Even those of us who work hard every day trying to preserve the papers and photographs of other people, don’t always do such a good jobs with the artifacts of our own lives. The stories we heard on our grandmother’s knee, the photos taken of special events, the love letters written long before we were ever born get shuffled around and thrown here or there as we actually live our lives. By the time we think to preserve our own histories much of the details have become foggy and the photos have faded.
So how do we archive and preserve family heritage? How can we reconcile our insta-photo, insta-share present with the heirloom album past? And who has time for all this scanning and preserving on the side? Probably no one (including an archivist) can tell you exactly what’s right for your family photos and papers. It’s important to strike a balance between what’s feasible and what’s “recommended.” Even in professional archives, not every slip of paper goes into a protective sheet.
For our family, we’ve decided I’ll do the bulk of the scanning since I have experience digitizing. I’ll gather a set of photos every time I go home and scan them in batches starting with the oldest and most fragile first. As I scan the photos, I’ll take them out of their current packaging and put them in acid-free folders or albums. I’ll use archival squares to hold the photos in place to keep from damaging them with glue or tape.
For sharing and storage, we’ve purchased a Flickr Pro account that allows you to store an unlimited amount of photos. You can also keep these photos private (the whole world wide web doesn’t need to see your baby bath pictures!) but still share them with your family by using a guest pass. This works even if your grandmother doesn’t have a Flickr account!
For backup, all the photos will go on an external hard drive and a dropbox account.
For more tips on family archiving, check out the following resources:
The National Archives has a few tips on preserving family papers.
The National Archives of Australia has some great simple explanations of archival practice as it applies to family photos and media.
(All photos from my family archives)