How To Archive Family Photos

How To Archive Family Photos

Do you have old photographs stored away in shoeboxes and cupboards? They may be anywhere in your home, even up in the attic? I will show you how to archive family photos so that they can be preserved for generations to come.

How To Archive Family Photos

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Preserve your family photos now!

It can seem like a mammoth job when you have many photographs dotted all over your home.

It may also be overwhelming as you don’t know where all of your photos are. But when you do find them all it can be a joy to look at your ancestors.

These unorganized memories though may be damaged due to the conditions in which they were stored.

So, as a family historian, you will want to preserve these photographs for generations to come.

Do something now to preserve these memories!

You should do something now with all those photos before your ancestors’ stories get lost in time.

Taking the time to organize, digitize, and put names on faces will help your family know who their ancestors were.

When it comes time to write your family history you can also include these photos that you have saved and preserved.

Also, other members of your family will appreciate the amount of effort that you have put into it.

They will enjoy reading about their ancestors’ lives and put a face to the person that they have heard countless times before.

I know this because when I was younger I would hear many stories about my ancestors.

As I started to do my genealogy research and look into the photos I could see who the story related to.

It became quite enjoyable to piece together my family history book.

Please watch this

Before you continue reading this post I just want to share with you this short 4-minute video from Ancestry.

Credit: Ancestry

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The How To Archive Photos Process

If you are like me then you will have many photos of your ancestors. And most likely not all in one place.

It will therefore be important for you to find them all and put them in one place. This will make the whole process of archiving your photos much easier.

Below I will discuss 6 steps that you can take to organize, archive, and preserve your old family photograph collection.

1. Find all your photographs

Like I said it is better to find all of your old family photos first before you continue with the next step. For now, it doesn’t matter if the photos are not in order. You can concentrate on organizing them later.

Find all of your photographs

As you begin to collect all of your old family photos it may surprise you just how many you have.  You can even ask your family members if they have any photos as well.

Ask not only your parents but aunts, uncles, cousins as well.

Try not to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos that you may amass. And it is equally important not to get side-tracked when performing this task.

You do not want to start hunting for letters, records, or any other piece of family history. Try to keep to the job at hand.

Please be careful to remove any glue, staples, or tape that is holding down the photograph in the album.

You can still keep the old album but your collection of old photos need to be preserved within an acid-free album.

2. Clean your photographs

The next step will be to clean your photos. This is important for two reasons.

First, it will mean a clearer, sharper picture when you scan your photos. And second, when you store your photos you will know that they are in much better condition.

White Gloves

What do you need for cleaning?

For this step, you will need a microfibre cloth to wipe any dust from the photo.

Be gentle when you are wiping your old photographs. You obviously do not want to cause any damage during this step.

You may be surprised to learn that you do not actually need gloves. As long as you wash your hands thoroughly then you can carry on with this step totally glove-less.

Why no gloves?

Cleaning your hands thoroughly will remove any lotions and perfumes. Doing so will assure you that no oils or residues will be transferred to your collection.

You may do more harm than good by wearing gloves.

Wearing gloves may also hinder your ability to lift your photos and handle them. This is because you will not be able to be as dexterous when wearing gloves.

Due to the inability of handling your photographs properly, you may even accidentally bend them.

Also, small fibers from the gloves may attach themselves to the photos, which can result in damage to them.

Finally, gloves can absorb moisture which can then be transferred to your photos.

3. Organize your photographs

For me, this stage is probably the most important. Up to now you have found all your photos and cleaned them ready to be scanned.

Organize Old Photos

But before the next step of scanning your collection, you need to have your photos in order. Otherwise, when it comes time to scan your photos it will just be one big mess.

I will explain later. Suffice it to say you will need to organize your photos.

Organizing is important because you will know how many photos that you have of a particular ancestor. And also, you can see from this step whose photo is missing.

You may then want to ask your relatives for those missing photos. Hopefully, they may fill the gap in your collection.

And quite possibly they may have a better quality photo than you do.

Finally, you may want to put the radio, or TV on when performing this activity. Any noise in the background will alleviate any boredom that may creep in.

You may even want to play your favorite CD or CDs.

It can take a while to identify and sort through your photos. So just do what works best for you.

Start from the beginning

To organize your photos you can start with yourself, and then move up your family tree, working from one surname to the next.

Organizing old photographs

When you have finished one line of your tree then move on to the next line.

To reiterate, these are the steps that you need to take.

Steps to take:

  1. Separate photos into different branches of the family tree.
  2. Collect photos of each ancestor.
  3. Put photos of each ancestor in chronological order, (earliest first).

It is entirely up to you how to organize your photos. Just do what works for you and be consistent.

This was my method.

Who is in the photo?

My Just Who Is In This Photo post will help you if you are unsure as to who is in the photo that you are holding in your hand. It is also a good idea to ask family members to help you with this step.

They can help you to answer questions that you may not know.

Labeling the back of the photo with a permanent marker is a good idea. Please do not use a ballpoint pen because you could damage the photo if you use too much pressure.

You can write who is in the photo, where the photo was taken, and the date if it is known. Also, you can write whether it was at a particular event, i.e. a wedding.

4. Prepare your scanner

It would be beneficial for you to buy a scanner if you haven’t already got one. These machines are pretty cheap nowadays.

Scan Photographs

You can digitize your family photos and store them digitally in more than one place.

Anything could happen to the original copies and if no backups exist then you will have lost them forever.

Cleaning your photos is a good idea as I mentioned earlier. If cleaning hasn’t been conducted then it is possible that any dust, or other material, will show up on the scanned image.

