What Do You Do With All Your Old Family Photos?

My great uncle George's daughters, Fan & Kit

My great uncle George's daughters, Fan & Kit

My mom is ninety. Her mind is clear but she has congestive heart failure and we both know that her time is limited. With her death goes the knowledgeable custodian of  several boxes of old sepia colored photographs of relatives long passed. With a sense of urgency we’ve embarked on a methodical recording and preserving of these photos. If you’re in a similar situation you might find what we’re doing of some value.

  • Step one: Mom takes a pencil (not a pen) and on the back of each photo she  lightly writes  index numbers  starting with 001, the first photo. In a notebook she  writes down the number. Beside it, as best she can recall, she indicates: (a) the names of the people in the photo and their family connection, (b) where the photo was taken, (c)  the occasion (i.e., birthday, wedding, picnic, travels etc.) and (d) the date. On the next photo she writes 002 and proceeds to write down the details as she did for the first photo. At this point we’re not  worrying about sorting the photos thematically – that can come later.
  • Step two: As Mom completes a set of photos I take them and scan them into my computer and carefully include the index number and description. We are now about half way through her collection. After I’ve scanned the photos I place them in an archival, acid free box. You can obtain these through such companies as Archival Methods, Carr McLean or The Container Store.
  • Step three: We haven’t got to this stage yet. But once I’ve made a digital copy of each photo there are a number of presentation options available – one that I’m considering is a Photo Book. I’ll most likely group the photos thematically and include the  description that my mom’s written for each photo. There are a number of web based publishers like  Blurb that specialize in Photo Books.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get those old family photos out of storage and  begin the work of archiving them. Let me know what you’re doing to preserve your family photos. Love to hear from you!

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2 Responses to What Do You Do With All Your Old Family Photos?

  1. Good for you, Dan. It breaks my heart to see these collections thrown away because no one knows what’s in them.
    And you’re right on track in assigning an ID number to the photo.
    Once the images are scanned but before you do anything else or make additional copies, the next thing to do would be to enter all the info you have as “metadata” into the digital image file. That’s like having all the writing on the back of a photo. Then all that info will travel with any copies that are made. And it can be printed out in a photo index book as well.

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