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Historical Records FAQ's

Are the trophies in the school trophy case considered records?

No. Trophies, game footballs, etc, are artifacts. Their care and organization are approached differently from the care of historical records.

How can I save my family records?

How do I create a time capsule?

The Canadian Conservation Institute has information on unearthing old time capsules and creating new ones.

How do I deal with Copyright issues?

Questions may come up about the copyright of records in your collections. If questions arise about a specific record or series of records, you should contact an attorney. For some general information concerning copyright, visit the US Copyright Office webpage.

How do I deal with costumes?

Costumes are not historical records but artifacts. For help with these contact The Museum Association of New York.

How do I deal with newspapers?

Newspapers are not historical records but publications. The New York State Library oversees The New York State Newspapers project. Visit the NYSNP website for further information. Watch our video about Taking Care of Newspapers.

How do I deal with photographs?

Always use gloves when handling photographs. Don't use paperclips or other fasteners. It is usually best to place single photos into polyester or polyethylene enclosures. Don't try to lift anything stuck to a photograph. Repairs to damaged photos should only be undertaken by a trained conservator. Find our more in our historical photographs workshops.

How do I deal with scrapbooks?

Generally speaking, scrapbooks pose many challenges. They are usually oversize and contain a multitude of formats: photographs, postcards, letters, artifacts, etc. Older scrapbooks may have brittle pages and broken bindings which would make the books and contents vulnerable to damage when handling. Still photography and microfilming are the preferable methods to deal with these challenges.

How do I get help with my institution's historical records?

The New York State Archives provides many services to local governments and non-governmental historical records repositories to help improve the management of their historical records. The Managing Historical Records webpage on our website provides links for resources that cover the spectrum of managing historical records, from getting started, to their identification and protection, to making them widely available.

If you are a local government or state agency, help is available from the State Archives Government Records Services. Staff in Albany and in the field are available to provide a variety of assistance. Call Archival Advisory Services at (518) 474-6926. If you are a not-for-profit historical records repository, assistance is available from the Documentary Heritage Program.

How do I take care of videotapes?

Videos are more fragile than motion picture film and wear out in 7 to 15 years. When converting films and photos to VHS, save the original copy. Photos and films will remain in good condition for a longer period of time than VHS tapes. Major causes of videotape deterioration are heat, humidity, dirt, magnetic fields and improper handling. Symptoms of breakdown or deterioration are fuzzy images, blank spots and static on the tape.

Some tips concerning video tapes:

  • Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Store and keep tapes away from sources of heat, e.g., radiators, heating vents, air conditioners and other appliances.
  • Keep videotapes away from dust, dirt and oil, cigarette smoke, oil and acid from fingers.
  • Keep tapes away from magnetic fields, e.g. speakers, motors, amplifiers, telephones, magnets, electric typewriters, voltage transformers and TVs. A distance of 2 to 3 feet is recommended.
  • Keep tapes away from moisture.
  • Keep tapes well ventilated.
  • Fast forward and rewind tapes once every 3 years.
  • When playing the tape in the VCR, don't leave the tape in the pause or still-frame mode for more than a minute. This tends to wear out the tape.

If I do decide to accept the donation, what do I need to do to document it?

A deed of gift that clearly addresses the physical and legal custody issues should be written. Ideally, the deed of gift will state that there are no restrictions on access to the donated records and that the donor has agreed to transfer copyright to your institution. If you are willing to accept donations that will be closed to researchers for a given amount of time (e.g., 25 years, until after the donor's death) or agree to allow the donor to retain copyright, these conditions must be clearly outlined in the deed of gift. The deed of gift should be notarized. Watch our video for donors Donating Your Materials.

Someone wants to give my organization an historical record. Should I take it?

Any organization collecting historical records must have an acquisitions policy, a written statement that outlines its collecting focus (e.g., records documenting the history of a specific locality, group of people, or event). Such a policy will ensure that your institution is collecting items appropriate to its mission. It also makes it easier to refuse donations that do not meet your organization's collecting priorities.

