Save Your Photos Month: Preserving Old Family Albums

Old brown photo albums on tabletop

It’s Save Your Photos Month! In this post I’ll share how we are preserving our old family albums.

In my last newsletter, I wrote about how my husband Chris’s mom is now in a senior care facility, where she’s living with dementia. Thankfully she seems quite content – and we’ve enjoyed sharing photos with her as a form of pRT (photo reminiscence therapy).

The old family albums were on my mind as we cleared her home out recently. 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, black paper pages, with photo corners holding the images, and white ink captions written by the album owner.

Sadly, we don’t know the stories behind many of the photos in the book, which have a heavy focus on Chris’s father (now deceased, as are all of his father’s siblings). 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 this family album 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.

– From there, we will reproduce the scrapbook 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 photos 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.