WFMW – What to Do With Heirloom Photographs?

This week Shannon,  over at Rocks In My Dryer, is hosting a backwards version of Works-For-Me Wednesday. So instead of stunning you with my brilliance this week, I get to ask a question, and hope you might have some ideas or suggestions for me.

 I volunteered to be the keeper of family photos from my grandmother’s estate.   I brought them all home, sorted through them, and put them in a bunch of little piles all over my dining room table.   In my attempt of organizing at least a century’s worth  of photographs, I have separated them in to two categories: black and white photos, and color photos.   I’m going nuts with my dining room looking like it does, I’d show you a picture of my dining room table, but I’m pretty sure that would scare you all away.  

My question is, Now What?     What do I do with them?   How do I store them?   Do I put them in an album (with acid free/lignon free paper) even though I don’t know the story behind the photo?   Do I put them in a special kind of photo storage box?   Stuff them in a shoe box and call it done?  How do I categorize them?   By era? By person? By location?   I don’t really know what to do with them.   I am in desperate need of advice, and seeing the top of my dining room table again some time this century.      

Please, help me figure out what – works for me!

If you are interested in reading previous Works For Me Wednesday ideas, like my Sanity Saver, Gun Safety for Kids, Wallies, Getting Generous, Doing It Every Day, Reading Suggestions, Toddler Travel Tips, and taming a Stinky Sink ~ click here.

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8 thoughts on “WFMW – What to Do With Heirloom Photographs?

  1. You are lucky to have inherited those. Yes, it would be great to eat again, I agree with that. I would put them neatly in one (or two, or whatever) of those photo boxes. Then, I would try so hard to find people still around who might know something about any of them. Don’t discount great aunts and uncles or distant cousins. I did this last year and was amazed at what relatives I have never met were able to tellme. You can scan them in and email them to people if you need to. That’s just my idea. Hope you get some other good ones.

  2. I like that scanning idea. If I were you, I’d scan the photos and put them on a CD, also possibly start a blog site or something with each of the pictures where relatives can scan through and comment on the ones they recognize. Then, later you can either use the CD to make a cool book online, or scrapbook them. I’d go with the online book, myself, then you can make multiple copies for family members. A calendar would be a great idea too!

  3. I got one step further than you did with my grandmother’s photos. 🙂 I organized them by person and then intended to give those people the duplicates, then scan the rest for us all. I wanted to create a collage for everyone in the family as presents for the winter holidays. But that was almost 2 years ago and haven’t done anything with them, yet 🙂 The family is just happy that they are in a safe place and somewhat organized, should anyone need them.

  4. Esther has a great idea! I have a pile I need to scan too, thanks for the reminder!
    BTW… I gave you some love back! it’s on my blog! 😉

  5. Tanya,

    I just found your blog post on Heirloom photos… congrats on taking charge of those priceless memories. Most people do not understand the value of those memories until they are gone.

    Scanning is the only way to preserve them from fading and cracking. That takes a lot of time and many people are just lazy about getting the scans done. After you scan them you have several decision to make on how to truly preserve them. Your hard drive, Cd’s and DVD are all subject to failure and becoming obsolete over time. That time is relatively short to the age of your memories…

    I offer an education / consulting service to preserve and archive all your old and digital photos and videos in one safe place. If you or any of your subscribers would like a FREE personal consult you can contact me at jim(at)

  6. Oh I wish I had your treasure! I would love to have seen all of my grandmother’s photos especially of relatives I’m too young to remember or never met.

    I agree with the idea of scanning. And you don’t have to scan each picture individually. Depending on the size of the photos and scanner bed, you should be able to fit two, three or maybe four photos in each scan. This will save time in the scanning. Then use a basic photo editing software program to crop the photos apart. If you have a local school nearby with a photography or yearbook program, talk to the teacher about maybe having a student do the scanning / cropping for you. The kids will love seeing the old photos and with a little bit of “warning” from the teacher will treat the photos with respect. (I did this as a yearbook teacher when I was teaching my students how to use the scanner and software.) Once they are scanned, you can even sort them to make slideshows etc.

    As far as how to organize the actual photos, I would go with the photo boxes. How you organize them in the boxes probably depends on what you know more about. And you may need to do a mixture. For example, start with the activities and categorize as many as you can by the activity. That way when a relative asks if you have any photos of vacation in the mountains but they can’t remember what year, you can look it up by the activity. The pictures that aren’t obviously activity oriented could be filed by person, but then how do you decide which person if there’s more than one? So after activities, the year or decade might be better.

    Hope this helps!

  7. You do, indeed, have a treasure! I begged my Grandmother to go through the suitcase full of old family photos and put post-its on the backs with as much info as she could remember. Two years into my marriage, we moved hours away and then she moved farther out of state. Twenty years passed and unfortunately, she died before she ever got to that ‘will get around to it, someday’.
    I am working my way through the suitcase now, scanning them into Creative Memories Memory Manager Software. I think it was around $30. It allows you to attach notes, dates, and ratings to each photo in addition to the usual cropping and editing tools. I like being able to organize the photos into file boxes within seperate ‘albums’.
    But, let me stop right here and say BACK UP, BACK UP, BACK UP! I learned this the hard way. With over 2500 pictures scanned in, I had a fatal harddrive failure and spent more $ on having the blessed thing recovered in a clean room than I would have buying a completely new laptop (and the harddrive was replaced under warrantee)!!
    Currently, I am sending the scanned pictures to relatives around the country to see who can add to what we know about the photos. I am importing a very small picture into a word document, adding what I know about the photo and asking for stories that come to mind when they see the photo. It’s a giant project, especially doing both sides of my family similtaneously! I’ve promisedCD copies of the final pictures and stories to all in the family interested. This could easily be a fulltime job.
    I like the idea of posting to a blog, unfortunately, the memories I need to jog don’t use computers!
    Good Luck!

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