Archiving old family photos....

I am a photo hoarder. And not just digital photos. I print every single picture I take, label them and put them in photo albums. 

For some, that process is overwhelming! But I have lived long enough to know that every "great format" for photo storage is soon eclipsed by something "better" and the next thing you know your photo storage is obsolete. Slides, negatives, floppy disks, CDs, jump drives, I-whatever, the "cloud." All ways we have stored our photos over the years.

Like many, I have all my digital family photos on my computer and a backup drive. But I take it a step further....I print them all AND I copy them onto two CDs. Each CD is labeled (with a Sharpie) and I put one in a CD case that goes in a labeled box (you know so we can look at them, but we never do!)....

...and the other goes into my fire proof lock box. I divide photos by "person" and those go in the individual's albums and CDs. Group pictures are put onto a "family" CD and in the "family" album. Someday all my kids will be able to take their individual CDs and photo albums...and then they can fight over the "family" photos. 

If the house burns or blows away and all my printed photos are destroyed, I will still have the CDs in my lock box. If my computer crashes, I still have my backup, the CDs and my printed photos. Unless an atomic bomb drops on my house, I think I will still have some form of my cherished family photos!!!

BD...Before Digital. I have negatives. Boxes of negatives. My goal SOMEDAY is to buy one of those nifty machines that lets you convert your negatives to digital. Then if all my BD photos are destroyed I will have digital backups. (Seriously, I don't have an apocalyptic bunker...I'm just an "archive freak.")

"Back in the old days" it seems we only took a few pictures of people and events. When I went through my childhood pictures, I found only a handful of pictures taken on holidays and during special events. The cost of the film, development and printing was a bit pricey before digital photos and storage. 

One hundred years ago, the only photos a family may have had were portraits that were taken during special occasions! Believe it or not, owning a camera was a luxury. 

Now everything is "digital" AND phones... and you can take 400 pictures at Christmas and it doesn't cost much....unless you are like me and actually print all 400 pictures. Seriously, I print all 400, label, divide and put them in albums. 

Years ago I inherited several boxes of old family photos, letters and back to the early 1900s. It was all from both my parent's families and I was determined to "divide and conquer" into a system that would work to preserve it all.

Let me say upfront...this was NOT a weekend took me months to do this. Also, I chose this method of archiving the numerous photos I had because they were all different sizes. 

First I divided everything by "family" mom's and my dad's. Then I had to divide by grandparent's and great-grandparent's...and even a few great-greats...almost like a photo family tree. After I got everything divided into piles, I tried to arrange the photos chronologically. At times that was difficult to do since many of the photos were not dated or labeled in any way. (People, take time to identify and date your THINK you will remember who, when and where, but trust me you won't...and who will when you are gone?!)

It was good that I had my mom around to help because she was able to tell me who many of the people where and give me a general idea of when the photos might have been taken! I also emailed many photos to my uncle so he could help me identify people and places and years! Between the two of them I was able to identify and date almost every picture! 

I never actually wrote that information ON the original photo, but rather used "sticky" notes until the photos were transferred onto acid free paper! Then I wrote the information on the page so that some day others would be able to easily identify the person and year the photo was taken!

Some did have the original handwritten information on the back so I used my color printer to scan the backs onto acid free paper, printed and cut it out and then attached it with the photo so that others could see what was on the back without having to dislodge the photo. It was amazing to actually see (and preserve) the hand writing of my ancestors!

I know my Great-Grandmother Furr-Tucker was born in I know this photo was taken in 1910...but I probably should write that on the page for future generations!

ALWAYS store photos on acid free paper. You can buy it in bulk at your local office supply store. MAKE SURE it specifically says it is ACID FREE or is specifically for archiving! This is important! 

Also, if you choose to use photo albums, always make sure the pockets or sleeves are "acid free" or "archival safe." And PLEASE, PLEASE take all the photos you put in to those "magnetic" albums out immediately..they will destroy your pictures over time!

I attached some of the photos onto the acid free paper with just a tiny piece of double sided acid free tape and some with the little acid free "corners" you can pick up at the craft store! 

After attaching the photos and writing what information I had about the picture on the paper, I scanned every single page. Yes...EVERY SINGLE PAGE! The great thing about this was I was able to make CDs for family members. Now everyone in the family has high resolution digital copies of every single picture and the information about the photo! And again, if by some disaster the original photos and albums are destroyed, we have digital copies of it all.

I slipped each page into acid free clear pockets. Again, you can find these at your local office supply store! 

Then I put all of them into "family" albums and labeled the albums .... dad's family in the blue's in the burgundy. 

The last albums are photos of my mom and dad together...from the time of their marriage, throughout their lives together, until my father's death. Years ago I "scrapbooked" my personal childhood photos (again, we didn't take many back then) so I already had my personal photos properly stored! 

For years my mother was active in the local theater. I put together an album of all her plays. Play bills, photos, scripts, etc. 

I was able to purchase "accordion" style acid free clear pockets for things like newspaper clippings, old maps, letters, brochures, certificates, etc...anything I did not want to actually "attach" to paper or was just too bulky. I just slipped them into a clear pocket and they stored easily in the binders without damaging the original item! 

I actually found a box of old slides of my mother when she was younger. Slides can be printed and the quality of the photos are AMAZING!!! True treasures! If you have a box of old slides, take them to a photography store and have them printed! It allows you to enjoy the picture without having to find (good luck) an old slide projector! Same with the old 8 mm can have that transferred onto a DVD. I found an old 8 mm reel of my parents at my baby shower and a few minutes of me as a of my parents and me 50+ years ago...incredible! 

It is important to properly archive old family photos and momentos. I found that much of the stuff just thrown into boxes had begun to discolor and degrade. Storing them on acid free paper in acid free pockets in a climate controlled area (like a closet or pantry, NOT the attic) should preserve them for decades! 

I also scanned every one of my grandmother's old handwritten recipe cards and I have them on my computer. SOMEDAY I hope to print and share my grandmother's handwritten recipe cards...someday!

Years ago, people actually hand wrote wrote down the information they wanted to share with others, put it in an envelope and actually MAILED it. No emails, no texts, no twits, no Facebook PMs...just old fashion snail mail. It is a lost art...and as a result we are losing the written history of our families.

I found hundreds of letters my grandmother, great-grandmother and others had written to each other dating from the 1940s into the 1980s! (I suspect that is because long distance calling was no longer as expensive) I spent HOURS at Office Depot copying all the letters and envelopes. Copying the envelope with the letter is important because it may be the only way to date the letter.

Then I organized the letters chronologically and put the copies into binders. I stored the original letters in an acid free box. It was amazing to read what my Great Grandmother wrote about the shooting of JFK in Dallas...where they lived at the time. My Grandmother's accounting of her life while raising my uncles in Germany during the 60s. And the letters she sent back to the states when the family toured Europe during the 50s, just a decade after my Grandfather served there during World War II. Amazing history of my was better reading than any novel!

It always makes me sad to see old family photos and letters at flea markets, auctions and antique stores...historical family documents that should have been preserved by the family. While they are nifty "vintage" photos and letters for you to decorate and craft with, they are someone's sad no one in their family bothered to preserve them!

Old family photos are great for decorating and craft projects. But with today's technology there is no reason to destroy an old family photo or letter by slathering it with can make an exact photo copy by scanning the photo or letter and then preserve the original! 

The technology we have today opens a whole world for decorating and crafting....but it is important to use it to preserve our family history as well!