People love to know where they come from. Online family mapping services have become popular in the past few years, used primarily to create “family trees,” a common way to trace genealogical lineage. Historians have traced the “tree” image back to a medieval piece illustrating the Tree of Jesse, used to map the genealogy of Christ. Chinese philosopher Confucius has the longest family tree in the world, more than 80 generations and including over 2 million members. Tracing lineage is emotionally and practically important for any family, so when we received a family tree in for treatment at The Center, we knew how special this would be for the family.
The 8-panel family tree featured a long, hand-colored, winding drawing and a crest at the bottom. The board to which the panels were originally mounted was acidic, causing inherent damage and discoloration. It had darkened with age, and there were scattered dents and abrasions along with age-related discoloration and foxing. Water stains were also visible as well as a large red tide line on five of the eight panels, where an unknown burgundy pigment had bled onto the piece.
Arguably the most important part of creating our treatment proposals at The Center is understanding what the client’s intent is – we want to honor the integrity of the piece, as well as its owner’s wishes. The goals of the owner of this family tree were simple: to improve the readability of the family names, and to clean up some of the damage and discoloration. For further research, the client was also interested in digitizing the piece, to create high-resolution pdfs as individual sheets to easily read and work with.
Our paper conservators were tasked with working on this precious document. The first step in the treatment process, as with every treatment we do, was to photograph it for in-house documentation. This step happens both at the beginning and end of treatment, as well as “in-progress” shots, to provide “before-and-after” examples, track progress, and provide documentation should the treatment ever need to be reversed.
After it was photographed, the sheet was surface cleaned using a crumbled eraser compound and vinyl eraser to reduce surface dirt. The areas of brown staining were addressed mechanically, a dry method as opposed to an aqueous method, in order to not create more staining from the acidic paper. The burgundy stained areas needed to be treated aqueously, so they used a local treatment method where water is introduced to the paper and the staining was picked up using absorbent blotter paper. Text under the burgundy staining appeared to have faded significantly, so careful attention was given to not disturb these areas further. Minor areas of the illustration were retouched using conservation methods to better integrate them with the surrounding area. The sheets were then treated with a deacidification spray, to help prevent further deterioration from the boards on which the piece remained mounted. Finally, areas of the board that were splitting and any other disturbances along the edges were consolidated using methyl cellulose and placed under weight.
The client was excited to receive the finished piece, and we’re honored to have been able to help preserve this important part of their family’s heritage for years to come.