Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Family Archives

As regular readers and my friends know, I am a somewhat obsessive organizer. Note that I didn't say I liked organization but that I like organizing. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love looking at a newly organized space, and clutter drives me nuts, but the real fun for me is finding ways to fit it all in. Like a puzzle. For example, should the batteries be stored with the lightbulbs or with the flashlights...or should they all be stored together? And what container is best? Where should it be? Love it.

I do try to keep in mind that organizing is supposed to make life easier, not even more involved. But that's another blog post. Or is it?

The topic I wanted to cover was my recent decision to tackle the family photos. Early in my convalescence at my parents' house, I told my mom my plan to give my dad a slide scanner and to surprise him by pre-scanning some old photos.  She was tentative, and rightly so. My dad isn't good at surprises. Ask her about his 30th birthday. And he's territorial, which is ridiculous, but there you have it. The photos are in his closet, which he would freak out about anyone going through. I'll save the neurosis for another day. There were a few that were more accessible, so I got to work. I bought this scanner, a Wolverine Data SNaP100  and started scanning.

The results were...not good. Oh, and did I mention, that wasn't the first scanner I got. I mistakenly ordered a flatbed first, which ironically was cheaper and would have worked better. That model didn't do slides, which I'm finding out is pointless anyway. Here is what the second one yielded:

That is my brother and me in front of the shell of my dad's car (with Jello Pudding Pops!!!). You can't tell how awful the quality is, and this isn't the best one to show it. Everything was blueish or reddish or really grainy. It's just not worth it to spend all that time doing something wrong.

I decided to go in a new direction for Christmas gifts, but didn't give up on the idea of organizing photos. I'm sort of obsessive when it comes to following archival procedures. Well, more obsessed than some people. I'm not comfortable leaving paper prints in photo lab envelopes or putting snapshots in magnetic album pages. Part of this anxiety is to do with not having pictures of my ancestors. Or not many. I have a few from my dad's family, but none from my mom's. The pictures my dad had were not treated well; my grandfather's second wife took it upon herself to dispose and/or destroy many of them. Yeah, we didn't like her much, and the feeling was mutual. The difference was that we had reason! Anyway...the photos that did survive from him ended up in a pile in a box in our basement, to be unearthed by my dad after I started the ball rolling.

I started with the late 70s and early 80s, our childhood years, then branched out to the 90s and 2000s, and then addressed the few pre-1976 (i.e. pre me) photos. My solution for these photos consisted of organizing them by year in one of these two types of boxes (photos both from, where I purchased sure to search around because you can get them cheaper...or use coupons! I got them on sale and used a coupon right before Christmas. Office max currently has the Iris ones on sale.)
Iris Photo Keeper

Cropper Hopper

My plan for the cute kid photos as seen above is to select a few of the most memorable for each year and scan them and create photo books online for my brother and me.  Scanner selection still pending!

For the more delicate older photos, I decided a different approach was needed. Many of them are either bent or curled or torn. They are also all different sizes. I wanted true archival materials. The above plastic cases are acid and lignin free, but aren't really archival. They'll do, I think, for our childhood snapshots, but not for the older ones. Don't get me wrong, they'd be better than how they are now! I also wanted a storage solution for the negatives separate from the prints.

I turned to trusty Google and looked up some solutions. I had previously ordered archival file boxes from University Products, and do highly recommend their products. However, they didn't quite have what I wanted. for the negatives. I ended up getting this negative box (see below) from Archival Methods and a binder with storage pages from B&H Photo. I also purchased an archival photo box for any photos I don't include in the photo pages in the binder.

The 4-Up Negative Filing System from Archival Methods
I'll be sure to review my solutions with you after I get them. They arrive tomorrow, so you shouldn't have to wait too long. Think you can handle it? :)

Archival products are generally not cheap, so it really comes down to deciding how important particular items are. If you have a ton of photos, as most of us increasingly do, I think a good strategy is to pick the most poignant to protect. The others can be somewhat haphazardly stored, or even disposed of.

On disposal...I have a hard time getting rid of photos, but there are certain photos that even I can get rid of. That includes dark, overexposed, bad photos (I'm thinking of the accidental ones of laps, shoes, and the sky), and doubles. For the doubles, you may want to give to friends or family or just dispose of. I promise nothing bad will happen to you for throwing it away. Confession: I even threw away my own personal negatives. And I'm still here to tell the tale! I knew that for myself, I'd NEVER plow through my old negatives to find the picture, and my apartment's size does not afford the luxury of storing massive amounts of stuff. I admit, there was once or twice that I found a photo I'd cut up that I wanted the original of. Whether I'd actually go and find that negative if I had it and make it to the photo lab is debatable even if I had it, so no loss. Some people even suggest only picking one or two of a theme--i.e. if you have 10 Eiffel Tower photos, pick one or two. This, I can sometimes do, if they're really close, but not if they're different. I don't care if I have 100 photos of the Seine, I'm not pitching them!

If anyone's out there reading, how do you deal with photos and other memorabilia?


  1. I've still not been brave enough to tackle even the "how" of dealing with all Dad's photos, much less actually dealing with them. Most of the best are in (I know...) stick-down photo albums. I had a small fit when he *ironed* the curled photos from his World War II years prior to sticking them down, but my fit was for naught. The photos are okay, it seems.

    Some day I'll figure out what to do with them all. But not today.

    I've just tagged you in a Q&A -- participate or ignore as works for you.

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