If a suggested donation does not fit your acquisitions policy, try to identify another repository that would be a more suitable home.

We are celebrating our upcoming Centennial (or Bicentennial, Sesquicentennial, etc). Where can we get information on our community's history?

The history of your community is all around you. You just need to do a little searching. Your local government will have records on the creation of your town, city or village. Be sure to also look at records of your local historical society. These will be useful for providing further information on people in your community and their history. 

What can I do to preserve newspaper clippings?

The best way to save your old newspaper clippings is to make photocopies onto good quality archival paper and discard the originals. Old news clippings can contaminate other records around them because the newsprint is highly acidic.

Where can I find HSE/GED information?

For information on HSE/GED testing, results, or to obtain a copy of a transcript or high school equivalency diploma, contact the State Education Department HSE Testing Office:

89 Washington Avenue
PO Box 7348
Albany, NY 12224-0348
phone - (518) 474-5906
email -
website -

Where can I get grant money to help me with my records?

State and federal agencies, private foundations and corporations fund programs that provide monetary and other help to archives, historical societies, libraries and other not-for-profit organizations that house and care for historical records. The New York State Archives offers grants and awards to support, promote and recognize sound archival practices, as well as to encourage creative and valuable uses of archival records.

Where do I obtain birth, death, marriage, and divorce records?

Contact DOH Vitals (Vital Records Section, NYS Department of Health, Empire State Plaza, Albany NY 12237, tel. 855-322-1022 [toll free]) for such records from outside NYC. Also try their website: For New York City events, contact the NYC Department of Health (Vital Records, NYC Department of Health, 125 Worth Street / Box 10, NY, NY 10013, (212) 788-5300) for such events in the city.

Where do I obtain records from a closed college or professional education (nursing, dentistry, etc.) school?

As a general rule, contact the SED Office of Higher Education. Higher and professional education schools which close are required to (1) transfer their student academic records to another school or agency for permanent preservation and to notify SED of that arrangement, or (2) transfer the records to SED which then maintains them permanently. In practice, there are several units within SED which become involved. For colleges and similar higher education schools, the contact should be the Office of College and University Evaluation at (518) 474-2593 or via email at in the Office of Higher Education. For nursing schools, contact the Office of Professions, Office of Professional Education Program Review, at (518) 486-2967. For closed professional schools in other professions, try the appropriate board office in the Office of the Professions. For example, the State Board for Dentistry maintains records of one closed dental school.

For a list of the locations of student academic records of closed institutions of higher education in New York, see the following website maintained by the State Education Department, Office of Higher Education:

Where do I obtain student records from a closed private elementary or secondary school?

Contact the public school district in which the private school was geographically located. Private elementary or secondary schools which close are required to either (1) place their student academic records with another school or "agency" for permanent preservation and notify the public school district in which the school was geographically located of that arrangement, or (2) send the records to that public school district which is then responsible for their continued permanent preservation. SED has no student records from public or private elementary or secondary schools.

Where do I obtain student records from a closed proprietary school?

"Non-degree granting" proprietary schools come under the jurisdiction of the SED Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision. Proprietary schools are required by 8 NYCRR 126.11 to maintain student academic records for 20 years after the student completes his/her program at the school. After that, the records may be destroyed. If a proprietary school closes, it is required to (1) transfer its student academic records to another school or agency for the indicated retention period and notify the SED Bureau of Proprietary School
Supervision of that arrangement, or (2) transfer the records to that SED Bureau which then maintains them for the indicated period.

However, some proprietary schools have Regents authority to award degrees. Such institutions therefore come under the jurisdiction of the SED Bureau of Higher Education and are required to maintain student records permanently. For a list of the locations of student academic records of closed degree-granting proprietary colleges, as well as of other types of closed colleges and universities, see the following website maintained by the State Education Department, Office of Higher Education: