This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Managing Everyday Records at Home Table of Contents Household Records. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 How to File Records so You Can Find Them . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .3 Where and How to Store Certain Records . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Where to Keep Records and for How Long . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Records to Store in a Filing Cabinet or Box . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Records to Store in a Safe Deposit Box . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Records to Place in Dead Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Records to Discard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Records to Keep Forever . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 How to Care for the Records You Want to Keep Forever . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Easy Preservation Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 What to Do Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Every family is like a small business, which must make money, pay bills, keep a good supply of its inventory on hand (food and clothes), and maintain the records necessary to run its business. But few families, few people in their own homes can readily find all the records they keep when they need them. They don’t know which records they should keep and which they should throw away. To solve this problem, some people keep everything, and others keep nothing at all. Either one of these solutions is a bad one. Those people who keep everything usually have a hard time finding certain records when they need them, because the records are rarely well organized because it’s too much work to maintain order. And keeping all the records you receive simply takes up too much space in your home. Unfortunately, the opposite solution is even worse. If you keep nothing, you’ll never have any records when you need them. Never have proof of the warranty for your appliances, never have evidence to prove your tax deductions, and never have photographs and letters to remember your family by. And you’ll notice that records come in all sorts of forms, different shapes and sizes. Some record formats will last for generations, and others won’t last five years. Some types of records you’ll want to throw away after a few years, but others you’ll want to keep forever and pass on to your children. In your home, you probably have banking records, family photographs, utility bills, home movies in videotape or film, maybe even audiotapes of your children when they were young. All of these are different types and formats of records, requiring different kinds of management. There are only a few basic issues concerning the management of all records: How to file records so you can find them easily Where and how to store certain records When you should discard certain records Whether you need to produce certain records How to care for records you want to keep forever
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 2
How to File Records so You Can Find Them
Most people (and most business and governments, for that matter) don’t file their records as well as they should. The records pile up on tables and chairs, they’re stuffed out of sight under rolltop desks, they’re shoved in no particular order in broken boxes. None of these situations are inherently bad -- unless you want to find any particular record, a certain piece of paper, any information. Whenever you want to control anything, you should start at the source. And the management of records is no exception. Most of the records you maintain in your home you probably receive in the mail, so begin your fight there. Deal with the day’s mail as soon as you can. If you have children going to grade school, another great source of paper work is the drawings, tests, school notices, and other flyers your children bring home every school day. Quickly throw away all the junk mail you don’t need. You shouldn’t even open all junk mail; some of it is obviously of no interest to you, so just toss it in the trash immediately. You’ll still have some of the day’s mail to deal with: things like bills, insurance information, etc. Open the bills right away. Pay them immediately if that’s your practice. Otherwise, separate the payment stub from the rest of the bill, mark the envelope with its due date, file the envelope in your bill-paying spot, and file the bottom portion of the bill right away. It’s important to file anything you have as soon as possible. If you don’t, you might lose track of what pile you put it in and misplace your record. So your next step in managing your records is to develop a filing system. This system should have two major characteristics: It should be easy, and you must make sure that someone else in your home understands it. It must be easy, because you don’t have time to waste (and there’s no point to) a complicated system. Someone else must know the system because you might not always be available when your spouse or children need to find some important piece of information. First, you’ll want to buy standard file folders and determine what you want to file in each folder. For instance, you want separate folders for each separate company sending you bills (one for Visa, one for telephone bills, one for cable, etc.). You’ll want to keep a separate folder for each year of income tax returns, one folder of medical records for each family member, and one for each child’s school records. Give each folder a clear and simple title, like ‘Visa,’ ‘Taxes,1993,’ or ‘Medical Records-Bobby.’
