Archival Answers: Invisible Ink
5/1/2006
How do I preserve a family tree that's written in fountain pen and fading?
Q. I have an old family tree handwritten in fountain pen. The ink is fading. I've recorded the information from the tree. My elder relatives tell me to let the handwriting naturally fade away. I don't want to let that happen. What's your advice as to having someone go over the handwriting?

A. Your question highlights a contentious preservation issue — let time take its natural toll, or use modern techniques to alter an old document? A professional conservator can explain your options and help you decide what to do. For referrals, contact a historical society or The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (202-452-9545, <aic.stanford.edu>).

Our experts' responses to your question reflect preservationists' varied viewpoints. Maureen A. Taylor, author of Preserving Your Family Photographs (Betterway Books), suggests having a conservator deacidify the document and enhance the handwriting with ink. Be prepared: the process may be expensive and will take some time.