Family History Home: Saving Magnetic Photo Albums

By Denise May Levenick Premium

1. Be proactive.

Made from cheap polyvinyl chloride plastic sheets and high-acid cardboard pages, these magnetic photo albums create a toxic chamber. Plastic gases speed up photo deterioration and damage, causing color to fade and paper to become yellow and brittle. Don’t let your family memories fester any longer!

2. Take photos of the album.

Before doing anything else, preserve the context of the album by taking page-by-page photos of the entire book with your smartphone. Include the front and back covers and any loose items, and capture notes and captions that might help identify unknown relatives and events. Remember to back up photos to your desktop computer, and send another copy to cloud storage.

3. Organize your digital pictures.

Instead of individual names, use a simple standard filename with sequential numbers to maintain the page order of the book. For example, smith-wedding-album_1954_001, smith-wedding-album_1954_002, etc. Create a “master image set” to help you read captions and see the photos in context.

4. Carefully remove images from the album.

Now that you’ve photographed the album’s pages, examine them to decide if photos can be safely removed. Conservators generally don’t recommend freezing, using solvents or melting the wax to free photos from the page. Instead, loosen the print from the page with a microspatula, a small tool with a thin blunt blade, available from Gaylord Archival. If the plastic page is stuck to the print, don’t attempt to remove the image.

5. Scan high-res versions of the photos.

Scan individual photos on a flatbed scanner with a resolution of 600 DPI for prints at full color. If available, use your scanner’s color restoration feature to automatically correct colors that have shifted or faded over time. A photo-scanning app on your mobile device (such as QromaScan, which uses voice recognition to add captions and other metadata to images) can be a fast alternative. For best results, use a tripod or photo stand to keep your smartphone level and steady during the photo shoot. If possible, save files in the archival TIF format. Create JPG copies for emailing to relatives, sharing and printing.

6. Store your photos.

Preserve individual photos that you’ve removed from the album in an acid-free box, or reassemble them in a new archival-quality album that has acid-free pages. Purchase archival materials from a reputable dealer such as Gaylord or Hollinger. If photos have residual wax on them, use acid-free paper between prints to keep them from sticking together.

7. Create a new photo book.

Upload your photos to an online photo-book creation service, such as Shutterfly or Snapfish. Select a book size and style close to the original then select your image as a “full bleed” photo to fill the entire page. Remember to include the covers. Add an information page with your name and contact information, and a short history about the book itself and the person who created it.

8. Write it down.

Save the story of your family photo album by writing down a short heirloom history to record the creator’s name and why the album was assembled. Include a note about the total years included in the book (e.g., “1965 through 1982”). Add an index of people, places and events, and keep a copy with the photos for later reference.

A version of this article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Family Tree Magazine.