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 3
Next, you have to figure out how to file the records in the folders and where and how to file the folders. Most of the time, you should file the records within folders in chronological order, with the newer records in the front. That way the more recent records, which you are more likely to need, will be most accessible. Also, this organizes the records so you can easily pull out the older records when it’s time to throw them away. You can file these records in a filing cabinet or even in a records storage box (what are also called banker’s boxes or R-Kive boxes). You should file these folders alphabetically to make them easy to find. There are a few simple rules you should follow to keep when filing records: Don’t overfill folders. This makes it difficult to read folder labels and makes the records difficult to handle. Fold folders at the creases to make room for more paper. Some people don’t realize that the creases near the bottom of every file folder are there so you can fold out a flat bottom for thicker bunches of paper. Don’t overstuff filing cabinets or boxes. Overstuffing boxes and filing drawers makes it more difficult to file records and to get them out afterwards. If your filing areas are full, look over your records and see if some records can be thrown out. Also, some records you might need to keep a little longer but you won’t be using them much, so you might just put them in a box and move them to out-of-the-way dead storage somewhere in your home. Don’t let folders fall over in their file drawers. Again, this just makes records more difficult to handle. Move forward the retaining bar at the back of the drawer, so that it will hold the folders up straight. In a box, you might lay the folders flat on the bottom, or use books (or some other heavy object) to hold up the records.
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 4
Where and How to Store Certain Records
Not all records are created equal. Some records you’ll need to keep for only a short time, while some you’ll want to keep forever. You’ll store different records in different areas and keep them for different periods of time. See ‘Where to Keep Records & for How Long’ for more detailed lists of these different kinds of records. Most of the records you have will probably be those that you’ll need to refer to frequently, and you should keep those handy in a small filing cabinet or simply a standard banker’s box or two. Some few of these records are so important that you’ll want to keep them in a safe deposit box or at least in a metal fire-resistant box at home. If you’re using a firebox at home, you may as well keep the key right in the lock. That way you won’t lose it, and a thief will be able to open the box and see there’s nothing there for him to steal. (You should keep records like passports and living wills only in a fire-resistant box at home, because these are very important records that you may sometimes need immediate access to them.) Some records are very important for financial and legal reasons, and you’ll want to give these special protection because it would be difficult or impossible for you to replace them. You should probably keep these records in a safe deposit box in a bank, where they will be protected from fire or theft. Make sure your safe deposit box is large enough for all the records you need to file. But avoid one that is too large, because you might feel inclined to use that extra space and end up filling it with unimportant papers. If you’re running out of space in your filing cabinet or box, you may have to move some of the older, less important records to dead storage until it’s time to discard them. Simply store the records in a box in a closet, attic, basement, or garage. Since these are records you won’t be keeping for long, don’t worry about the quality of the environment too much. Most records you will eventually throw away because you won’t need them anymore. Try to do it the same time every year. See the list of ‘Records to Discard’ for suggestions on how long to keep certain household records. Before discarding records, destroy sensitive information (like credit card and bank account numbers). Some records you will always want to keep because these will help you remember your family’s history. You should take special care of these records to make sure they’re around for the next generation.
