A few days ago, a friend told me a story about her cousin’s home being a total loss as the result of a house fire.
By the grace of God, no one was hurt.
One irreplaceable loss was that of a collection of family photographs and documents.
I commiserated with her.
I remember saying something about everyone’s need to have a fire safe. She nodded.
The day went on and I honestly thought no more about it until I sat down to TRY to pound out an article about something—ANYTHING—genealogically relevant. My mind returned to my friend’s story.
Maybe I can put together an article about the right way to store and protect photos and documents, I thought.
A short time later, I had a page or so of bullet points in a rather vague outline. I planned to begin with three conditions you must control to preserve any document or photo: light, humidity and temperature.
No worries about light with that fire safe, I thought a bit smugly.
Humidity. Huh. Hmm. I probably should toss a humidity meter in there for a day or so and check it at different times for the next week or so to make sure it the level is okay.
A quick virtual trip to the National Archives website taught me relative humidity levels need to be below 65% to prevent mold growth but above 15% to prevent crumbling.
Hmmmm. I wonder if it really is okay to store in the fire safe after all? I began to morph into Fearful Face Emoji. You know the one.
With my confidence crumbling like it’d been sitting in 2% relative humidity for four score and seven years, I quickly Googled, “How do you keep pictures safe in your home?” After a bit of floundering around, I ran across commentary about fire ratings which triggered a morph into Confounded Face Emoji.
The paper will probably be intact—deeds, passports, wills, currency, etc.
Other items like film, negatives, audio and video tapes, magnetic media, and digital media like USB drives, DVDs and CD’s and external hard drives have different Class ratings because they ignite at different temperatures. LOWER temperatures than paper.
Enter Screaming-Face-in-Fear Emoji.
Photographic records are Class 150 rated, while tapes, film and digital media are Class 125 rated.
In the event of a fire, that external hard drive with all my stuff on it would NOT be protected in the safe I so very smugly thought to be the bee’s knees. Same thing with all the old photos I can’t bear to part with.
So, boys and girls, the lesson I’ve learned is this: a “media vault” is the best way to protect photos, and digital and magnetic media in the event of a fire.
Before you run out or open a new tab to purchase one, I’ll leave you with a few things to take into consideration: vaults are expensive, heavy, and large with little interior space. The FireKing MV1000 media vault, a 70 lb. safe, roughly the size of an over-sized shoe box, costs over $400 on Amazon or about $600 from The Safe House, an online safe dealer. The Phoenix Datacare media safe, available online from Keystone Safe Company, has interior dimensions of 9.5” h X 6.25” w X 7.75” d. It weighs over 100 lbs. and lists for over $900.
Enter Speechless Emoji.
 “UL 72 Standard for Tests for Fire Resistance of Record Protection Equipment,” Underwriters’ Laboratories, (https://standardscatalog.ul.com/standards/en/standard_72_16 : accessed 4 April 2017).