Friday, January 22, 2016

Digitizing and Saving Your Family History Photographs

So, you have inherited a box (or boxes) of family photos and have no idea what to do with them.  They seem old and may be of interest to someone, and you feel like you shouldn’t toss them.  What to do!

First and foremost, go through them.  Each photograph tells a story of someone in a moment in time.  If you are lucky, there will be a name, date and location of where the picture was taken written on the back of the photo.  If there isn’t, don’t panic.  There are a few ways you may be able to deduct who is in the picture.  But we will get to that later.

1.    Sort the photos.  Divide the pictures by time period if you can.  If you come across extremely old photos, like tintypes, you most definitely want to set them apart from all other modern pictures.  Are there theme photos such as family reunions, school pictures or even homesteads?  If so, you can sort that way, too. 

John and Mary Lackey Homestead, Alexander, North Carolina. Built circa 1865.
2.    Identify.  If the photo has a name, date and location on the back, you are lucky!  Too often when we take pictures, we think we will recall names and dates.  The truth of the matter is, we don’t.  However, if you come across a picture of your grandfather, and you know it is a photo of your grandfather, then with pencil write his name on the back of the photo.  Unless you were there when the picture was taken, or you took the picture, you really can’t date the photo.  But you can comment “circa 1950” or something indicating the time period.  If you only “think” you know who the person is, do not write anything on the back of the photo.

Corvisant Wilson with her husband William Hobbs and their children, Tom and Vassar.
3.    Digitize.  Life happens.  Houses flood.  Summer humidity.  People move and forget the boxes in the attic.  If you digitize your family photos and save them on a thumb drive, you will have preserved your family’s photo history for generations to come.  Currently, there are several ways to digitally save your photos:  Dropbox, Trunx, Instagram, or simply on a thumb drive.  If you use a thumb drive, make certain you make that drive distinctive from other thumb drives you are using and place it where you can grab it should you have a house emergency, such as a fire.  (We keep ours in a safe.)

4.    Share.  Any photos you have decided not to keep safe in an album, you should share with other family members.  Perhaps take the extra photos to a family reunion or next gathering with your immediate family.  This would also be a great time to take the pictures you can’t identify and see if there is anyone who can tell you who the photos are about and the stories behind them.

5.    Toss.  Sometimes it is okay to toss out photos.  Photographs of someone’s vacation are not typically something you want to preserve, unless there are some once in a lifetime events in those photos.  (ie. Great Granddad touring Russia or one of your parents visiting the Berlin Wall.)  Keep photos that have meaning and memories for you.

Granddaddy Franklin E. Watts.  Snake found while working as a lineman in West Palm Beach, Florida.

6.    Storing.  For the photos you have chosen to keep, think about placing them in a safe album.  If you have numerous albums that must be stored in boxes, make certain they are kept in a dry area free from humidity to avoid mold.  I recently heard about placing rice in cheesecloth in your photo boxes.  The rice will absorb the humidity and keep your photos safe from moisture. 

Who Are These People?

          If you cannot identify a person in the photo, you can do a photo comparison.  Take the photo of the older person and compare it to a photo of a younger person.  Depending on the timeframe of the pictures, you might be able to discern if the man in each picture is the same person in a different time of life.

          Still can’t place a name with the face?  Share on Social Media.  There are sites such as that will allow you to upload pictures of unknown individuals for others to see and perhaps identify.

Sorting, digitizing and preserving family photos can take time.  Remember to start small.  Only pull out what you feel you can accomplish and put away in one hour.  Slowly but surely you will accomplish this project and be pleased that you were able to share these memories with other people.

Keep in mind:  History Not Shared Is History Lost!