Motivation to Start #4: Share the Load!

One of the biggest motivators for organizing family photos is sharing the fruits of your labors with all your near and distant relatives. Won’t your second cousin once removed be thrilled to see a photo of her grandma that she didn’t know existed? I’m going to talk more about that kind of sharing in a few days.

But what about sharing the organizing process itself? As the expression goes, many hands make light work. So, are there tasks you can share with others to ease your burden? Even kids can get in on the act! Older kids could help sort photos like I described in my previous post, and anyone can help remove duplicates (more on those soon!). In the process, they might even learn a little bit about their family history, photography, and organization!

I have been taking small batches of photos to my mom’s house the past couple of weeks to sort through and identify. My sister, who lives in Scotland, has been able to join in via Zoom. I’m not really sure how much actual organizing progress we’ve made, but we have laughed ourselves to tears revisiting these old photos, whether we knew who was in them or not.

Organizing photos with family near and far can be fun and lighten the load!

If you can find someone to share the process with – either in person or via video chat – you may find that the time flies by and what seemed like a chore has become a treasured memory of time spent together. And I know plenty of older folks are homebound because of covid-19 and would welcome any distraction. The underlying motivation here, of course, is that some family members have knowledge of people and places and family history that will be lost when that person passes away.

Start small – keeping your organizing sessions to an hour or two – and be mindful of emotions that old photos might bring up. This goes for you, too! There will be some tender moments in addition to the hilarity, and it’s okay to walk away for a bit. It’s just another example of the power of photos and a reason to be sure they are preserved.

Motivation to Start #3: Treasures!

Here’s another reason I’m so glad I finally got started on my own family’s photo collection: it’s been a blast to find non-photo treasures!

If you already know what’s in your collection, or if you know everything you have is a photograph, this may not apply to you. But my family’s collection contains every bit of memorabilia ever saved, going back to the 1800s! (If anyone needs an obituary, I probably have it.)

This might seem overwhelming at first, but you can think of it as a treasure hunt. You never know what little gems you might find! For instance, check out this incredible photo album. It has its own stand and little drawer, and part of the album is made of fabric. Unfortunately, there weren’t any little treats in the drawer, but I like to imagine what little trinkets might have lived in there.

And you know how we’re told to hold on to our tax receipts for so many years? Evidently my forebears took that really seriously, because I have property tax receipts going all the way back to 1871! Ah, what I would give to pay $6.96 in property tax on our farm this year…

I was also charmed by the postcards album featuring cards from the early 1900s. So lovely!

What kinds of non-photo treasures have you come across as you’ve gone through your memorabilia collections?

Motivation to Start #2: Sorting is Fun!

As I’m progressing on my family’s photo collection, I’m reminded of another benefit to getting started organizing your photos: doing a broad, quick sort is fun and immediately gratifying!

Chances are, you have a box in your collection that contains a hodgepodge of photos – different people, different decades, different types of prints, all jumbled into one big mess. Maybe the disarray of this box is keeping you from getting started on your photo organizing journey!

But what might seem like the most daunting box in your collection can actually be the most rewarding to start with!

The trick is to make it fun and do it fast. This isn’t the time to scrutinize tiny faces with a magnifying glass to decide if that’s Aunt Mabel or Aunt Bessie. Or agonize if it’s Christmas 1973 or 1974. 

Just put on your gloves and start sorting your prints by what the prints themselves look like. Are they color or black and white? Rectangular or square? Are the edges smooth or deckled? Are the borders wide or narrow? Is there a decorative flourish in the border or is it plain?

To me, this feels almost like a card game. It’s fun to match each photo with others of the same type! And you can start off sorting into very general categories, such as color and black and white, then take those batches and sort more specifically within them.

Plus, these initial sorts don’t have to be perfect, they are just intended to get similar photos together so that they will be easier to sort later on. And you may have some oddball photos that just don’t fit anywhere, and that’s fine, too! For instance, I came across a ton of school photos and portraits of all sizes, so I just put those all into a “portrait” pile for the time being.

Once you’ve gotten your box sorted into these general piles, you can put on your detective hat and start looking for other clues on the prints to determine which photos belong together: are there numbers or markings on the back? What kind of paper was it printed on? Do some photos seem to share the same general appearance, like having an orange cast to them?

In no time at all, you can go from a mess to a more organized starting point to identify and sort your photos, all without really looking at the subject of the photo! And as you can see from my examples, it won’t be too difficult to now to put these in batches by decade, which will make further chronological organizing even easier.

Here I’m sorting the photos a bit slowly for demonstration, but you can imagine how quickly this can go! And for those that don’t fit in a category, like the portrait at the end, it’s okay if they go into a “Miscellaneous” pile for now.

Motivation to Start #1: Decay!

Are you faced with a large collection of family photos and memorabilia that you need to organize, but you’re putting off starting? You’re not alone! Starting can be the hardest part of the process.

I’m taking a break between clients to organize and digitize my own family’s collection because, as family members have moved or passed away, we have inherited all of the family photos and mementos going back to at least 1870. That’s a lot of stuff! We are preparing for a move overseas, so now is the time to get this done.

I wanted to share some tips over the next few weeks that might motivate you to get started organizing your own collection! And if you have any tips of your own, please share in the comments!

The first tip is one that is probably in the back of everyone’s minds, but it’s good to be reminded:

Everything Decays! It’s called ephemera for a reason – photos, videos, scrapbooks, uniforms, anything you might save as a keepsake, these are all subject to the ravages of time and the environment. But if these items aren’t stored properly, that degradation is accelerated and precious items can be lost.

I wanted to share a photo of what I discovered in one of the keepsake tubs. Years ago, we found these keepsakes in cardboard boxes in the garage, so we transferred them to plastic tubs until we could decide what to do with them. As you can see, the items in one of the tubs became moldy and many of the photos and papers in the tub were ruined or badly damaged.

So, the sooner you get started on your project, the sooner you can get your cherished memories into appropriate storage to help slow the degradation. And, if you’re able to digitize everything, you’ll have a copy to enjoy for generations to come!