Photo and Document Preservation
I'm a photography pho-natic! My photo experience began as a child with a 126 format camera. I soon moved up in the photo world with a 110, wow and eventually dived into the 35mm obsession. I've taken thousands of photos over the years and became a pro at getting them neatly organized into albums and collage frames. Much to my dismay, I came to discover that my storage methods were literally destroying the priceless images of family members and childhood memories.
This page is dedicated to tips on photography and photo preservation. I'm not a pro, but have a decent background in the photo world. I minored in photography in college, worked in a photo lab for several years and have a great portfolio from my days as a portrait photographer. I've also made my share of mistakes and will share my own trial and error experiences.
I will try to add new tips and ideas from time to time, but it seems there are never enough hours in a day and this site takes up more and more of those hours as it grows. In any case, I hope you will enjoy the tips and that they will help you to become a better family historian.
Organizing Old Photos
What a challenge it is when you finally decide to dig out all those boxes of photos and start sorting. Here are some tips that I hope will help you organize your family photos so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Try to set up an area where you can leave your work and it won't be disturbed or have a box of large envelopes on hand to store your photos between work sessions.
It's best to work on a large table; dinning table, ping-pong table, what ever is available. Use masking tape to mark the table off into 7"-8" squares - a giant grid so to speak. On the tape write years, months or whatever works for you under each square.
Start sorting photos by placing them into the proper squares. Some people find it is easier to sort by clothing or hair styles if they can't remember the dates, or by a child's age, etc.
Once photos are semi-sorted, remove your stacks and place into labeled envelopes. Then resort each stack to put into a time frame. Example: if you sorted by year the first time, now you can start sorting each year into months, holidays, events, etc.
To stay current with recent photos and to file older ones after they are sorted, I use the cardboard photo storage boxes. You can purchase monthly 4"x6" tabbed divider cards to seperate the photos for each month and write the year on the box, then just slip the appropriate photos behind each monthly card.
Another way to do this with recent photos is everytime you get a roll of film back from the processor, put who, what, where and when facts on a post-it note, attach to the first photo in the stack and place in the box in date order. Remember of course that this should only be used for temporary storage until you can get your photos into a Photo-Safe Scrapbook!
Most importantly...ALWAYS label your photos with important facts so that future generations will not be left clueless as to who they are of and when they were taken.
Photo Tips - General
Often we take photos of special occassions and vacations, but forget the ordinary daily memories in life. Be sure to photography the homes you live in, the cars you drive, where you work, kids artwork and all the things you would like to tell future generations about.
Consider taking a pictorial series of the town you live in: the post-office, the ball park, historic landmarks and other places you visit frequently.
With all the new automatic cameras on the market, people sometimes forget that the camera has to focus before it actually takes the shot. Most automatics have a small circle or framing device in the center of the view finder, be sure to center this device on the main subject and press lightly on the shutter button before centering your photo frame. If not you may end up with a focused background and a very fuzzy subject.
Never clean your camera lens with tissues, paper towels or any item that is made with wood pulp. These can scratch the lens. Always use a lens cloth made for this purpose or lens paper. Canned air is also available for cleaning your camera.
Photo Tips - Storage
Only laminate photos in archival quality plastics. Mylar and Polypropylene are chemical free. Never use plastics with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) to store photographs.
Do not mount photos into albums with rubber cement or any other product that contains chemicals. Use photo tape and adhesives which have been tested and proven to be photo safe.
If you don't have time to label photos and put them into photo-safe albums, be sure to write the who,what, when and where facts on the photo envelope. We think we will always remember, but years later when we get around to them, we often forget exact dates, the year or even names.
Please please please educate yourself about photo storage products. Many of the products on the shelves today actually speed up the deterioration of your family photos. Remember that you get what you pay for. Many inexpensive albums aren't that cheap after they have ruined your priceless photos. See my Scrapbooking page for more details!
As a family historian you're bound to find yourself buried under paper. Family trees, birth
& marriage certificates and other important documents tend to take over your work space,
closets and file drawers. There are many ways to preserve paper memorabilia, below are a few
tips on items you may want to save and how to store them safely.
Marriage & Birth certificates
Wedding & Birth announcements
First rent or mortgage receipt
First grocery receipt
Family medical history
School report cards & awards
Children's art work
Cards from special events
Brochures & tickets from travels
Handwritten letters & recipe cards
Plastic sleeves are available in many sizes for mounting memorabilia in your scrapbooks,
just be sure that they are made from safe plastics (mylar and polypropelene are a few that
Newspaper articles and other important documents should be copied onto acid free paper
for longevity and the original stored in a cool, dark place.
Including receipts and the current prices of things in your family scrapbooks may not seem
very interesting right now, but it will be to future generations.
Clip sections or pages of your child's best school work and include on a scrapbook page
with their school photo for that year.
Photograph children's artwork and mount the photos in your scrapbooks. Store your favorite
originals in a large envelope or portfolio and throw out the rest.
Brochures, ticket stubs and travel memorabilia can be mounted into your scrapbook along
with the travel pics. Maps make great backgrounds on your pages, but always be sure to put
a protective layer of acid free paper between any memorabilia and photos.
To store memorabilia until you can copy or mount it, use a file crate with a folder for
each person in the family, and other categories such as: holidays, announcements, articles,
special events, trips, etc. Another filing option is to label a folder with each month of the
year to store keepsakes for that month.
Many people also like to file memorabilia along with the photos from the event, but remember
that paper memorabilia contains acids that can harm your photos, so this should only be used as
a short term storage method.