How To Organize Old Photos?

By | March 28, 2017

Your photographs form a huge part of your family history that connects to your family’s past. But do you know how to organize old photos that maybe spread all over your home? You will want to put them in order so that you can preserve your ancestry and pass it onto your descendants. This post will concentrate on ways that you can organize your old photos, so please read on.

Organize Old Photos

Gather your old family photos first!

Your old family photographs may be dotted all around your home, in different rooms, up in the attic or down in the basement. They may be in boxes or bags, in a drawer or in envelopes. You may have some already framed or they maybe out loose gathering dust.

Before you can even think about organizing your old photos you will need to find them all first to see what you have got. To add to your photo collection you could enlist the help of your relatives.

Interviewing your relatives is a great way to not only learn about your family history but also gather more photos of your ancestors. So once you have gathered all of your photos try asking your relatives for help as well.

Cleaning your photographs!

One more step to take before you can even start thinking about organizing your photos is just to give them a clean. Please wash your hands first.

You don’t want to be transferring any oils White Glovesor residues from your hands to your photographs. This will damage them of course so make sure your hands are free of any dirt before you start cleaning.

Using a microfibre cloth is the preferred choice as it will lift the dust from the photographs and not leave anything on them. You maybe surprised to learn that you don’t even need to wear white gloves for this stage.

Wearing gloves will only slow you down as you won’t be able to handle your photos so well as not wearing any. Also, you may even bend the photos by wearing gloves. As long as you have washed your hands thoroughly then this will suffice.


My Way of Organizing My Photo Collection

By now you have spent considerable time on the initial stages of preserving your old family photo collection. You have searched your home for your photos and maybe asked your relatives for help. You have also made sure that they are in good condition to be scanned and saved as digitise files.

Organize Your Photographs

You are now ready for organizing your photos!

Your photo collection is important to you. You therefore want to prepare yourself for this stage. Getting your photos ready will save you headaches later on. If new photos surface then you will need to reorganize your collection.

Of course there is always the possibility that new photos will come into your possession over time. These may come from relatives who have just discovered that they had them, or you may find some tucked away in your home. But if you can find them all now before you begin then it will make your life easier for you.

As this will be a big project you may want some entertainment playing thin the background. This could be your favorite radio station, your favorite songs, or maybe the TV. You do not want to get bored while organizing your photos so having something in the background will help pass the time.

Yes, yes I know I’m digressing, so let’s begin!

I want to share with you my way of how I organized my photo collection. There are many ways though that you can do this and you may wish to do this your own way. I just wanted to show you how I did it, and if you think it works best for you then please follow my advice.

I have separated my family history research into different folders on my computer. These folders contain records and documents for each branch of my tree. So for each branch there is a different folder.

I therefore took the same approach with my old family photo collection!

By now you have separated your photos into different family groups. Now you can separate them further by putting together all the photos for each ancestor.

The last step in my approach is simple. You now put the photos of each  ancestor into chronological order. Try to find the earliest photo of your ancestor, this maybe a picture of him or her when they were a baby or a small child. Then you can work through the years.

The 3 steps to organize your family photo collection:

  1. Separate them into different branches of your family.
  2. Collect photos for each individual ancestor.
  3. Put the photos into chronological order from earliest photo onwards.

What If My Photos Are …?

Well there you are. That was my approach to putting my old family photo collection into order. Pretty simple right? Yeah I thought so. But you may have some questions about your own collection. I will answer these questions and set your mind at ease.

What if ...

If I haven’t covered something here then please feel free to either comment below or contact me I will then add your question to the following with an appropriate answer.

I don’t have a photograph of an ancestor!

If you have searched all around your house and still can’t find any photographs for an ancestor of yours then try asking your relatives for help. They may have the photos that you are searching for.

You may also want to try other resources to help you. The well-known genealogy search website Ancestry has many public family trees submitted by members of the site. You may find a connection between their family and yours.

If they have submitted photos for a shared family photo then you could use that one, provided that you ask for permission first.

Another source could be local family history books that may actually feature your ancestors. You will again need to ask for permission first before you use them. One last resource is the central archives who may have collections of old photographs.

I have a damaged picture!

It can be heartbreaking when you do have a photograph of an ancestor but it is damaged in some way. Try finding a better quality picture with the resources I have pointed out in the previous question.

Of course you may not find an exact match but find a similar photograph of your ancestor from the same time period. You therefore may wish to use this photograph as a substitute instead of the damaged photograph.

One other choice is to use photo editing software on your computer. My go to choice is Adobe Photoshop which I have become quite familiar with over the years. Other choices available to you include GIMP, Pixlr, Serif Photoplus and Photoscape.

I have faded pictures and some have creases in them!

If you can’t find an alternative photograph or a substitute image then you may want to do some touching up. You can therefore use any of the photo software editors that I have mentioned in the previous question.

I am overwhelmed with the organizing process!

You may have amassed a quite comprehensive collection of photographs. You could have thousands of photographs to sift through. It can therefore be quite challenging for you.

