Advice on storing old pictures

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    My Grandmother passed last week. My Mom, sister, and I were going through the pictures she has for the service this coming Saturday (04/17) and as we were going through them, I’ve ended up with some questions, mostly about the really old photographs. We’re talking pictures from late 1800s to early 1900s.

    My thoughts are to scan them and then store them safely so they don’t potentially get pock marks or anything, but I’m not sure how to store them safely, or what could potentially worsen them. They’re in pretty good condition right now, but they are in those “magnetic” photo albums, which I know are horrid for storage. I thought that fellow Farktographers might have some advice about handling/scanning/storing these priceless old pictures. It can also apply to the other pictures from the same era that we have for the other side of the family (my Mom’s dabbled in genealogy a bit).

    My sister claimed that scanning them would be more dangerous, but I almost think she’s full of it (she tends to be full of it anyway, but that’s something else). Husband says it’s no more dangerous than showing them regular light, but with the added advantage that they get to be stored out of light afterwards, and safely. I figure once they’re scanned in we can reprint them and show the reprints, keeping the originals out of the light. My mom kind of agreed with me anyway, saying it might be the only way to preserve them period.

    Thoughts and suggestions?


    Acid free storage boxes are the best way to preserve anything paper for the future. If you want, you can also add mylar sleeves.

    As for the scanning, to scan each picture once should not cause permanent damage to the item, and you should also scan the backs if there is anything on the back as well, since inks fade over time no matter how they are preserved. When scanning make sure the glass is clean and dry before you begin. If possible wear cotton gloves to handle the pictures when you are putting them in final storage as the oils on your hands cause degradation. Scanning is a very good idea, it allows many people to enjoy the pictures without putting them in harm’s way.

    If you need to enclose anything in the storage boxes, print with a laser printer on acid free paper.

    Store at room temperature in an area not in direct light.


    Having done a LOT of genealogy work, I agree with Kestrana on copying the front AND back, if any text appears on the back. Scanning will be fine; any UV rays in the scan won’t cause damage if done just once. They make storage boxes for photos that will help preserve them, as well as mylar sleeves. Latex gloves wiped with Isoprop. Alcohol after you put them on(90 %, both available at any drugstore) are better than cotton gloves insofar as fingerprints, etc. (so long as you’re not allergic.)

    I will add that you want to do this, and then distribute the photos far and wide among your family. About 5 or 6 years ago, when I was doing the bulk of genealogy work in my family, I scanned tons of pictures (albeit at maybe 6 megapix res, the best we had at the time) from my mom’s archive. A few weeks later, they had a fire caused by an electrical problem in my mom’s car that started in the garage–where she stored all those photos, as well as letters dating back to the 1700’s. All I salvaged out of the ashes were some very few letters from my great-grandmother to her brother circa 1949-54. Everything else was toast. Had I not scanned them, we’d have none of it. So don’t procrastinate. I also scanned the letters and transcribed them and distrib’d to the family for Christmas, as they were badly singed and were not long for this world with the acids caused by smoke and such. The memories you lose could be your own, so I hope you heed my suggestion. Family records cannot be replaced.


    Excellent advice. Thank you! I’ll pass this on to Mom. I know there are other old pictures, so getting them all done at once while we’re doing this may be a good option. She has a scanner and we have a scanner, but I’m not interested in bringing them here. I’m not sure if my sister has shown any interest in genealogy or not, and if she isn’t, that means I’ll be the one getting all those items in the future, and hopefully we’ll have a bigger house by then to properly store things.

    Husband has 90% alcohol for electronics stuff, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get more. Latex or cotton gloves should also be easy to come by.

    I haven’t seen any writing on the backs of the photos so far, but I also haven’t handled them much. Mom does have some photo boxes, but I’m not sure how many, or if there are any empty ones; nor am I sure of their sizes. They could be only big enough for 4 x 6 prints, in which case we’ll have to get something bigger as a few are closer to 8 x 10.

    Thanks again for the advice! I will definitely put it to use as I want to be able to share these pictures when my kids are older (and possibly with the grandkids).


    It’s worth it–even if no one currently is interested in the genealogy stuff at present. Someone will be, eventually, I assure you. Best regards, Russ (Rav)

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