11 July 2016

Things I Learned in School : GRIP

You know you're addicted to genealogy when:
  1. You spend your summer vacation at a genealogy institute
  2. You're having a nice time pouring through archival supply catalogs
  3. You think a fun thing to do on your day off is re-humidifying old rolled photos and documents
I guess I'm hooked :-)

During the last week of June I was lucky enough to attend GRIP - The Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. Imagine a whole week of classes immersed in one topic! In my case it was Family Archiving: Heirlooms in the Digital Age with Denise May Levenick. Does that not sound perfect for where I am right now, surrounded by family "stuff?" [Which will now officially be referred to as "The Mary Dixon Traina Collection."]

One of the nifty hands-on techniques that we learned was how to flatten rolled photos and documents without cracking or damaging them. I had read about this technique before I took the class, but was a little hesitant to try it. Doing this in class gave me the confidence to try it myself when I got home. Denise Levenick has a very thorough tutorial on her blog if you think you'd like to try it yourself.

Here's what I did to flatten my photo


"Before" picture of tightly rolled vintage photo prior to being re-humidified and relaxed.The the secret to success here is humidity. Your tight little rolled photo or document is bone dry and needs to be relaxed so you can frame it or store it properly.

My first re-humidification project was a rolled photo. When I peeked inside it looked like a class photo. But it was very tightly rolled and the print emulsion would certainly have cracked if I had tried to flatten it out as dry as it was.
Tightly rolled vintage photo. Re-humidifying will relax the print and allow it to lay flat.
The first two photos here are my "before" pictures.

It's very important that you not unroll and try to flatten a photo or document that is in this condition.
You may cause irreversible damage.

The tightly rolled picture has been placed on a rack in a plastic storage bin. There is about 2 inches of water in the bottom.
To start the process, I took a large plastic bin with a lid, put some water in it and then placed a plastic coated dish rack inside. I only added enough water to make it an inch or two deep. The dish rack is the type you use to create additional storage inside your cupboards.

Then you just put on the lid and wait. It's a good idea to check on the project every few hours to make sure that no condensation is building up on the inside of the lid. You don't want water dripping on your photo or document.

After about 3 hourse, the image has started to relax. It will take several more hours for it to be ready to dry flat.
After three hours my photo had started to soften up a bit and I was able to unroll it a little bit more.

It took about seven hours in the bin to get the photo relaxed enough to lay flat. Or reasonably flat. I was hesitant to leave it in the bin overnight, since I wouldn't be able to monitor the possible condensation. So at the seven hour mark I called it "good enough" and proceeded with the next step.
The re-humidified photo is placed on top of archival blotter paper with parchment paper on top of the image. Another sheet of blotter paper is placed on that, then the whole thing is weighted with books.
The photo is laying face up on top of a piece of archival blotting paper from Gaylord. On top of the photo I put a sheet of parchment paper, the kind you use for cooking and baking. Then there is another piece of archival blotting paper on top of that.

Those layers are being pressed under stacks of books. Yes, I read murder mysteries at Christmas. Please, don't judge me.

And here are the results!

A once rolled photograph, now re-humidified and relaxed to lay flat.
Re-humidified photo, pressed and dry.
Getting the photograph flat revealed that it is the 1942 class photo for Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The photo is not perfectly flat, but is relaxed enough that I would be comfortable framing it or putting it in flat storage [archival, of course!].

Here are two close-ups of the photo, front and back. The girl in the striped shirt with the great smile and the dimples is my mom. I love how happy she looks in the picture. 

Mary E. Dixon, right of center in the striped shirt.
Citation: Photographer unknown. Class Photograph, Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School.
1942: Elizabeth, New Jersey. Photographic Print. Mary Dixon Traina Collection, privately held.

Flattening the photo also gave me a chance to study the back of the photograph. It looks like some of Mom's classmates signed it. Transcribing all those names will be a little project. I can check the 1945 Battin High School Yearbook to see if any of the girls also graduated high school with Mom.

Classmates of Mary E. Dixon signed the back of their class photo. T. Roosevelt Jr. High School, Elizabeth, NJ, 1942
Names on the back of the photograph. Classmates from Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School.
Elizabeth, New Jersey. 1942.


Photographer unknown. Class Photograph, Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School. 1942: Elizabeth, New Jersey. Photographic Print. Mary Dixon Traina Collection, privately held.

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