If it is too overwhelming for you then why not just take a break from it for a while. You could try stepping aside for a few hours, overnight, a few days or maybe for a bit longer. Come back to it when you are ready.

You may also want to ask your relatives or even friends for help to organize your old photos. Sometimes jobs like these may require an extra pair of hands. Genealogy is also a hobby that you can share with others, so why not get help with preserving your family history.


Once You Have Organized Your Old Family Photos

When you have finished organizing your photos you will probably be wondering what you could do next with them. It has probably taken you a long time to find all of your photos, clean them and put them in order. There is therefore no point just leaving them in a box and forgetting about them.

What To Do After You Have Organized Old Photos?

So what can you do next with your old family photos:

  • Scan them and make digital copies,
  • Use photo editing software to fix damaged photos,
  • Make prints and display around your home,
  • Store them in photo albums or photobook in a cool dry place.

You may decide that you want to put some of your most loved photos in frames and display them around your home. That’s a great idea, but I would suggest that you chose a wall that does not have direct sunlight. Sunlight can cause your pictures to fade over time.

Please do not mark on the back of the photographs. The ink on them can damage the print. You could instead put them into albums and write who is in the picture and what the event is. If you have any related story or stories to when the picture was taken you could add these as well.

Putting all of your photo into one place is a good idea as you will know where to go to get them. If you have them in different places around your home you may not know where to find a particular photo that you are after.

Where NOT to store your photos!

You do not want to put your collection in an area which is hot, cold, or suffers from damp and mold. An insect and rodent infestation can also be harmful. So please consider where you will put your cherished photos when you have organized them.


Final Thoughts

Old family photographs are a connection to the past. They are a link between you and your ancestors. For me seeing my ancestors in my photo collection has made me feel closer to them. It has become more personal to me.

By seeing their photos I have wanted to do their life story justice. By researching their lifes I have not only told their story but also have something to cherish. This research I can then pass on to my children. And when they are older they can pass it onto their children.

Your family history research and your family photo collection can be something to preserve for generations to come.

Organizing your photographs does not need to be a chore. Ask for help and make it a job that can be shared with other family members. I hope that it will Ben an enjoyable process for you.


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post helping you organize old photos before you start scanning them. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

10 thoughts on “How To Organize Old Photos?

  1. Brandon

    Another great article, Owain. You are always on point with everything you say 🙂 I like that. Anyway, I never thought about cleaning my hands before organizing old photos, but it makes a lot of sense the more i think about it. Also, come to think of it, I don’t actually have that many old photos of my parents and grandparents. I have kids, so I am currently in the stage of CREATING photos for them, for when they get older. I am going to see if my parents need any help with their photos, and I’ll use these methods. Thanks for the great tips, and good luck 🙂

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      You’re quite welcome Brandon. I am glad that you will be asking your parents for help. I am sure that they have many photos that you can use to share your memories with your children. Al the best with organizing your family photo collection.

      Reply
  2. Jimmy Dolo

    Your site is interesting to me because it reminds of how disorganized I am. The sad thing is that the oldest photos where my childhood is portrayed were already gone. It can no longer be retrieved.

    Most of the pictures nowadays are basically uploaded in facebook and other social media. Would your site include these pictures to be organized through the online world?

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      It is a shame when we lose something from our past. Is there anyway that these can be retrieved? Maybe from other relatives perhaps? Asking your relatives, particularly older relatives is a great way to get articles such as this, as we’ll as stories and memories that they may have of your ancestors.

      You can certainly organize these photos as well. This post was concerned with archiving your old family photos, but there is nothing to stop you from using the advice in this post for photos that you may have social media.

      Reply
  3. Joana Marie

    Oh my I like this post, I love collecting pictures of my family but uncertainly I came from the very complicated family so I don’t know how to start. But you gave me ideas in doing it. Thank you so much for the best post, I don’t need to do it in Ancestral website that I need to paid for it.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      It can be quite overwhelming when you have amassed such a large collection of photos from a family that is so big. I am glad though that I have shown you the way. Hopefully you can share the end result of your organizing. All the best Joana.

      Reply
  4. Kerlund

    Many great ideas for organizing photos. I don’t have many old photos but some… And I think it’s easier to look at them if they are organized in a nice way, I have this on my to do list:-)

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Yes you’re right Kerlund. They would be more enjoyable to look at if they are organized. By having them in order you can go through each of your ancestors and look at how they aged through the years. Maybe when telling people who is in the photographs you can tell a story for each of them.

      Reply
  5. Bo Tipton

    Once I started organizing my pictures and saw how much easier to use them I got the drive to do all of them and it was not such an over welming task. I am glad I did organize them. Thanks for the post I learned a lot from it.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      At times I have got overwhelmed with the amount of information in front of me. I have collected so much and I have to put it into my genealogy software. But I think to myself why am I doing it and I push on.

      I am glad that organizing your photos hasn’t been overwhelming for you. It’s amazing just how many that we do accumulate.

      Reply

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