It would help for you to read the instruction manual if it is your first time using a scanner. Reading the manual will help you to familiarize yourself with the machine.

Also, you can conduct a few tests before you go full-on scanning your collection. You do not want to get halfway through or maybe even complete the scan process only to find you were using the wrong settings.

Best scan settings

Computer images fall under two different categories, lossy and lossless. The lossless type, as the name suggests, means that you will not lose any information in the scanned photo.

So, lossless is the way to go. It will mean though a higher file size for your pictures but it will be beneficial for you in the long run.

For lossless pictures, you can choose the TIFF file type. If you do want to save room on your computer then you can select lossy, the JPG file type.

DPI stands for Dots Per Inch and is the number of pixels per inch that will make up the scanned image. Obviously, the higher the number then the better quality of the picture.

But again with a higher number, this will result in higher file size.

For a photo that is at least 4 inches, and at most 10 inches wide the setting 600DPI is best to use.

Any photo smaller than this size will require a setting of either 900 or 1000DPI.

Please though run tests before you go full-on with the scanning process.

Using negatives or slides

You may have negatives within your family photo collection. And this is great because negatives do hold much more information than a photograph.

So if you do have negatives then please use these for the archive process.

There are products on the market today that will allow you to scan either negatives or slides. So, please do not think that you need to take your photos to a professional.


The Jumbl All-In-One scanner has had favorable reviews on Amazon. This tiny machine can scan both negatives and slides.

The Epson Perfection V600 has been highly regarded by Amazon buyers as well. It does cost more but it is well worth the price.

This machine can scan photos, slides, and negatives. And also it can restore your old faded photos, remove tears and creases from damaged photos, and perform enhancements.

5. Decide on a naming convention

Equally important up to this stage is how you will name the photos as you scan them. There is no point in naming your photos as image001, image002, image003, and so on.

This will just make the task of finding a particular next to impossible.

You will want to work your way up your family tree, moving from one family name to the next.

You can create a folder on your computer for each family group. And if you have many photos of an ancestor then you can create a subfolder for that person.

Group photos can complicate this process. You can decide whether you want a separate folder for these types of photos.

Or you can just categorize these folders under the oldest member in the photo.

Female ancestor dilemma

The problem arises with female ancestors. Do you store them under their maiden name or married name?

My strategy was to put these members of the family under the maiden name. I took this approach even though I had photos of an ancestor after they were married.

It helps the filing process. But you decide what works best for you.

You can even file your female ancestor under their married name, or under maiden and married names.

Whatever you decide to do remain consistent.

6. Decide where to store your photographs

The original photos are best kept in photo albums. You can decide if you want to keep the old family album that you had beforehand, or purchase a new one.

Display Your Photographs

If you have found more photos along the way then it may be a good idea to buy a new bigger album that can include all of them.

For me, I have a 300 photo album. I have organized my album by family lines.

It is a good idea to have your scanned collection in multiple places. You can store your photos on your computer, on a flash drive, or on a hard drive.

You can even upload them to the cloud as well. Having your photos in a location out of the house is a good idea, i.e. in case there is a fire or flood.

Please make sure that you do not store your valuable collection in a location where it may become too hot, cold, damp, or wet.

It is also important to store your photos in acid-free boxes.

My How To Store Old Photos post discusses the different storage methods that are open to you. Besides storage, you can display your family photos around your home.

Family tree decals are a great way to showcase your ancestry to visitors to your home.

Further Information

I have found the How To Properly Store Old Photographs article at The Spruce Crafts to be most useful as I compiled this post.

So please check out that site for great ideas on storing and preserving your old family heirlooms.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed reading this guide on how to archive family photos. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

Please share with family and friends if you think this post will help others by using the social media buttons below.

Article Name
How To Archive Family Photos
Let me show you how to archive family photos. You will want to follow these steps so that your cherished family heirloom is preserved forever.
Publisher Name
The Genealogy Guide
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6 thoughts on “How To Archive Family Photos”

  1. Hi Owain,
    Thank you for all the great ideas for old photos. I don’t think you left any stone unturned on organizing and storing photos. I am lost at the organizing part, so this guide makes that simple. I would also prefer to scan and store them and much as I could electronically. I think this is the most permanent solution.
    Again, thank you for this great checklist for my old photos.

    1. Hi Chas,

      Thanks for liking my post. It’s not only important to archive your old photos, but to scan them all and to save them somewhere safe.

      Please check out the rest of my site for more great tips.

  2. Hi Owain
    First of all thank you for writing this article. This is one thing on my to do list for the past year. I have to get on to it, your article is very helpful. Memories through photos a best kept safe. I have lost lots of photos since moving places but I can certainly use what we have to make sense of our family history. I have a lot of photos nowadays with the selfies and staff it not even fun. But thank you for remind us of this important task to do.

    1. You’re welcome Angee. I am glad that you found this article helpful.

      It may take a while to sort out your photos but you will be glad that you took the time to do so.

  3. HI Owain,
    I was looking to start a process to store old photos so am glad to have found your post online.
    It is really methodical! I hadn’t thought about separating the photos into genealogy lines or anything like that. I’m preparing for when my father passes and expect that I will just get a box and random photos.
    Now I will follow your process and make them in the order along genealogy as well as digitising them following your scanning tips.
    Thanks so much, John

    1. Hi John,

      Glad that I could help you. My best advice is to do what best works for you, then keep doing it and be consistent.

      Please do not get overwhelmed by the number of photos that you may collect. Juts take your time, and breaks if need be.

      All the best,

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