When my mother-in-law passed away several years ago, we inherited her Catholic prayer books, Bibles, and missals. Some were obviously very old, others were new and scarcely used. My husband and I carefully examined the books and found Mass cards, newspaper clippings, and other  genealogical gems. Religious books can hold a wealth of family history information, as well as clues to the faith and cultural life of the owner.

As the designated “keeper of the stuff” for my family, I have become the curator for several collections and discovered how to organize and preserve all kinds of family treasures. I share what I’ve learned in my new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes (Family Tree Books, 2012).

Catholic Gene Author Lisa Alzo also knows what it’s like to inherit a family home and its contents, and recently reviewed my book at her genealogy blog, The Accidental Genealogist. In “For the Packrat and the Genealogist: A Review of How to Archive Family Keepsakes, Lisa writes “I wish How to Archive Family Keepsakes had been available seven years ago!” Me too! It is the handbook I needed when I inherited my first family collection.

For the past two weeks I have been on a virtual book tour with How to Archive Family Keepsakes, and am pleased to make a special stop at The Catholic Gene with this article on safely storing and organizing your family Bibles, prayer books, and religious books. Whether you inherited the treasured ancestral Bible or your great-grandmother’s leather missal, I hope you will take time to safely preserve your family keepsakes for future generations.

The Books They Leave Behind

Many family collections include printed books such as novels, Bibles, and songbooks, or handwritten volumes such as diaries, journals, or notebooks. Sometimes, treasured family keepsakes are a combination of printed pages and handwritten entries, such as found in a wedding or baby book, or a guest book from a funeral. Whether printed or handwritten, your family books will have a better chance of survival from one generation to the next when stored using archival methods.

Before storing any books, closely examine the volume for genealogical clues to your family history. You may find slips of paper or other items used as bookmarks, or written notes or comments on the pages. Family Bibles may hold a special section of Family Record pages listing Births, Marriages, and Deaths.

I overlooked a family Bible in my grandmother’s collection for many years. The badly damaged book had been set aside when I first inherited boxes of papers, photos, and documents that once belonged to four generations.


This photograph doesn’t tell the entire story. The Bible binding and pages are soft with damp and wear. The binding and most of the pages are completely loose from the leather cover. The edges are feathered and torn. It looks like the book was once completely soaked in water (flood? rain?) and never recovered. Some pages show signs of mildew.

Kinsel Bible

Kinsel Bible – inside cover

But. . .

in the center of the book, between the Old and New Testaments, right where you might expect it to be. . . I found the family record of the E.B. Kinsel Family. These pages record the Births, Marriages, and Deaths of four generations. They also give the only evidence of the birth and death of a child whose existence was previously unknown to the present generation.

Kinsel Bible Record

Family Record Pages

Where to Store Treasured Family Books

In many homes, the best, and easiest place, to store family books is with our current volumes. Your bookcase is probably located in the temperate environment of your family room, living room, or den and relatively free from dust, insects, and extreme changes in temperature or humidity.

Avoid storing books or other family keepsakes in basements, garages or attics where extreme temperature and humidity changes can cause permanent damage.

Stable bound books in good condition may be stored upright on sturdy shelving. Many hymnals and school yearbooks are candidates for this kind of simple storage. Rare, damaged, or fragile volumes, however should be stored flat and in special archival boxes. These boxes are available from museum archival suppliers, and are well worth the cost.



Purchase the right size box for your book by measuring height, width, and thickness. You want the box to fit snugly so the book does not slide around inside.

Another option is to buy (or make) an archival book wrap with flaps that fold around the sides of the book to protect all edges. This is a good choice for rare, fragile, or damaged books with loose covers or broken spines.

Fitted Book Box

Exact fit Book Box

Record the History of Your Book

Take time to write a brief history, or provenance, or your treasured books. Include the names (birth and death dates, and addresses if you know them) of previous owners. You could write the information in pencil on the flyleaf of your book, or on a piece of acid-free paper tucked inside the first pages.

If you have a large collection, you may want to catalog the books and include the ownership information in your inventory. Keep a copy in your archive or with your family history records so you remember what books you own and where they came from.

The Heirloom Registry provides another way to record the history of your family book by offering an online registration service for family heirlooms. A unique serial number is used to record history and ownership information online where future generations can find it, and other family members can share the story of your book.

Heirloom Registry numbers are available as attractive stickers or metal plaques that can be attached to a box or book. Individual serial numbers are also available, and could be penciled on the inside cover of your book. I’ve used the Registry service to record the history of a family toy chest, but the idea is the same as registering a book. You can see my Registry record and read about my research on the chest here.


  • Remove bookmarks and pressed flowers from pages of books.
  • Consider removing news clippings and replacing with photocopies on acid-free paper. The acid in newsprint can easily damage adjacent pages due from acid-migration.
  • Take care when removing upright books from shelves. Do not pull the volume by the spine; instead push back on the volumes on either side and grasp the volume to remove.
  • Avoid writing in rare or fragile books. Add identifying notes on a piece of archival paper inserted in the front of the book.
  • Use a hose attachment to vacuum your bookshelves regularly to keep dust-free.


  • Look for book and pamphlet storage options in archival catalogs.
  • Protect the cover or dust jacket with clear archival plastic covers.

from How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia & Genealogy Records by Denise May Levenick (Family Tree Books, 2012). Copyright, 2012, Denise May Levenick. All Rights Reserved. www.thefamilycurator.com.

How to Archive Family Keepsakes
Author: Denise May Levenick
Publisher: Family Tree Books, 2012
ISBN 1440322236
Paperback / eBook Family Tree Books, Amazon.com, Scribd, iBooks, Barnes&Noble.com.
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Blog Book Tour

Visit the Blog Book Tour for How to Archive Family Keepsakes for author interviews, book excerpts, giveaways, and more. 

Proceeds from the sale of How to Archive Family Keepsakes during the Book Tour will help fund the 2013 Student Genealogy Grant founded in 2010 in honor of Denise’s mother, Suzanne Winsor Freeman.

About the Author

In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” Denise May Levenick is a writer, researcher, and speaker with a passion for preserving and sharing family treasures of all kinds. She is the creator of the family history blog, The Family Curator www.TheFamilyCurator.com and author of the new book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records, (Family Tree Books, 2012).