Separating Sticky Document and Photo Pages: Genealogists' and Archivists' Tips

Separating Pages in Old Documents

by Jennie Vertrees
Princeton, Missouri

I just wanted to share with you how to separate pages in fragile documents that are stuck together. A few years ago, I was granted permission by the state archives department in Jefferson City, Missouri, to hand copy some of the pages from the original 1880 census for Mercer County, Missouri.

I ran into some pages that were so tightly stuck together that I couldn't get them apart short of tearing them, which I didn't want to. So I asked the person in charge of these old documents if she knew how to get them apart without damaging them. She took a
sheet of acid-free paper and "see-sawed" it gently between the two sheets of the document; they came apart without much effort. She stated that the sheet of paper had to be acid-free or it wouldn't work. I've tried it since then and it has worked every time for me.

RE: A Sticky Photo Problem

By Carol Simmons
Minden Ontario

I work at a local museum. We have been faced with the problem of having photos stuck to album pages many times. People often donate photo albums, and since we are charged with their safe-keeping, we attempt to remove and conserve the photos.

We have found
waxed dental floss to be a blessing. We slide a piece of floss back and forth--much like using a cross-cut saw--between the photo and the backing material. It works great; the photo doesn't get bent or creased. As a side note, make sure to remove all photos from the albums that have sticky pages and a clear film over-sleeve. These are horrendous for photos.

RE: A Sticky Photo Problem

By Richard A. Danca
Newton, Massachusetts

Here's an idea for removing pictures stuck to pages in those so-called "magnetic" photo albums, where the supposedly tacky substance meant to hold photos on the page can set over time.

You can safely remove those photos by carefully using a
hand-held hair dryer set to "Low" or "Warm." Heat one edge of the photo and pry it away slowly as you continue to direct the warm air back and forth under the photo. A bit of the goo sometimes sticks to the photo, but probably not enough to worry about.

After removing the photo, put it in a proper, acid-free photo album.

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 9 January 2008, Vol. 11, No. 2.

RE: A Sticky Photo Problem

By S. Wilkins
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Several years ago I was faced with the same situation as that mentioned by Joy Weaver in her 12 December piece titled, "A Sticky Photo Problem."

I peeled a photo of a young woman I did not recognize from a photo album and noticed writing on the back--but it was obscured by the black paper from the album that was stuck to the back.

The words I could see identified it was a photo given to her uncle. It also had an FPO (military) address in New York. Judging by the young woman's clothing, the photo appeared to have been taken during the WWII era.

I asked many living relatives about the photo and even posted it on our family website and no one recognized her, so I took matters into my own hands.

I found a scalpel in my old college dissecting kit and I very slowly and carefully scraped away the black paper.

It was labor intensive and time consuming but it revealed enough information for me to successfully trace this woman and find that she was the great-granddaughter of my second great-grandfather's son.

I now enjoy a wonderful relationship with a zillion new cousins I didn't know existed.

Editor's Note: To read, "A Sticky Photo Problem," visit

A Sticky Photo Problem Solution

By Tracey Fotiou
Quaker Hill, Connecticut

When I removed my grandmother's photos from the black and brown paper pages in her album--also to see if there was useful information written on the backs of the photos--I used a dull letter opener and ever so gently and ever so lightly and ever so painstakingly rubbed the paper from off the back of each photo.

It is a long and time consuming process but is safe. Before I removed the photos from the pages I photocopied every page with my grandmother's handwriting so I could recreate the album on photo-safe paper. I also saved the leather covers, which have my grandmother's hand writing on them, to recreate the album for my mother.

I found it easier to scrape the paper off of the photos, which came off in a tiny ball of fuzz-like material, after they were freshly pried from the page, so, needless to say, it was done one at a time.

Also, use the dull letter opener (do not use any kind of knife--the edges will be too sharp, even on a butter knife) at different angles for different thicknesses of paper. For the thicker patches, use the part closer to the tip, but not the end, until the patch is thinned; then use the middle part to finish the rest of the patch. Also, if there is a "flap" of paper still stuck to the photo, use the scraping method while holding the loose end of the flap down, and scrape until the flap comes off. If you pull it off you may tear the photo. I swear by this process--I used it for all twenty-two pages of my grandmother's album.

Good luck.

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 2 January 2008, Vol. 11, No. 1.

"Un-Du" That Sticky Problem

By Toni Wick Francisco
Anchorage, Alaska

A possible solution to "A Sticky Photo Problem" by Joy Weaver is to try a product called "Un-Du." I was able to remove hundreds of photos stuck in those old magnetic-type albums without any damage to the picture or the writing on the backs. You just saturate the black paper with this product, let it sit for a couple of minutes while the glue softens, then remove the paper. Any liquid that gets on the actual picture does not damage it. It evaporates and the pictures are fine. I found the
"Un-Du" at Michael's Craft Store.

Sticky Solutions

By Mike Michaelski

One way to treat old photos that have something stuck to their back is a
sweat box, something stamp collectors have been using for quite some time to gently remove a stamp from a valuable cover. To make one, simply find a plastic container larger than the photograph, wet a sponge, and place the sponge in the bottom of the container. Then build a platform to keep the picture from actually touching the sponge--half a dozen pencils of the right length will do nicely. Then lay the picture on the platform and put the top on.

Wait about a day to open the container, then lay the picture face down and carefully use some tweezers to lift up the black paper. If it does not come off, put some more water on the sponge and give it another day. The concept here is to introduce moisture into the paper and loosen it from the glue, but not to actually wet the photo. Done carefully, this will get all but the most stubborn glues to let go of the paper. The photo will need to be dried between layers of paper towels afterward--actually, it is best if you can find a photo dryer, which is built
precisely for drying photos after they were developed. The main concern will be that the photos will tend to curl up when drying out again.

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 19 December 2007, Vol. 10, No. 51.

A Sticky Photo Problem

By Joy Weaver
East Islip, New York

I'm sure this is a problem many others have faced. My mother had glued all her photos onto black paper pages of a photo album. I pried them off to see whether any of the people were identified on the backs and found that some of the photos do have writing on them. However, some of the black paper is sticking to the photos obscuring what is written there. Does anyone know how to remove this glued-on paper without ruining the pictures?

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 12 December 2007, Vol. 10, No. 50.

(Posted 20 January 2008)

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