How to care for parish records

A group photo of dozens of young people sitting and standing in front of a church. Text says "Toronto A.Y.P.A. Diocesan Conference, Orillia, Ontario, 1957."
 on April 28, 2023

Correct storage of important information is critical

As part of its mandate, the Diocese of Toronto Archives collects and makes accessible the records of the parishes in the diocese. These records must be cared for by the parish until it determines that the records should be transferred to the Archives.

A record is information created and maintained by a congregation, regardless of media, used to control, support or document the activities of the congregation. Records include documents, photographs, video and film recordings, sound recordings, maps and drawings. An archival record is a record of enduring cultural, historical or evidentiary value and should be kept permanently.


How to store records

A poorly stored marriage register shows soot and water damage.

The first step in caring for parish records is to manage the records in the parish, making sure records that don’t need to be kept permanently are routinely destroyed when they’re no longer needed.

For records that are archival and need to be kept permanently, it’s important to make sure they’re being properly cared for. Records should ideally be stored in a location that maintains a relatively consistent temperature and humidity all year round, with temperature around 20 degrees Celsius and relative humidity of 45 per cent. Where such ideal conditions aren’t possible, the parish should aim to keep the records in an area that doesn’t experience significant fluctuations in temperature or humidity during the year. Records stored in areas with high temperature, high relative humidity and low air circulation are at risk of developing mould. If your parish has any records that show signs of mould, contact the Archives to get advice on how best to deal with them.

Records not stored in a file cabinet should be stored in boxes raised off the floor on metal shelving. This keeps them safe from water damage in the event of flooding and helps to protect against pests that make their home in wood. It’s a good idea to place sticky traps in areas where you’re storing records, preferably in darker corners where pests may hide. Check the traps on a routine basis to make sure you’re not experiencing a pest problem. Several insects, including silverfish and book lice, will cause damage to records. If you notice insect activity, contact the Archives to discuss ways to remediate this issue.



Records within a parish archival collection may also need special care and consideration. If you are keeping newspaper clippings of articles about your congregation, make sure to note the name of the newspaper, the date of publication, and the page number where the article appeared.

Newspaper is very acidic and should be stored in a separate file folder from other material, or in an archives-safe enclosure if stored with other items. Items that are stored with newspaper, without any sort of buffer, will discolour and deteriorate more quickly.



Photographs can be a wonderful way of documenting an event in the life of your congregation, but only photographs that have some historical value, providing evidence of people or events significant to the parish, should be kept permanently. Ideally, the subject of the photograph should be clear and identifiable. If there are multiple photographs showing the same image from the same event, keep only the best one.

It’s important to provide some written context for the photo, such as the date it was taken, the name of individuals photographed, and the event or location where it was taken. This ensures that when future generations view the photograph, they can understand the context and historical significance. To make sure the photograph isn’t damaged when adding this information, you can use an index card stored behind the photo in a photo album or storage box. Alternatively, writing on the back of the photograph with a pencil is an acceptable choice. Write lightly around the edges to avoid damaging the focus of the photograph at the centre.

To ensure the long-term preservation of archival photographs, they can be stored in a box or in albums. If stored in a box, the box should be archives-safe quality that is acid-free and lignin-free, as photographs stored in an acidic environment will become discoloured over time. If stored in a photo album, they should be kept in acid-free sleeves made of polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene; avoid plastic sleeves made of polyvinyl chloride (also called PVC or vinyl). Photographs should not be adhered to the pages in any way, as glue and tape can cause discolouration and lead to deterioration of the photograph.

Photographs should be handled with care and only touched while wearing white cotton or nitrile gloves to avoid oils from fingers being left on the surface of the photograph, leading to deterioration over time. If the photograph is in fragile condition, arrangements should be made to transfer it to the Archives so we can make sure it’s stored in the best conditions possible.


Audio-visual materials

Audio-visual material shows deterioration due to age.

Audio-visual material may be recorded on various media formats, including acetate-based film strips, magnetic tape like VHS, and CD/DVDs. Unfortunately, many of the formats can’t be viewed or listened to as the necessary hardware becomes obsolete. This is an issue particularly with formats that require a specific viewing machine that is no longer manufactured. VCRs can be difficult to find these days, and many computers no longer have a CD/DVD drive. This can also mean that if audio-visual materials have not been labelled properly, they become meaningless, as the contents cannot be verified. Take time to properly label these types of records, including title, date of recording and length of recording.

Audio-visual materials are more prone to deterioration, due to environmental conditions, than paper and should be handled carefully. They should be stored in a relatively cool location with relative humidity around 40 per cent.


Repair & conservation

If your parish has records showing signs of deterioration or damage and you feel they should be repaired, this work should be conducted by a professional conservator. Trying to repair records without the necessary knowledge or expertise may cause more damage in the long-term. In particular, regular transparent tape should never be used to mend tears in documents or photographs.


Transferring records

For records that are considered archival, we encourage you to transfer them to the Archives when they can no longer be properly cared for in the parish, perhaps due to age, condition or space issues. The Archives has storage with the ideal environmental conditions to slow deterioration of fragile records, and will allow us to schedule conservation treatments if needed.

We strongly encourage parishes to send in their parish registers of baptism, confirmations, marriages and burials as soon as the registers are no longer in use. These records are accepted as proof of birth and marriage, and in some instances where there have been errors or omissions in provincial registration of these events, they can be used to confirm the correct information. Due to the irreplaceable nature of these records, it’s important to make sure they’re sent to the Archives for storage in our vault, which has a fire suppression system. Several congregations have had devastating fires over the years, and in some cases records have been destroyed. For registers still in use or kept at the parish, we recommend they be stored in a fire-resistant safe or file cabinet.

If your parish has determined you may have records that should be transferred to the Archives, there are several steps you need to take to move that process forward. Before arranging to transfer records, the records must be boxed in clean boxes. You’ll also need to fill out a record transfer form that provides a file-level listing of the records to be transferred. This form is available on our website,, or you can contact the Archives and we will send you a form. Once you complete the record transfer form, scan it and send it to us so we can review what you’re planning to send.

The Archives doesn’t accept bibles, prayer books, banners, or liturgical vessels and linens. If these are no longer needed by your parish and have associated memorials, you can take a photo of the item and the inscription to keep permanently. These items can then be offered to other churches through a notice in the diocesan Bulletin Board; send an email to [email protected]. You can also reach out to the bishops’ administrative assistants in case they’re aware of churches looking for these items. Otherwise, they can be reverently destroyed.


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