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written by David L. Mishkin, president

It was my son's Bar Mitzvah (Confirmation) and I was thrilled that my brother-in-law was taking some videos for us. This was in the middle of the summer and after the ceremony we treated our extended family to a cruise around the islands of Maine. What a glorious time and what a wonderful memory these videos would make. All of my aunts and uncles were getting on in years and this was a great way to preserve our memories of them.

What I didn't know then is that videos are not a reliable way to document anything that you want to preserve. In fact, it is one of the worst methods you can use for preserving images. What I have learned is that videos will only last 10 to 15 years before they start to deteriorate. Pretty frightening isn't it? Although I am not an expert on videography, I have studied preservation of videos and have learned from several experts in the field. The results are all the same. The best you can hope for before videotapes deteriorate is less than 20 years.

Many individuals who own photographs are familiar with photographic deterioration. Most photographs get either darker or lighter (depending on the photographic process) when they deteriorate. This does not happen with videos. Deterioration starts with "static" lines running across the image -- kind of like a video that is not "tracking" properly. The problem is that you cannot correct this problem with your tracking control. This problem gets worse until it is very difficult to view anything.

By now you may be wondering what good is that new video camera that you just received as a Christmas gift? Well, as long as you are aware of their limitations, video cameras are great for short-term viewing. Videotapes are like movie films but they don't last as long. Therefore, one very practical use could be to take some videos of the children as they are growing and send them to the grandparents. If visits are difficult because of long distances, sending these videos to the grandparents is the next best thing to being there. Not only can they see the grandchildren, but they can hear them as well.

Videotapes are also helpful when you transfer your slides or home-made movies to them. This frees you from taking out the slide projector and screen and setting this all up. It also frees you from having to dig out the movie projector and threading it up.

DETERIORATION. Videotape is made from a base of polyester, which is coated with polyurethane. The coating acts as a binder, trapping magnetic oxide particles (the carriers of the magnetically encoded information) within the tape. That binding system is fragile. High temperatures and humidity accelerate the deterioration, causing the urethane particles in the coating to react with water (humidity), break free and migrate to the surface of the tape. The next time the tape is played, the oxide particles, no longer obstructed by their binder, peel off, taking with them all of the recorded images.

EXTENDING THE LIFE OF VIDEOTAPES. Temperature range should be from 59 to 77 degrees. Relative Humidity should be kept at 40 to 60%RH. Buy only the highest quality tapes. They are coated more evenly and therefore last longer. Fast forward and rewind tapes at least once every three years. That should keep the polyurethane binder from sticking to the adjacent layers of a tightly wound tape. Adhesion will either prevent the tape from running, or if the tape does run, it will tear the oxide particles from the base, thereby destroying the tape and gumming up the recording machine. Before storing your tapes, rewind them from end to end, in one complete, uninterrupted procedure to make sure the tape is wound evenly and uniformly.

Avoid using the inexpensive rewind machines as they could cause damage to the tapes. Seal the tapes in plastic bags to protect them from dust, smoke and moisture and store them vertically, with the tape wound onto the bottom spool. Keep tapes away from strong electromagnetic fields such as speakers and television sets.

This article is from MISSING LINKS: A Weekly Newsletter for Genealogists Vol. 3, No. 2, 9 January 1998 Copyright 1996-98 Julia M. Case and Myra Vanderpool Gormley Editor-at-Fault: Julia M. Case Co-Editor-to-Blame: Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG.

"Just Black & White," specializes in non-digital copying, enhancing and restoring family photographs, offers timely advice for preserving memories. David gives lectures around the country on this and other subjects.

Visit: ( ! A Photo Restoration and Enhancement Company for Genealogists, Museums, and preserving family history pictures. ) (
or telephone 1-800-827-5881.

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