The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
Hurricane season is upon us and we should learn from the experiences of past storms. The 2012 “superstorm” Sandy in the northeastern United States and other floods from around the world taught all of us again that paper is a very fragile storage medium for old records. However, paper is also the most common storage method in use today. The news reports from Sandy told of numerous libraries, public records offices, and more that had water in their offices. In some cases, the water reached records that should be saved for centuries. Many families also lost family documents, old photos, and even examples of their children’s art work. Unfortunately, water-soaked paper documents will only last for a few days unless treated immediately.
For the best-known loss of records by water damage, ask the U.S. Census Bureau about water-soaked documents. Most U.S. genealogists have been told that the 1890 census records was “destroyed by fire” in 1921. In fact, the fire damaged only a small percentage of the records. Far more damage was caused by the firehoses of the fire department called in to battle the blaze. Most of the damage was caused by water being poured onto the fire, water that soon seeped into millions of otherwise undamaged records. The fire did not go above the basement but water poured into the upper floors drained into the basement, extinguishing the fire. Unfortunately, in the process of water draining through the upper floors, a high percentage of the otherwise undamaged documents became soaked with water.