How to Save Your Family Photo Albums

Saving Family Photo Albums

I’ve heard many stories of people bagging up their old family photos and albums and tossing them to the curb. It’s a myth that future generations won’t care about these old photos. Photographs tell us where we came from and help give many a sense of identity. To best preserve your family’s history, here are 6 ways to take care of those old albums and bring them back to life. 

1. Store Safely. To start, I highly recommend simply placing your photo albums in archival-safe plastic bags so that the natural elements, most commonly dust and sunlight, don’t get to your photos. If your photos already rest inside photo-safe plastic sleeves or are stuck to acid-free scrapbook paper, you don’t need to worry about taking them out of these albums. They are safe, and these plastic bags provide additional protection to your albums when they’re stored.

2. Beware of old albums. If your photos are in so-called magnetic albums, take them out as soon as possible! The chemicals used in these albums are highly detrimental to photos. These albums, in fact, are not magnetic but instead use an adhesive on a page in which you sandwich a photo between a sticky coating and a plastic sheet. The culprit of destruction is the highly acidic glue, which causes photos to yellow and makes them very difficult to remove. 

3. Remove stuck photos (if you can). So how do you get these photos out of the dreaded magnetic album? Use dental floss. Just lift one corner of your photo and gently saw the dental floss back and forth underneath until it becomes unglued. If a photo is especially challenging to peel off the sticky paper, you can use a hair dryer to heat up the glue and melt it into compliance. 

4. Jot down details. Preserving written knowledge is just as important as protecting the actual photos. Make sure to note dates and corresponding info as you peel photos out of albums. You can use index cards to record this information until you can provide a new home for your photos or use an archival pencil to write information on the back of the photos themselves. If you find additional documents that are crucial to the story behind a picture, like notes, birth certificates or newspaper clippings, keep them with the picture so that you can place them side by side in the new album.

5. Create a digital backup. Before putting your photos in a new nonmagnetic photo album, scan them. Doing so will guarantee access to your history should an accident or the natural progression of time destroy the original prints. Once they’re scanned, you have the option to create digital scrapbooks that you can share with family and friends.

6. Frame a few. Don’t forget to display some of your favorite photos! You can them hang in frames around the house, and they will undoubtedly become an ideal conversation starter. 

If you take the steps necessary to preserve your family history today properly, future generations will also be able to take part in the joy and revelation that comes with untangling the mysteries of the past. Not only is it amusing to look back on the ludicrous trends and hairstyles, but these photos also provide a sense of connection to our history and our future. 

Cathi Nelson, author of Photo Organizing Made Easy, is the founder of APPO (Association of Professional Photo Organizers), a membership organization dedicated to helping thousands of entrepreneurs from around the globe build successful photo preservation and organizing businesses.

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