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 5
Where to Keep Records and for How Long
Records to Store in a Filing Cabinet or Box
for active records that you need ready access to Banking Records (monthly statements; cancelled checks or carbons-store in original boxes) Credit Card Monthly Statements Employment Records (contracts, resumes, letters of appointment, salary statements) Health Insurance Records (proof of benefits, & records of illness, allergies & hospitalization) Home Improvement File (to keep track of costs of improvements) Income Tax Preparation File (completed tax forms, necessary receipts, W-2s) Living Wills* Loan Payment Records (statements from lender, completed payment books) Medical Records (separate file for each family member) Organizational Records (for any professional or community organization you belong to) Passports* Receipts for Paid Bills* (for large bills, including tax bills) Safe Deposit Box Inventory (with key) School Records (report cards, transcripts, diplomas, etc.) Utility Bills (gas/electric, water, telephone, cable television) Warranties for Appliances (with serial numbers and proof of purchase, if necessary) Wills
* May want to keep in fire-resistant box (provides some protection and accessibility)
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 6
Records to Store in a Safe Deposit Box
for important papers only, those that you will need and cannot easily replace Adoption Papers and Birth Certificates Bonds and Stock Certificates (including government savings bonds) Citizenship Papers Credit Card Numbers (list of all credit card numbers in case cards are lost or stolen) Death Certificates Deeds (remember: you have the original deed) Divorce Decrees Household Property Inventory for Insurance Purposes (inventory of all property, with serial numbers, and replacement costs) Insurance Policies Marriage Certificates Motor Vehicle Titles Veteran’s Papers Wills
Records to Place in Dead Storage (Basement, attic, etc)
for inactive records that you refer to infrequently, but not for permanent records Most Active Records Over Three Years Old (but some records can be discarded without ever sending to dead storage)
Records to Discard
for records you no longer need, such as: Banking Records (monthly statements, after 6 years; cancelled checks, after 6 years or depend on bank’s microfilm) Credit Card Carbons (after verifying with statement, unless needed for evidence of warranty) Credit Card Monthly Statements (after 3 years)
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 7
Employment Records (3 years) Health Insurance Records (discard policies after superseded; records of benefits, after 3 years) Home Improvement File (2 years after you have sold the house) Income Tax Preparation File (after 6 years; but IRS has no limit on collecting taxes on fraudulent returns) Loan Payment Records (3 years after the loan has been satisfied) Medical Records (until death) Organizational Records (as long as needed; if an officer of organization, transfer to your replacement) Receipts for Paid Bills (3 years) Utility Bills (after 1 year, unless needed for taxes) Warranties for Appliances (after the warranty expires or you discard the appliance)
Records to Keep Forever
-store in environmentally stable areas of your home or in safe deposit box
to record family accomplishments and history Adoption Papers Albums (photograph, newspaper clipping, wedding) Babybooks Birth Certificates Citizenship Papers Diaries (by you or your ancestors) Drawings (a selection of them by your children and other family) Family Bible (with annotations) Genealogical Research Files (pedigree charts, family record sheets, with all documentation)
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 8
Home Movies (videotape, 8mm, 16mm) Marriage Certificates Newspaper Clippings (that mention family members) Personal Correspondence Photographs (and photographic negatives) Publications by You and Other Family Members (articles, books, etc.) Sacramental Records (for example, baptismal, communion, and marriage records) School Records (grades, diplomas) Wills
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 9
How to Care for the Records You Want to Keep Forever
Some of the records you maintain in your home, you’ll want to keep forever. There is no legal or financial reason for you to keep these records, but these are permanent family papers that help you remember your past and help you pass on your history to the next generation. Because these records are so important to you, you’ll want to provide them with special care. See the following ‘Easy Preservation Techniques’ for more detailed ideas on how to protect these records. Put Them in Order Many permanent family papers (especially correspondence and photographs) are kept in complete disarray and so are difficult to use. Sometimes, this disorder can even damage the records themselves. Putting these records in order is the essential first step of their care. Identify Them Many family papers are also completely unidentified. For example, most families keep hundreds of photographs with no information about them. As the years pass, family members forget who the people in the photographs are and when the photographs were taken. Try to identify all your records, so you know who made or received them and who they’re about. Put paper records in labeled folders, noting whose record it was, what type of record it is (correspondence, diary, etc.), and what years the record covers. Label all photographs (or packets of photographs). If you want to mark on the photographs themselves, don’t use pen, which will bleed through. Use only a soft lead pencil (so you won’t have to press too hard), and write only on the back of the photograph near the edge. Make sure you identify all audiotapes, videotapes, and movie films on the outside of their packages. Store Them in Proper Materials If possible, store these records in acid-free folders and boxes because other supplies tend to be highly acidic, and this acid will destroy your documents.
