Recently, after my mother moved from the old family house I became the proud owner of all the family photo albums.

I was lucky enough that my grandmother and my mother would put their pictures into albums fairly quickly, because not that long ago, it was very expensive to get photos printed.  There was not usually that many per event.  But still, after decades they do accumulate.  Many had fallen out of albums after being taped in with disintegrating sticky tape and many of the albums had seen better days.

There were also loads of envelopes of many pictures that had not made it into albums, and I really did want to preserve our family history.  At family gatherings we would get these albums out and reminisce over past events, so they did get somewhat abused and I wanted to save them from any more wear and tear.

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Best Way to Organize Old Photos - My Personal Journey

Step 1 – This has to be broken down into steps, as it is a big job, but can turn into a very enjoyable and absorbing project.  I thoroughly enjoyed sorting these old pictures and you definitely cannot be in a rush.  It is a worthwhile project that the family can get involved in.  It can take you away from stress as you take a walk down memory lane.

Step 2 – Dedicate an Area.  Now that you have decided that maybe you can dedicate a couple of hours a week to this project, you will not feel as stressed about it.  You need to dedicate an area to carry out this project, so that you can leave your supplies out.  At the very least a desk or a table and keep the albums, boxes, and pictures off the floor, in case of dampness which is a photographs worst enemy!

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Step 3 – Play Investigator – Start with a handful of pictures from an envelope or box, and see if you recognize any of the people.  Check on the back for dates, some developing companies would date the pictures.  See if anyone in the pictures is wearing the same outfits, this way you know it is from the same event.

Talk to any living relatives that might remember the people and then document.  Were these pictures together for an event, or were they just random?  Start with just a small handful, photo album or envelope and you will not feel overwhelmed.  Don’t stare at the huge pile left to go, you will get to it, and you will get quicker at it as you dive deeper and recognize faces.

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Step 4 – Sort by dates, people, or events to begin with.  This is a great place to start, this way you have different piles and can then dig deeper to separate even more. 

Step 5 – Scan the Photos into your Computer as a backup as you go and label them with the event, people and date if you can.  You can usually scan at least 4 at a time maybe more.  You could also leave this job until the end if you want the digital versions to be in some kind of order.  Just don’t forget to do this step.  It is your backup in case anything happens to the physical photographs.

This is also a great way to send copies to other family members who may remember certain people that maybe you don’t.  If you have any older living relatives, you can involve them to find out who is who.  When I got my grandmother’s albums I was unsure of who other people were in the pictures, but my mother who is now 83 was able to fill in the blanks for me.  Many of the older pictures had fallen out of albums and were not always labeled.  My mother labeled all her photos which made my job easier.

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Step 6 – Start the process of storage.  Once sorted, how are you going to store your precious photographs?  You can get photo boxes, which are a quick way to store certain events, or people or eras separated by index cards.  Do you want them to be seen?  In which case they need to go into good quality albums that you can invest in and keep them all the same style of album so that you can date the spine and keep on a book shelf for easy access. 

I personally have a cabinet that is dedicated now to these precious memories. 

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Step 7 – Invest in some frames to frame any photographs that are important to you to display on the wall.  Why leave them in a box or album?  You could create a History Wall.  You can even take damaged old pictures to camera shops that can touch up and repair photos especially if you want to frame them.  

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Organizing Old Photographs can be Fun and Rewarding!

This can give you a glimpse into your family history and heritage and they deserve to be preserved.  These people went to the trouble of taking these pictures during times when it was very expensive to get developed. If you preserve them in new albums (without sticky tape) acid free photo boxes, or on the wall, you will stop the disintegration as many people store these in the basement or garage which is very sad.

Yes it is a big project depending on how many photos you have, but it is well worth it.  In many cases I found it was necessary to ditch the old album and keep the photos as the pages were not acid free back then and had gone very yellow.  I kept any of the pages that had hand writing on them, but otherwise transferred them to more robust, acid free photo albums, which you can get online, photo stores and more.  No point in keeping an album that is falling apart.

You can do this a bit at a time.  Don’t rush it.  Start with storage boxes and index cards until you feel they have all been organized and sorted as close as you can to dates, events and people.  Make notes of who they are and the date in your albums, or online so you always have a record for future generations.

Create a CD for Family as Christmas Gifts

I took all the sorted photographs and scanned them and then created a CD which I then copied and sent to family members with an index page as well that showed the dates, events and people.  They very much appreciated it as Christmas gifts.

At family gatherings we still get out these albums to remember old times, especially with people who are no longer with us. 

Get started now, the next generation will appreciate the hard work you have done in preserving memories.