Taking Care of Old Photos

taking care of old photographs
Take care of all your old photos

Photographs can be precious gems in a genealogy collection, giving your ancestors a face and helping your past come alive.

Every generation farther back you go, the number of potential photos is going to drop. I have more than I could ever use of my own grandparents, but anything older than that is pretty sparse. I really treasure them. So make sure you take proper care of all your old photographs so they can be passed down to your children (and then hopefully to their children).

All of your old photos should be kept in good-quality plastic sleeves. Rigid ones are best to really protect your photos from accidental bending. Choose materials like polyethylene, polyester or polypropylene to keep them from reacting badly with the photographs themselves. Look for products marked as “archival quality”. Sports or comic book memorabilia shops often have a great selection of envelopes and sleeves in many sizes that work great for photos.

You can also keep them in a scrapbook, if you prefer, but make sure to use all acid-free paper. Acids in typical paper will fade photos faster, so take note of all your supplies. Photo supply shops and scrapbooking stores have lots of acid-free materials to choose from.

You should never (ever!) use those cheap sticky photo albums. They are very damaging to photos and nearly impossible to unstick your pictures once their in there. Even if you just leave it in the album, the adhesive will destroy your photos anyway. Unfortunately, many older photos are already in this predicament since these albums were pretty popular a few decades ago. I’ll share some tips soon on how to get precious photos out of a sticky album for proper storage.

Keep your photo collection somewhere safe in your house, away from damp conditions or extreme temperatures. Attics, basements and garages are not great if you can avoid them.

For photos on display, make sure you use a mat with a photo frame so that your picture doesn’t touch the glass directly. All products need to be acid-free and don’t hang your pictures anywhere that gets direct sunlight during the day. You might also want to think about getting copies made and keeping the copies on display rather than the originals.