Safely Preserving Your Family's Photos and Documents

Dear Donia,

What is your advice for preserving family photos and documents? 

old photo

Q. Dear Donia,

My grandmother passed away last June. When we had to sort through her apartment I found a number of old photographs, some close to if not more than 100 years old. I have always been fascinated by our family history, and I would like to preserve the photos and documents I have found the best I can. I have loads and loads of photos and documents, including originals of great-grandparents, naturalization papers from the 1910's and much more. I did some research and have stored many in lignin-free, acid-free boxes and sleeves. What more should I be doing? Is there a safe way to frame old photos? Will scanning them on a home scanner damage them? I appreciate any advice you may have. Thanks, Daniel

A. Dear Daniel,

I am glad to hear you are storing your collection is acid-free, lignin-free boxes and sleeves.

Beyond that, you want to store the materials somewhere with a stable temperature and relative humidity so no basements or attics. A bedroom closet is a good place if you have the room. For those materials you want to frame, if you are framing the original, be sure to use museum-quality mat board for matting and mounting and UV blocking glass or Plexiglas to reduce damage from light (but it won't completely prevent the damage). If you plan to use a print from one of your scans, you can use less expensive matting and glazing materials. 

As to scanning, as long as you scan at the best resolution you can and save the image in a non-proprietary lossless format like .tiff and, most importantly, only scan the image once, you will not cause any long-term damage. In fact, you could prevent damage by being able to display and handle prints rather than handling the fragile originals. And, it is a great way to share your family story with everyone.

This is the approach I have taken with my own family collection.  

Best of luck!