Question of the Week: How do you document, preserve, and share your photos? How do you store your originals?

+26 votes
How do you document, preserve, and share your photos? How do you store your originals?
in The Tree House by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (38.1k points)
I preserve in many ways beginning with albums, scans and boxes more to do.  So many photos, so little time.

Some important originals I have in a personal safe inside my house.
I scan everything I can get my hands on.  Then I try to keep all the originals in a bank box.  It is dry and dark and I have them in acid free materials.  So far I have a great bunch of originals.  I also make books of my family history.  Most of the ink in my books never fades, like the colored photo's sometimes do.  So it keeps them good for a long while.  I give the books to my family as gifts so that there are a lot of copies in the family.

10 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer
As a professional photographer of 40 years I have worked on many photo preservation and restoration projects.  I scan the original image or film material at a high resolution on a flat bed scanner and reduce file size thereafter in the photo editing program "The Gimp" dependent on the needed application.  The original prints and film materials are stored in acid free slip covers in a cool, dry and dark environment.
by Janet Scott G2G Crew (920 points)
selected by Deborah Collier
+10 votes
Good subject.  I can't claim, however, to be a paragon of virture on the subject.  I have several banker boxes of genalogical photos but I've really not made any attempts to scan them all in or protect them.  Unfortunately a few years ago we had a ffood when a toilet water closet cracked And one of the boxes on the bottom tier in the room next door got wet and I lost some old photos.  I'd like to say I learned from the experience, but they're still in the boxes.  I suppose the best thing to protect this particular damage from happening again would be to put the pictures in plastic bags and then in the boxes.  Anyone have any suggestions as to what sort of plastic bags to use?
by Dave Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (411k points)

Dave, this might help.

Also, don't always assume photos are lost unless they are blank. I volunteer at Operation Photo rescue, a non profit organisation run entirely by volunteers and we restore damaged photos affected by hurricanes, floods etc for free..

All my photos are scanned, repaired and on dvd's & cloud. Originals are stored in a wooden chest.


I read somewhere that you can send/take your photos (for a fee of course) and have them all digitized. Might be something to consider...
I have found that digitised and categorised photos makes my life an absolute pleasure, especially when you get a message from someone that says "...can you remember those photos yous took?....can you send them to me, I can't find mine..."

As far as my physical photos are concerned? In a plastic bag, in another plastic bag, currently in the study...hopefully soon in a watertight chest or container of some sort....
+11 votes
Great question.

I had boxes and boxes of photos, so hubby and I decided to scan them and categorized them and afterwards I made copies on cd's and gave one to each of my brother and sisters.  Then I brought the pictures to them.  Now I am free of pictures.....and we are a one happy family....
by Lise Rodrigue G2G6 Mach 1 (12.5k points)
I'd copy those CD files onto hard drives of some sort like a USB stick before CD players become extinct and/or the CDs oxidize.

Vincent's right - Kurt Gerecke (physicist and storage expert at IBM Deutschland GmbH) reported that burned CD's will eventually degrade, regardless of how they are stored. He stated that you should migrate your data to new storage technologies as they become available.

Kurt, thank you so very much, I will download them into a hard drive...

Best regards...Lise
+7 votes
I am in the process of scanning all of my non digital photos into my computer. I then give the original and at least one reprint to other family members along with duplicating the scanned images onto another storage device for safer storage. I also store some of the more important one's online on sites like facebook and WikiTree. This is a constantly evolving process so I have some stored on CD's, USB sticks, and even some SD cards, micro and standard. For my digital images that I now take with my camera, I download them to my computer but also leave them on the card that the camera uses, replacing that card when it becomes mostly full. I also will give prints to others who may want them and upload some of the others to the above mentioned sites as well as others that I use.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
I like the idea of saving the digital card from the camera - never thought of that! Thanks!
They are not that expensive and easy to store. I believe in saving things in as many places as I can to reduce the odds that they will be lost. I also buy only the micro SD cards with the SD adapter so that they can be used in my smart phones and tablets as well.
I'm just starting out tracing back our family tree, but I like the idea of giving copies to other family members & storing on multiple storage devices. I'll have to invest in a couple USB sticks and maybe give copies to my sister. Maybe I can interest her in working on this project/journey with me :)
+12 votes

I found this amazing article on Family History Daily ( written by Jodi Bash, Genealogist and Master of History from Texas that I am brazenly going to share it with you:

I call this the Sorting/Scanning/Sharing Article that saved my sanity!  

I love creating a digitized family tree to share with family but more importantly, she points out that before you decide to throw out ANYTHING you should consider donating or selling it (i.e. yearbooks, certificates, crumbling letters, artifacts).

I'm totally in favor of making sure there are multiple, correctly sourced copies of our precious family history available to future generations.  That being said - THANK YOU Wikitree for giving those of us who are obsessed with genealogy a FREELY accessible website to store and share photos, documents, and most importantly - traditions and memories from our ancestors - with the world!

by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (38.1k points)
edited by Deborah Collier
+9 votes
After inheriting EVERY single piece of scrap paper (bank deposit slips with names and dates scribbled on them), photo's and memorabilia of my Grand Parents? I sort through the many, many Rubbermaid containers sealed in the basement and scan them as I go. It's an ongoing process.