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 10
You can store photographs in acid-free photo albums or special photograph boxes designed to hold standard small photographs and their negatives. But these are very expensive. You can make your own home-made album with a three-ring binder, acid-free paper, photo corners, and polyester or polypropylene sheet protectors. You will run into two problems with this: Most photo corners are acidic, and inert plastic (Mylar) photo corners are not easy to find. Also, most three-ring binders are made of vinyl, an unstable plastic that can eventually damage photographs. This should not be too much of a problem, since the vinyl would not be touching the photo-graphs. Store photographic negatives in inert plastic negative protectors. These come in all film sizes (except 127, which is pretty rare nowadays), and they are usually punched for storage in three-ring binders. Store Them in Proper Environments Avoid storing these records in places that are too hot, cold, dry or damp, because these conditions damage records. Don’t store records in direct sunlight because the sun will fade any record. Do not use metal paper clips, rubber bands, tape or glue on any of these records; these will eat into the records damaging them. If you need to attach records to each other, use plastic paper clips (which are now easy to find in any office supply store). Photocopy newspaper clippings and throw the original clippings away, because newsprint is highly acidic and will eat a hole through other records. Use Them Your family papers only have value if you use them. So read and look at them yourself, show them to others in the family, and share them with outsiders. Sometimes, you might even be able to use your family records to write an article on the history of your family or town.
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 11
Easy Preservation Techniques for Your Permanent Family Papers
Most records you own are made of unstable media (whether paper, film or magnetic formats), but you can still prolong their lives by following a few simple procedures. Some of these procedures are easier than others, and you will probably follow some of these and decide that others are too difficult.
Store Records in a Good Environment
Store records in the most stable climate in your home Try to keep these records wherever in you home the temperature and humi-dity fluctuate the least over the course of a year. Wide fluctuations in either of these shorten the lifetimes of paper and film. The ideal ranges for paper records are 68°-75°F and between 45% and 55% relative humidity. Make sure there is good airflow around the records to impede the growth of mold. Do not store records in extreme climates Attics are too hot and dry in the summer and so shorten the lives of records. Basements are too damp and may destroy paper records over the course of a single summer. Garages are too cold in the winter, and often too hot in the summer. Do not store records near potential hazards Avoid storing records near water pipes (which might burst or leak), near any potential fire hazard, or where you store chemicals like cleaning products. All of these can wreak instant havoc on your records and may even destroy your records in a matter of minutes. Keep records out of direct sunlight as much as possible The ultraviolet rays in both natural sunlight and fluorescent light can speed up the deterioration of paper and lighten the ink on the paper. If you are dis-playing any of your photographs, you will need to worry about their fading in the light, unless you have the negatives for each photograph. Otherwise, avoid direct
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 12
sunlight and fluorescent light, and consider using glass that filters out the ultraviolet rays. Store magnetic media away from heat, light and dampness You should store audiotapes, videotapes and computer diskettes vertically in their protective cases and protect them from dust, heat, light and dampness, all of which can weaken the media. Consider storing color film in a refrigerator The bad news about color film is that it is fairly unstable and prefers a climate of about 65F and 25-35% relative humidity. You can best accomplish this by storing any negatives or slides in a refrigerator in moisture-proof plastic packets. You don’t need to store photographs in the refrigerator, because you’d be protecting the negatives instead and be able to make new photographs whenever necessary.
Handle Them Carefully & Protect from Damaging Materials
Handle these records carefully Be as delicate as possible with these records. You should unfold folded documents with great care and store them in acid-free folders. Do not refold documents because that will continue to weaken the paper at the fold. If you are going to photocopy any of these documents, be especially careful, because carelessly flipping the paper can damage the records. Do not touch the face of photographs and (especially) photographic negatives with your fingers. You will transfer harmful oils to the materials. Don’t use metal clips, rubber bands, tape or glue on the records Paper clips rust. Clips and rubber bands can tear paper. Glue, cellophane tape or any other adhesive will soak into the paper and make it brittle. If you need to hold a few sheets of paper together, use plastic paper clips, which are now easy to find in office supply stores. Keep your records clean of dirt and dust Dirt and dust are abrasive. Carefully brush these off with a soft-bristled brush.
