Paul Revere Gives a Lesson in Document Storage

It started as an investigation into a leak, but it ended with a fascinating look into history that began more than 200 years ago with some of the most famous names in American history.

Recently workers at the Massachusetts State House discovered a time capsule first buried in 1795 by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams.  Historians have since opened and inventoried the contents of the small brass box.  As the old saying goes, great things came in a small package.

The contents included five folded newspapers in “amazingly good condition”, a Massachusetts Commonwealth seal, a title page from Massachusetts colony records and more than two dozen coins and medals. The real prize, however, was an inscribed silver plate commemorating the placement of the state house’s cornerstone on July 4, 1795, likely made and engraved by the famed metalsmith Paul Revere himself.

Once the conservation process is complete, the items will go on display at the Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum.  Eventually the capsule and its contents will be placed back in the cornerstone.  State officials have begun consideration what, if any, items will be added to the capsule.

Now it’s not likely you have centuries old artifacts of the founding of the United States laying around needing storage, but the remarkable preservation of the newspapers in Revere’s capsule do draw attention to the importance of document storage and archiving.

Computers have made it possible to store the entire contents of libraries and museums in boxes you can fit in your pocket, but so much of who and what we are still happens on paper.  Birth certificates, marriage licenses, deeds, stock and bond certificates, health records, insurance policies and last wills and testaments are some of the crucial documents people receive as part of their personal lives.  Business owners can add operating licenses, banking records, leases and corporate tax records to the mix.

And that’s all just the legal stuff.  Can you really put a value on the artwork your children made in grade school?  What about photographs from your parents’ or grandparents’ weddings?  Birth announcements, diplomas, degrees, yearbooks, theater/sports programs and ticket stubs are other items you just can’t replicate on a computer screen.

You need a place where you can keep these items. Metal deposit boxes are an option, but if the owner of a box were to pass away suddenly, the bank will often freeze access to the box immediately (requiring time, effort and possibly even legal fees before you can get them opened). Self storage is often a more convenient option for document storage. Here are a few tips for storing documents and records:

  • Give due diligence to choosing a self storage provider.  The cheapest price may not be the best solution.  Use a facility that takes amenities seriously (e.g. video surveillance, gated access to the property, etc.) and can offer your documents climate controlled storage.
  • Renting climate controlled storage is an absolute necessity when archiving documents.  Fluctuating temperatures and humidity can destroy printed materials.
  • Store your documents in locked, fireproof boxes. No one ever plans on a fire, but being prepared for one will ensure your documents are always available. If you don’t use fireproof boxes, store your records in airtight, waterproof plastic crates.  Use the same brand and size crate every time to make for easier stacking.
  • Business owners storing a larger number of documents or records should properly sort and label all boxes.  This will make locating a specific document much easier.  Stacking them oldest to newest will keep those records you are mostly likely to go back for reference more easily accessible.
  • When filling boxes, do not use newspaper as packing material.  The print can transfer from the newspaper to any surface it’s touching over time.
  • All boxes should be raised off the ground as moisture can seep in from the ground.  Wooden pallets are the easiest way to accomplish this.
  • Making hard copy and digital backups of all your most essential records will provide you with a redundancy in case the worst case scenarios come to pass.

Our lives exist in ways much more tangible than data on a computer. Properly storing these records will save you the burden or trying to replace any of those nearly “irreplaceable” records.