So where are your most-loved pictures right now? Tucked in boxes with other memorabilia? Hung in frames on the wall? Sandwiched between the pages of old albums? Stored in a cold, dark and musty basement or hot, humid attic? If so, those images of your ancestors are prematurely aging, but don’t lose hope. You can intervene now to rescue and preserve those photos in four simple steps.
1. Fix harmful storage.
Finally, unless framed photos have been matted with archival materials and framed behind UV-protected acrylic or glass, they need to be reframed. Open frames carefully, watching for sharp glass edges, staples or tiny nails. If a frame doesn’t open easily or the photo appears to be stuck to the glass, take it to a professional framer for assistance. After the frame is open, remove photos carefully: Use a knife to slice any tape (instead of tearing it) that connects photos to backing or mats. Again, copy or scan pictures before attempting any action that might damage them. Remove cardboard or chipboard backing and mats that have yellowed, acid-burned edges. Gently remove adhesive from the back of photos if possible. If not, be careful to avoid stacking them.
2. Cull, label and organize.
Now you’re ready to put your pictures in order. First, select those that are really worth saving. “Archivists know better than anyone that you can’t keep everything,” Jacobs says. “Resources are limited. Space is limited.”
Once photos are labeled, organize them. If they were already organized in their previous-but-unsafe box or album, you may just want to return them to that configuration. If you’re rearranging them, Jacobs suggests a chronological order. “If you don’t know the exact date, chances are you can guess at the decade.”
For tips on identifying the decade based on clothing, hairstyles and other clues, see Maureen A. Taylor’s Photo Detective blog at familytreemagazine.com/blogs to narrow the time period of your family’s photos.
3. Duplicate the images.
Remember that technology changes quickly. Your TIFF files on a CD or flash drive may be readable today, but not on the computer you’ll own in 10 years or on the tablet you already own. “Files need to be migrated, checked and updated,” Jacobs says. Watch for new digital storage options to become industry norms, and then update your photos to those formats.
4. Preserve and store.
If you live in an area prone to flooding, hurricanes or other water dangers, temporary plastic bins during the wet season can be a good solution. But for long-term storage, put photos in something breathable—not sealed plastic.
These steps won’t reverse signs of aging on photos that are already damaged: UV damage and crumbling from acidity are permanent. But this four-step intervention will slow the effects of time on your pictures. With this kind of loving care, your ancestors’ faces will look great in photos for generations to come.
- archival paper storage boxes
- archival photo box or album
- archival polyester photo sleeves
- archival tissue
- external hard drive or online digital photo backup service
- extra soft No. 1 pencil or Stabilo All pencil
- photo frames with UV-filtering acrylic or glass
- photo scanner
- white cotton gloves (optional)