When sorting through a box of old photos, develop a keep-toss-share mentality to help you organize
By Mary V. Danielsen: Documented Legacy, LLC
Scanning a box of photos sounds simple enough for a single week’s task until you stare down several large plastic bins of photos that just got handed to you. Your first thought is what do I do with all these images? Your second thought is will anyone care about these besides me? When sorting through a box of old photos, develop a keep-toss-share mentality to help you organize and preserve family photos for scanning
Some people are memory keepers and others are not. That varies between family members and generations. If you are not a memory keeper, the kind of person who will invest the time to archive and protect old photos and family history, that doesn’t mean your children or your second cousin’s children won’t jump for joy at the opportunity to have these photos. As well, you could share some family history with a larger community by sorting some images to be donated to a local historical society, community group or trade association.
In last week’s blog we talked about developing a sorting strategy for preserving your family history. Use that advice this week as you organize and scan a single box of photos. Try to allot seven hours. Develop a keep-toss-share mantra.
As an archivist I hate to throw out anything. In reality, a personal family photo collection has plenty of images that could get weeded out. Space prevents us from keeping every item that was ever used, saved or touched by previous generations. So we are left to make some decisions.
Sort your images based on time periods, groups, family members, trips, events, etc. Many people choose to set aside the scenic images, whether they know where they were taken or not, and business photos. Photos of family friends get their own separate pile.
Toss aside the blurry ones, dark ones and the lens-cap-is-still-on ones. Weed out the ones your just don’t like. Place duplicate images in a pile to share with others.
Keep the best original images that tell the story you’d like to preserve. Decide whether you want to keep one or multiple photos from each category. You may decide to scan everything, but only save specific originals. This step, while time intensive, will force you to make many decisions on what gets scanned.
You may choose to further regroup photos in each category based on years or topics. With work photos you may sort into projects and years.
Some people like to sort everything up front and organizing it by year before digitizing. Others prefer a random sorting of piles before they digitize and then organize the images electronically into separate subfolders. It’s your choice.
When digitizing your images, re-label them with some identifying information that answers the questions who, what, when, or where. You could also create an electronic document to store into the subfolders with further identifying information or stories.
Sharing plays an important role in bringing the family together to preserve your history. As you sort images, decide which ones you’ll share with others. Now is a good time to share the photos of friends with their families.
Not everyone saves the scenic photos or the work photos. This is where you may decide to donate them to a local historical society or trade association. They may be interested in old photos of parades and events from years past. Trade associations may want something that illustrates the history of its mission.
People use the preserved and scanned collections in different ways. Some will rehouse their photos in archival grade boxes or albums to be accessible on a regular basis. Some will reproduce their favorites into new photo books or color copy photos into three-ringed binders to travel between households while they’re being identified. It’s very trendy to reproduce your favorite family photos from generations past to decorate a family history wall in your home. Still, others just want digital backups. As an archivist, I say do it all.
The sorting process will naturally free up space. By reproducing images into photo books you could easily share these with other family members and friends. It will expand the preservation process. By digitizing your collection you will be preserving your history for generations. The backups themselves can be easily reproduced for other family members.
I’m not a fan of tossing all original photos after they’ve been digitize. Anyone who has ever had a broken pipe, a fire, a robbery or loss of memory on where you stored an external hard drive will understand.
You may find yourself taking many hours to sort and scan, because you’re on a journey of memory. You may be calling family members to help you identify people in the photos. You may stop to research details that identify information in the photos. You may even be grieving, having sorted through photos associated with bad memories. Allow yourself the time to emotionally process these images. Just keep moving forward and scan.
When using your Flip-Pal mobile scanner set at 300 dpi, it takes approximately six seconds to scan an image. It is possible to scan about 300 images an hour.
When you begin the scanning process, use the Flip-Pal Sketch Kit to identify the pile of photos you’re beginning to work on. Think of it as your digital notebook. Answer the questions who, what, when, or where. It will help you identify information later on once you’re sorting the digitized images. You could also make notes and reminders about questions to ask other relatives.