toronto, Canada.

Canada, much like New Zealand, is a land of immigration and settlement. My own family’s story begins much further back in places like The Ukraine, Poland, and Czechia. On a recent trip back home, I took the time to sit down with my grandmother and aunt to ask some of the questions I often answer at the Museum.

Spending my days helping others with their history has shown me how important it was to take a stake in mine as well. Luckily enough, my aunt and grandma were ready to go! My aunt already had a wonderfully preserved box of family history for me to rifle through.

I’ve had training in in archaeology and conservation as well as museums. So, as I excitedly opened the box, my inner history nerd knew that these documents and clippings were fragile and priceless. Although my aunt had already done an incredible (and invaluable) job of keeping these treasures, I could see a few simple things she could do to ensure their longevity and protection.

I began to suggest some techniques we use at the museum for our textile collection, and to my surprise, she was just as enthusiastic as I was! She too was invested and interested, and was onboard to help hold these traces of our family’s story for the next generation to connect with. It doesn’t take much- there are easy, cost effective ways to conserve and preserve like a pro.

Here are some simple techniques to help preserve some of your family’s more fragile or precious items:

Store items in a box with a lid, fire proof if possible.

Keeping your precious artefacts safe in an acid free box is probably the simplest and most effective conservation technique. The box is the cornerstone of care and preservation. It protects dust from accumulating also, in case of objects shifting, it protects them from getting crushed or damaged from the weight of other items. Moreover, it offers a layer of protection from pesky house hold critters that love to eat up old documents.


Jules blog photo Grandfather passport

One of my Grandfather’s early passports

Keep away from UV rays or strong artificial lighting.

Light will cause irreversible damage, often in the form of fading. Keeping your treasures in a dark safe space is always highly recommended. Yet again, boxes are a fantastic conservation tool.


When retrieving the items, it would be handy to keep in mind the light levels in the room at the time. Especially when it comes to very old delicate documents or artefacts. It’s best to look at your historical documents them in rooms with no natural light and low artificial lighting.


Storing the object in their natural form

Relieving pressure and stress on these treasures is always recommended. For example store paper documents – unfolded, and laid out flat. If you want to go the extra mile, popping them into an acid free photo-sleeve will really help, you can usually buy them from a craft store, or stationary supplier. If it is an artefact that has more of a shape and weight to it, we recommend putting a pillow or soft object in the box to let it rest on. If possible, remove staples or pins from textiles as they can rust and stain the textile.

These are good ways to get started, and we use many of these techniques down here at our whare whakaaro beside the sea. As a final reminder, always try to store textiles in climate-controlled spaces, not in attics or basements. It is tough in this Wellington āhuarangi, but keeping your family documents in a dry, dark space, will allow you and your family to conserve and preserve your family taonga for years to come.

Kia ora rawa atu! – Jules


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