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 13
Keep food away from these records A nice little scrap of a donut might be all you need to encourage a mouse to set up house in your family Bible. Don’t store any records directly on the floor In the event of any flood, roof leak or spill, the water goes directly to the floor. For that reason it is important to keep records off the floor at all times. Keeping records even three or four inches off the floor will protect them from most floods you might encounter. Don’t use albums with ‘magnetic’ pages So-called ‘magnetic’ albums deteriorate quickly, destroying any photographs or paper in them in the process. These albums are those with rows of wax on the paper and plastic sleeves that stick over the paper and onto the wax. Store these records in acid-free containers It is best to store permanent paper records in acid-free containers, both boxes and folders, because these do not add any more acid to the paper. You can store fragile paper documents in sleeves made out of an inert polyester, such as Mylar, because these sleeves will provide backing for the records and protect them from handling. Do no use just any plastic bag, because these won’t be inert and will help deteriorate the record. Both acid-free supplies and Mylar sleeves are a bit expensive, but these are available through archival, photographic, library and art supply catalogs.
Copy Some Records to Help Preserve Them
Photocopy any newspaper clippings Newspaper clippings are extremely acidic and will spread their acidity to adjacent papers. It is a good idea to make a good quality photocopy of all clippings (noting the source and date of the clipping) and to discard the original. It would be best if the clippings were photocopied onto acid-free paper.
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 14
Copy photographs as a way to preserve them One of the best ways to preserve photographs is to have a professional make copies of them and process them to archival standards, which ensures that all damaging chemicals are rinsed out of the final print. (Of course, if you’ve saved the negative, it will be much easier to make copies of the photographs.) Since the dyes in color photographs are particularly susceptible to fading, it would be a good idea to make black and white copies of your most treasured color photographs. Back up your computer files
Ideally, this should be done every time you update your files. You can back-up onto floppy disks or you can use a more sophisticated tape back-up system or a zip drive. Ideally…
Don’t store your computer back-up files with your computer
Take the back-ups to work, swap them with a neighbor or family member, but don’t keep the back-ups in the house with the computer. If the worst happens, your data won’t be lost in the same catastrophe that effects your computer files.
Recopy computer files frequently or produce paper copies Keep in mind that computer diskettes have a useful life span of about one to three years. Be sure you’re not depending on a single old back-up diskette, because if you are you may lose the information. You should probably consider making paper copies of any records you want to keep. Copy and rewind audiotapes and videotapes regularly The magnetic signal from these tapes can transfer over to other parts of the tape if the tapes aren’t rewound or played about once a year. If you really wanted to keep these records permanently, you would need to consider having these professionally copied about every five years.
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 15
Two Final Cautions
Don’t try to repair records yourself Some of your family records may be in bad condition. You may have photographs that are damaged and faded, papers that are torn, etc. Whatever you do, don’t try to repair these yourself. The repair of permanent records is a highly technical job, and most non-professional repairs actually end up damaging the records even more. If you really think some of your records need to be repaired, take them to a professional conservator or photograph restorer. Prepare for a disaster that can strike at any time
Try to anticipate potential disasters (fire, flood, burglaries). Store your most important family papers in safe deposit boxes. Where possible, store copies of important family papers (photocopies, reprints of photographs, negatives of your photos etc.) with family members who don’t live in the same neighborhood. So if your neighborhood is flooded or your house burns, copies of the records are still available. Consider donating significant family papers to historical societies that can protect them. <<<>>>
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 16
What to Do Now
All of this information may seem like just another potential complication to allow into your life. That’s why it is important for you to simplify your system as much as possible. Keep only the bare minimum of records you need. Don’t start buying filing cabinets you’ll never use. And don’t save every drawing your child makes, but save some of the better ones. Simplify. Keep in mind that managing your records is important if you think it is, so design your system for your own purposes. But also remember what makes managing your records important to you. For example, you’ll need to refer to your records sometime. Make sure you know where they are, so you don’t spend a couple of hours looking for one gas card bill or a single receipt. And keep in mind that if records are important for you to keep, they’re important for you to manage well.
Managing Everyday Records at Home Geof Huth New York State Archives and Records Administration 17