If you haven't already, please read 10 Easy Steps to Organizing Family Photos (part 1)
And now on to the last 5 steps of your organizational project!
Step 6: Time To Do Your Second Sort
Now we will work on one box at a time so choose one (don’t cheat – choose only one!) you want to start with. This is a good time to put the other boxes away out of sight until you are ready for them. A large project will seem less intimidating and overwhelming if you break it into smaller chunks.
For this step you choose one box and re-sort it into more focused or precise categories. So for example I took the box I had categorized in my first sort as Mom and her family. I then sorted those photos into 3 more specific categories:
- mother from a baby to marriage
- mother’s father and his siblings and ancestors
- mother’s mother and her siblings and ancestors
A question might arise at this point – what to do if some of the photos have, for example in the photo below, my mother is a child with her sister, her mother and father (my grandparents) and several of her aunts and uncles). I must make a choice as to which person in the photo is my main focus or the closest generation to me. In this case I chose my mother because she is the closest to me generationally. That photo went into category Mother from baby to marriage. It’s a personal choice and up to each individual to decide on what works for them.
Another question that may arise during this step is what to do with photographs of houses, pets, cars - in other words photos without people in them. You can assign them to the person or family who owned the object in the time period you think the photo was taken. You may also have such photos where you do not know who owned them. It is important then to note where the photo came from – who gave it to you or whose house it was found in? You may end up with one box of unidentified photos such as this but keep them as you may eventually find out the story behind them. This can also be the case with photos of people who you don’t know.
The photo below shows the gold watch given to my grandfather on his 21st birthday. It will go in the box the photos of his life from baby to marriage.
You might also want to decide at this point what you are going to do with duplicates. Are you keeping them? Are you giving duplicates to family members? I kept large padded envelopes at hand and every time I spotted a duplicate photo I made a quick decision as to who it should go to. Then I put it in an envelope labelled with that person’s name. Any duplicates going to my children went into a box for each of them. That worked well for me and I can decide if I want to give them their box of photos now or wait for a future date
Step 7: Third Sort
Each sort becomes more and more refined. The number of times you will need to sort depends on how many photos you have and how you are categorizing them. For example, I have very few photos of my father and his family before he was married. So I will be able to skip Step 7 and move on to Step 8 which is the final sort. For my mother’s family I have hundreds of photos on both her mother’s and father’s side so I am going to have to do Step 7.
For example in Step 6 I created one pile of photos for my mother’s mother (my maternal grandmother) and her family. As it happens I have close to 100 photos of my grandmother, her parents, her great-grandparents on both sides, and so on. So I am going to have to do a more specific sort by families, surnames or years.
Step 8: Final Sort
Step 8 is to take one of the piles you have from Step 7 and arrange the photos in some kind of order. I chose to arrange them by chronological order, so for the pile of photos of my mother from a baby to marriage I arranged them by years or by estimates of years. You might arrange them by surname or by individual. The choice is yours.
Step 9: Labelling Your Photos
I suggest you add information such as name(s) of those in the photo, a location and a year on the back of each photo. Be careful to write lightly and along an edge so that your writing will not damage the photo if it presses in too far. I don’t advise using pen or marker but a Standard #2 graphite pencil should be fine. You can purchase archival pencils but they are expensive and they may not be in your budget.
Archivists will no doubt disagree with me. In a perfect world we would not take a chance on altering or possibly damaging a photograph with a notation but the reality is that photos fall out of binders. They get dumped out of storage boxes. When they are passed from generation to generation eventually (and very quickly!) there will be no one who knows who is in the photo unless they are labelled.
How often have we seen photos for sale in antique stores or at flea markets and no one knows who the person is. They are lost forever and that is heart-breaking. So I have made a personal decision to do the best I can to safely preserve my treasured photographs while making sure they are not only accessible but notated for others.
Step 10: Done!
When you finish one pile of photos from one box, you can put them away in your pre-chosen binders or storage boxes. Then you start all over again – keep sorting and organizing one box and one pile at a time until they are all done.
Once all your photos are neatly organized and labelled in their boxes or binders you can sit back, relax and think about what a great job you just accomplished! Then it’s time to think about scanning and sharing them. I will talk about digital organization of photos in a separate blog post.
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.