Preserving My Family Photographs

By Maureen A. Taylor

When I decided to write a book on preserving photographs, I needed examples. For months I visited antique shops and photo shows looking for really damaged pictures. As you might expect, there was no shortage of problem images.

As the oldest child, I’ve inherited our family photo collection from my mother, so now it’s time to put into practice all the things I’ve been teaching. Preservation is about more than just taking care of the photos—it also involves digitizing them and saving their stories. I thought you’d like to know what I’ve been doing:

  • I started by maintaining the original order of the photos just in case Mom mixed up some of Dad’s pictures in the boxes. I wanted to be careful not to confuse photos from both sides of the family. My Mom had boxes of pictures, but Dad only had one large envelope.
  • My first step was to scan all the pictures as 600 dpi (dots per inch) tiff files so that if something happened to the originals, I’d still have a high-quality scan. Having a digital file makes it easier to share photos with family too.
  • I invested in some additional acid- and lignin-free boxes and non-pvc plastic sleeves.
  • Last winter, I sat with Mom and recorded her talking about the photos. We got another chance to do that this weekend. A cousin inherited another box of pictures passed down in the family from my mother’s oldest sister. This month, that cousin sent me a few of them. Thankfully, someone identified all the family members in them. My Mom took care of naming all the unrelated folks for me. There were neighbors and friends in some of the pictures.
  • Now that I know who’s who, I’ll use a combination of old-fashioned filing and computer keywords to organize the lot.

These are a few basic tips for saving family photos. There’s more information in my book Preserving Your Family Photographs, including details on dealing with those sticky “magnetic” album pages and taking care of negatives.

Next week I’ll tackle a photo identification mystery of a man in a badly damaged picture.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album