Most of us have them. Family photos stored in dusty albums, or in shoeboxes in a closet or stuffed into desk drawers. At some point we need to sort, organize and digitize those treasured family memories, but where do we start? For many the task can seem overwhelming. Having been in this mess myself, I’ve come up with 10 easy steps to create order out of disorder and to preserve and pass on your family photographs.
Step 1: Create Your Plan
Before you begin, decide what your goal is for your photos - what is the final outcome you want? Do you want to scan them? Do you want to share them with family members, and if so, do you plan to share digital copies or originals? Do you want to share them now or at some point in the future? Are you ready to toss those blurry snaps of Niagara Falls or the picture of Uncle Harvey’s dog?
Step 2: How Will You Store Your Photos?
Are you going to store your original photos in archival storage containers? In binders? In acid-free sleeves? If you can afford it, you will need to purchase archival quality boxes or sleeves to preserve your original photos. At some point you have to decide on how you want to organize your digitized (scanned) photos, and where you will keep them.
It is a good idea to make an estimate of what you will need for your project whether that is binders or boxes. You can do an internet search to find what is available. I used an online company - GetSmartProducts. Your choice will also depend on your budget. Perhaps you can’t afford archival quality binders, or storage boxes or sleeves. In the real world we do the best we can, given our circumstances.
Step 3: Decide how you will organize your first preliminary sort.
Yes I said “first” sort. You should do a general, very broad-based sort first. This is a fast way to begin. It also allows you to organize your massive project into smaller chunks that are more easily manageable.
Your first sort should be based on categories – you can choose to sort by families, by years, by events such as weddings or family reunions, or any other category that suits you.
The choice is personal. It also depends on how many photos you have. I have thousands that go back many generations, so I wanted to do a more specific sort to start. Here’s my list:
- Lorine from childhood to first marriage, including siblings and parents from their marriage to death
- Marriage #1. Photos from wedding day to divorce
- Marriage #2. Photos from wedding day to death of spouse
- Marriage #3. Photos from wedding day to present
- Dad and his family.
- Mom and her family
- My grandchildren
My husband’s first sort was quite different. He sorted his family photos into 3 very broad categories.
- His mother. This included any photographs that were of her ancestors or relatives.
- His father. This included any photographs that were of his ancestors or relatives.
- Himself from baby to present day.
Step 4: Choose a spot in your home where you can leave your project undisturbed.
You will need a fairly large table and you need to be able to leave your storage items and photos for long periods of time. Organizing, scanning and preserving these photos is not an overnight task. You also need room to spread out and look at your photos to make your first choices of keep or toss.
Step 5: Start sorting!
First write your categories on pieces of paper and place them in front of each storage box. This enables you to quickly spot where that photo of Aunt Sally at her wedding goes.
Take all your boxes and albums of photos from their hiding places and put them all on your table. Try not to be overwhelmed as you see the piles. You are going to go through them methodically and in an organized way. It will not seem such an onerous task once you get going.
Start with one shoebox or album. Remove each photo and decide whether you are going to keep it or toss it. That’s right – you are going to finally throw out those blurry holiday photos and the photos of every animal you saw at the zoo 20 years ago.
Trust me, you will feel great once you've done it. Mine went into a large cardboard box for burning.
Any photos you are keeping go into the categorized boxes. Don’t worry about getting them in order or right way up, just place them in the appropriate boxes. Remember this is your first sort. It’s very broad-based and you will get into refining this sort into further sub-categories later
If there are photos you are unsure of, if you can’t decide whether to keep it or toss it, I advise you to keep it for now. You can always toss it later in this process.
Part 2 of 10 EASY STEPS TO ORGANIZING FAMILY PHOTOS will be published soon.
For other ideas on organizing Family photos I advise you to use your favorite search engine to find articles of interest. There are dozens and dozens of articles available about this topic.
All photos are credit to the author Lorine McGinnis Schulze
Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.