How to Preserve Your Old Family Photo Albums

Old brown photo albums on tabletop

My mother in-law Evelyn was living with dementia for the last few years of her life. We were grateful to have her for as long as we did, and sharing photos with her as a form of pRT (photo reminiscence therapy) was an activity we all enjoyed doing together.

The old family photo albums were on my mind as we cleared her home out after her passing. My husband Chris and I volunteered to take care of the oldest albums in the collection. There were a dozen, ranging from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Once home, we reviewed one of the older ones. You may have seen this sort of old family album: scrapbook style, with old leather cover and black paper pages. There were some photo corners holding the images, but some were glued down. And white ink captions written in my Evelyn’s neat handwriting.

Sadly, we don’t know the stories behind many of the photos in the book.  This is one reason why I urge readers and clients to share and preserve their family stories before it’s too late!

We’re taking the same approach to processing and preserving the family photo albums as we would with a client:

– First, we’ll decide which pages and images we want to scan (in this case, all of them!)

– We’ll scan each entire page and then scan each individual photo (or letters, postcards, or other meaningful documents). By scanning each full page (as well as the backs of any photos with writing on them), we’ll capture any metadata. This is critical to telling any family stories. Metadata can provide clues who the unknown people are in the photos.

– After scanning, we’ll create a digital photo library in the cloud to share. Ideally, someone will have more information about the photos we know nothing about, and we can add it to the metadata that travels with the digital file. We’ll also have a digital version of the printed family photo album.

– From there, we will reproduce the album using one of our preferred photo book vendors. Once designed, we can have it printed and share multiple copies with family members.

– We’ll safely store the original album in archival materials. The book will be placed in a photo-safe plastic enclosure and stored in a metal edged box. Archival tissue paper will surround the album so it doesn’t move around. This way it’ll be preserved for many decades, safe from heat, dust and water.

Remember – your family photos and albums like to live in comfortable temperatures – not attics or basements or garages – so storing in closets is a suitable solution. And keeping the originals safely intact means you also have an analog backup.