When my Mother-in-law downsized the family decided to scan all of her Photo's and post them to a cloud. Now everyone has access to all our family photo's. New events have been added to them as well. AND the photo's themselves are in the basement in Rubbermaid containers. Next to all my other Rubbermaid containers.

by Mags Gaulden G2G6 Pilot (586k points)
Please do not trust Cloud storage as a long term archive for family photos,  It is an insecure method in several ways.  Keep copies of the photo files on cd's for each family member in the safe or safety deposit box.
+7 votes
I am in the process of digitising all my photos.  Key points for me are cataloguing and backup.

1. If I can't retrieve the photo easily then I may as well not digitise it.  So I've been using Adobe's Lightroom program to catalogue the photos, using a consistent directory structure, filename (yyyy-mm-dd names of key people or event) and appropriate EXIF keywords and description.

2. Four-level backup to protect when (not if) the disc fails: daily copy to a separate directory on the laptop; weekly copy to Mac time machine in the study; monthly copy to another Mac time machine in a different part of the house; 3-monthly copy to an off-site Mac time machine.

3. Yearly I copy critical images to a DVD and send to 3 family members, one of whom lives on the other side of the world.

I keep all originals in acid-free sleeves and pouches in a cool dark part of the house.

Is this safe?  I'm not convinced but hope this enough.
by John Jameson G2G Crew (410 points)
+3 votes

My apologies for the fire references, but Life Happens.

My storage is practical. After helping to clean out my mother's house after a whole house fire, and then many years later, my own, I learned several very basic, but important facts.

Metal warps, and even melts. A whole house fire is incredibly hot. Metals run and pool like water. Plastic melts. Plastic bags melt and dissolve into hot droplets that are toxic and that eat even tintypes. The plastic hangers in your closets will dissolve and drip on anything below them. The top shelves in closets are miniature ovens and all there will be ash. Your computer equipment will be eaten by the fire, and if it survives by odd circumstance as mine in the basement did, it will eat itself slowly but surely, due to the chemicals added to the fire hose water that help to stop the fire.

The safest place for any storage of critical documents is in a tight fitting, tight closing wood chest or drawers. The wood swells when the firemen shoot water into the house, creating sealed storage. The wood needs to be actual lumber made, not laminated wood that warps and has glue that will dissolve or create fumes. The fumes eat your photos and papers.

The wood should be close to 1 inch or 3 cm thick. Hardwood if possible.
I had purchased 3 or 4 second hand college dorm desks from a University, and my children used them. I stored photos in the bottom drawer of mine, in my kitchen. Those desks were thick, and designed to take generations of college students abusing them. The documents and photos inside the solid wood drawers at the lowest level survived the fire that even melted the cast iron cookware in the same room.

Just as had happened at my mother's, anything in the open, in closets, and above 2 feet above the floor was forever burned, and in ashes. Anything within 2 feet of the floor, but raised at least 3 inches / 10 cm survived both the fire and the flood of water.

Waxed wood works better than lacquered.

If the document, photo, or item is important to you or your family, then treat it with the care it deserves.

Nothing plastic, synthetic or metal will survive a fire unscathed. Thick hard wood is stronger than steel, longer lasting, and safer. If an item needs more protection, place it in a tight fitting wood box within the wood chest. Metal safes pop open in a whole house fire. 

If you store in a concrete room, be sure it is truly sealed, with a tight fitting solid wood door. and above the outside water table. The water from the fire hoses will go down into any basement or cellar.

And lastly, use only acid free paper between photos. The old fashioned true acid free black album paper or artist grade acid free paper work well. 

I am actually looking for old library card catalogs, and more of the birch university desks. If I am lucky enough to find them, I will, with great love, find a spot in my home, and my photos will once again be safe. Until then, they are in the thickest wood chest I have.

We were lucky enough to survive, and the whole family got out. Everything else is second. I can honestly tell you I didn't cry over the house. I didn't cry over the furniture or electronics. I cried over loosing the small keepsakes from my parents, and over loosing more than half of my family's photos from over 150 years. And yes, I admit it, I cried that the handwritten notes in the family bible were gone forever, as well as the Senteney Haney Reunion notebook with over 150 years of notes.

So, Take digital photos of the photos, scan them, share them, post them on web pages and pass on their history with Joy. Life Happens! But if you need to save them, store them in thick hardwood, and forget the plastic.




by Sherry Bartlett G2G6 Mach 2 (28.4k points)
+4 votes
I have about 20 acid free shoe boxes with names on outside and everytime I find a picture, I scan and post it on my tree and if they've died, to Find A Grave.  This way if something should happen to them they are out there for those who follow.  If I don't know the name of the person, I post it under who had the picture in their collection.  I've had good luck doing it this way.  Anything old that family members have I borrow and return.   They are also at Shutterfly so if someone wants a copy they can order.
by Carole Alden G2G4 (4.7k points)
+1 vote
I've been slowly trying to scan in all the photos. As for the originals I have currently purchased archival boxes per line to put the photos and documents in to organize them better. Plus, in the hopes it'll help future generations know what they may be looking at. :)
by Charlotte Shockey G2G6 Pilot (948k points)

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