Preserving the Past For Future Generations Through Photos

Monday, March 29, 2021

 Printed photos.....remember those....before cameras became digital and all of our photos took residence on our computers and phones?  I'm old enough to remember printed photos.  In fact I come from a long line of serious history keepers and I think most of you know that the love of photography didn't skip my gene pool.  And that love, that passion, like most serious addictions, leads to a rather large collection of photographs spanning decades.

Growing up, our house was often the Sunday afternoon gathering place.  On many of those afternoons, after dinner, and sometimes after a holiday meal, the family would sit around the dining room table perusing photo albums, reminiscing about the 'good 'ole days'.   The stories flowed and memories were brought to life, sometimes repeatedly over the years.  I'm thankful for those times, those family members, who not only took the photos but so generously shared the history behind each one.  As an only child, only grandchild and in some cases, only niece, I have been fortunate enough to inherit a large collection of photos from both sides of my family, many dating back to the early 1900's.  My great aunts (who were married to my grandfather's brothers) were both meticulous when it came to recording who the photo subject was, the year it was taken and sometimes even the place it was taken.  Neither of these women had children, so that probably accounts for their attention to detail (and available time).  My mom also took a great many photos over the years, as did her sister and her mom.  Unfortunately they were less dedicated to labeling... which in some instances creates a bit of a mystery-solving task.    Then when I was old enough to be interested, I also jumped on the photography wagon. 

 My interest included both people and places and my passion for landscape photography and sunsets peaked in my early 20's.  Over the last 40+ years, I've acquired a rather embarrassingly massive amount of photos - not to mention all those I've inherited.  To my credit, I'll say that my collection was housed in albums, chronologically beginning in the late 1960's through about 2012.  My albums (over 20, each housing 100-200 photos) were packed with thousands of captured milestones and memories but also a lot of mediocre, repetitious or irrelevant photos.  Ya'll know what I'm talking about.  Those inferior shots that we kept after developing - because they were 'better than nothing', the kid looked too cute to not save the photo, or that shot that I took several versions of, etc... Then there was the box of photos that contained duplicates from the days of 'buy one set, get one set free', and the random photos that got plucked from their sleeve for some project and were never refiled.  So you've got the idea.....I've amassed a ridiculous collection of photos that needed some serious attention.  That's where the first project began.

Pippa found the entire process exhausting.

First I went through every album and plucked the photos that weren't worthy of saving - the dups, the blurs, the multiples, the squirrel at the birdfeeder, etc. Once I finished going through all those albums,  I was left with hundreds (not kidding, 100's) of empty spaces throughout every album. Next,  I sorted all the duplicate photos and photos that needed to be rehomed and organized them all by date. I then proceeded to re-file them in their appropriate album, and true duplicates were set aside for each of our girls to add to their own collections.  Once all the orphaned photos were filed or discarded, I still had hundreds of empty slots in all of the albums.  Literally, I threw away hundreds of photos.  The ocd in me couldn't possible live with albums with so many blank spaces so next I began the job of shifting photos forward, slot by slot, so that no empty slots remained. This task, though long and tedious, allowed me to eliminate at least 4 small (6" x 6") albums that held 100 photos and 3 larger albums that once held 200 photos that had ripped sleeves or broken bindings.  Two tattered albums were replaced with new albums. Eliminating these albums freed up a lot of shelf space.  Once that job was finished, I added a label to each album indicating the dates photos within included.  Looking for a photo now will be easy peasy.  You can see my assistants were not exactly carrying their weight.

The next portion of the photo project involved all the inherited photos.   I sorted these into piles of each 'family member' ....

and then scanned them onto my computer (you know, to join the bazillion of other photos that already live there).  I restored a bunch of faded or damaged ones and then filed them all by 'member'.  I then saved all the originals photos in envelopes I purchased on Amazon, labeled each envelope and tucked them all in a pretty storage box for quick and easy viewing (the old fashioned way).

I also bought large, zippered envelopes (also on Amazon) to store all the 5 x 7" and 8 x 10" photos I had tucked away....having swapped them from frames for more current photos, or tucked in my hope chest, or in closets. I labeled these envelopes too so now when I have random photos they can be easily filed in their appropriate place. I purchased scrapbooking storage boxes from Michael's for under $6.00. The bags fit perfectly and the boxes can stack on a shelf.

This was a huge project and I'm grateful that I had some help from John and the girls. Finally I have all the old, cherished ancestry photos sorted and scanned, filed and labeled and my photo albums are filled with only the best, most interesting photos.  Currently I'm exploring the family ancestry and when that is complete, my plan is to print photo books that will feature the old photos along with stories of those that came before me.  My only regret is that I didn't get this job done while relatives were still alive to answer questions and bring their photos to life.  If, like me, you have a sea of unattended photos tucked away in various drawers and boxes, now would be a good time to round them all up and get them labeled.  I'd give anything to know who the men with my Great Grandfather are in the photo below.  He's the man with suspenders sitting in front.  I have to believe this crew has a story or two!  Our photos, our stories, our memories are all we have of our life story and the story of those who came before us.  If you're lucky enough to be the owner of someone's story, it's up to you to make sure that story lives on for future generation.  One day someone will wish they knew your story....start writing it now.  

Well, I hope this inspired you to tackle this or some other project that's been looming. This was a big job, one I'm thrilled to have finished but I have thousands of digital files awaiting the same process. If you need me.....I'll be at my computer deleting and sorting digital files.

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