Organizing and Preserving Photographs & Documents

Just about every day I get a phone call from someone asking me how they can go about preserving and organizing photographs, slides, prints or documents.

Some of these items are 100 years old, some are even older!!! Many people don’t want to destroy them but they have no idea what they should do with them. Some people have thousands of old photos and documents to organize.

I would like to talk about what you can do to organize your family pictures and documents. Whether that be the last 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, or even older.

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Organizing

When you start it can seem like a task that will never end. Looking through boxes and boxes, and albums upon albums of photos and documents can be overwhelming.

Many people call wanting to know if they should digitize their photos and documents? Others want to know if they should print extra copies of their photos? Others want to know whether they should just destroy the photos and documents?

So here is what I suggest. Whether you are facing the task of organizing your photos and documents, your parents, or even your great-great-grandparents.

First things first

The first thing that I strongly suggest is try to get as much information on the photos as you can. DO THIS NOW!! This way you know who’s in the pictures. It is important to do this before the older generation passes away or forgets.

Once information has been lost it is impossible to find out who’s in each image or why that document was important.

What should you keep?

Now sort the photos and documents. One pile that you want to keep and another pile of those that are not worth keeping. The ones that you may not want to keep can be pictures that you don’t know who’s in them. Documents of people you do now know. Pictures of places that you do not recognize, or even duplicates of pictures or documents. Really you do not need five pictures of a wedding 100 years ago that are all the same people at the same place.

Once you have sorted them into two piles then go through each pile once more. The toss pile to make sure that you did not toss something important. The keep pile to make sure that they are all keepers.

Once you have everything sorted then digitize the important ones. Getting photos and documents digitized will ensure that they stop fading. Will prevent more damage and all your memories will be saved in one spot.

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Share your memories with family

Digitizing your photos also allows you to easily share the digital files with other members of your family. Digitized photos are also a great gift idea! You can get extra USB sticks made to give away!

Keep the prints!

I strongly recommend that you also keep the prints and printed documents of ALL the important items. For several reasons. Technology changes fast!! Digital files can get corrupted!! It can be a pain to have to start your computer to look at your history!

Digital files help in a lot of ways but it’s also important to make sure that you have printed copies.

IMPORTANT – when copying your memories

When you’re copying any photograph or document never, ever use a photocopier to make copies of a photo. A photocopy actually destroys the quality of a photo. Get a REAL photo print of your photos!!!

Organizing and Preserving Photographs & Documents – Cont’d

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A digitized photo will allow you to share with family!

Back in an album

Once you have the photos digitized I recommend putting the important pictures back in an album or two. When you do this include the information about the photos.

Writing out a 4×6 recipe card, or printing one off the computer, is a great way to keep information with the photos. Put in date, names, places so that future generations

When you put the pictures in an album I recommend that you also put a USB stick or even an external hard drive with the printed photos. This way all your memories are in one spot.

Keep your files safe

When you get your memories digitized you should make sure that you have a copy of the files stored at other places. Store a copy with other members of the family. Keep a USB stick or external hard drive at work. Then if you ever have a flood, fire, or any damage happens to your house the digital files are stored off site keeping them safe. If your originals get damaged then you can use the digital files to reprint your memories.

Disposing of your unwanted photos

Organizing and preserving photographs can also mean you toss some of those photos. If you have photos that you cannot figure out who the people are, or they are duplicates, you will probably end up tossing some.

I strongly recommend if any of your pictures has something historic to them, like a picture of Waterton townsite, Cameron falls, a city like Lethbridge or town like Fort MacLeod, a train, a plane, etc. I ask that you contact your local historical society or museum to see if they would be interested in these pictures.

The pictures may not mean a lot to you as your family is not in the picture, but they can be a significant find for a historical society or a museum.

Just the other day I had a family bring me in a picture of Waterton that was shot back in the early 1900s. It was amazing to see the buildings and the people that were there. It would be something that a historical society or museum would love to have in their archives.

So before you toss those photos that show scenery, towns or cities please take a minute to see if anybody would like them.

If you are looking to get your photos digitized I would be honored to help.

2 thoughts on “Organizing and Preserving Photographs & Documents”

  1. Thanks for this information. We have an old, short home movie titled Maple Leafs at Riverside park. It was filmed by Scotty Rankine of Preston. We have no idea what is on it, but feel it may be important to keep.

    We also have the 1938 Australian Empire games team trip on some old film that we haven’t been able to verify. We wrote the Canadian Museum of History several months ago, but heard no response. So we have this stuff that we want to tidy up, but are at a loss on what to do with it.

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