Monday, August 18, 2008

Preserving Pictures 101

I have a confession. I am not a scrapbooker. Oh, I love the beautiful memory books that my friends and family members have put together, but I actually feel a bit of anxiety whenever I go into a scrapbook store and see the mountain of available options.

It wasn't that long ago that I would have been hard pressed to get my hands on a baby picture of one of my children. It wasn't that we didn't have a million cute photos of the kids in every possible baby phase. I just hadn't gotten around to organizing the boxes and boxes that grew from my feeble attempts to stay on top of the pile.

I didn't feel in control of our photo madness until I started digitizing our pictures. What a difference it has made. I am now prepared for any family reunion, heritage project or school report that comes up; even those eleventh hour panic requests.

Here's some simple steps to preparing your pictures so that future generations can enjoy them. Everyone is at different stages. If you've already done step one, move to the next step. Remember to take baby steps! Some of these tasks will seem daunting, but it will also be an enjoyable trip down memory lane and your efforts will be appreciated for years to come.
Step One: Organize your pictures. Get a photo box (or a shoe box works) and organize your pictures in a way that makes the most sense to you. You might want to chronologically organize your pictures by date or event. I made a separate box for each member of the family. When I filled a box, I simply created a new box. The photo boxes usually come with simple dividers, or you can make some using 3"x5" cards. A box holds a LOT of photos! Breaking them into smaller, manageable sections using the dividers will make it easier to find a photograph when you need it.

Pictures already organized? Lucky you! Have you checked with your parents or grandparents to see what treasures they might have that need preserving?
Step Two: Document your pictures. I can't tell you how many family pictures I have inherited that we haven't a clue who's in them. It doesn't take long for the memory to blur. I didn't think I would ever forget the precious baby moments of each of our boys and yet, pile on a decade of additional memories and those sweet little faces start to look alike. What I wouldn't give to have some sort of clue to help me put names to the unknown family faces on the pictures I inherited. Use an archival pen to document your pictures and you'll guarantee that future generations will have no problem knowing their heritage. To avoid guesswork, include the day, month and year of each picture (if you can). Give the full name of individuals featured in the picture. Try to document the location of the photograph.

Step 3: Digitize your collection. I can't tell you what a great investment a personal scanner is. Prices have dropped immensely, and you can pick up a solid unit for about $100. Of course, you'll need a personal computer with sufficient storage for high-quality digital files. A CD burner will let you create a backup disk, as well as easily save copies for family members. External hard drives are another great way to back up your picture collection. I actually have two external hard drives. I pack one up and send it to a neighbors when we go on vacation just as an added measure to protect these valuable images.

Once all of the photographs have been scanned and saved, organize them into appropriately labeled folders on your computer. Our system is based on surnames and dates. Set up something that works for you. Consider uploading some of your family favorites to a photo hosting website such as Flickr, Photobucket, Image Shack so they can easily be shared with friends and family members.

Important Note: Digitized images are not considered a replacement for originals! Data (i.e. your image files) can be lost when the storage media deteriorates. Who hasn't had their hard drive crash? Software and hardware technology is constantly changing. Remember floppy disks? I have no way of reading them now. PROTECT YOUR ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHS! Store them in an acid-free environment,

Still going strong? Don't forget important documents and material possesions. Look for postcards and letters. Include programs, diplomas and certificates. Now is a great time to round up each family members' birth certificate, christening or baptismal records, marriage certificates, etc. for permanent protection. Grab your camera and snap pictures of Grandpa's coalminers lantern or Grandma's hat pins. While only one person can enjoy the original item, everyone can appreciate the memory.

Should I remove my photographs from old albums?

How to protect your original family photographs

Protecting family documents

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