I am very lucky to have a collection of photos from my family that span all the way back into the 1800s. Around the 1930s the Brownie Camera was all the rage. My grandparents were crazy about taking photos. That’s my grandmother “Beauty” in the photos below … and my grandfather. Great clothes, right?
My grandmother was really diligent about keeping the photos and my mother was diligent after my grandmother passed away. But sometimes photos get separated from their original owners — sometimes by natural disaster, sometimes by death, sometimes because they were borrowed. In college I scoured estate sales for old photos as inspiration for painting. I came across boxes and boxes of family photos that had been separated from their original owners. I looked through each box, photo by photo, thinking that the families could have been my own. I saw myself in girls on the beach, I saw my parents in wedding photos, and I saw my future as a mother in baby carriages and birthday cakes.
Sometimes, orphaned photos get lucky … like when my aunt found this photo of my mother being auctioned on eBay:
The only reason we found it is because my mother’s name had been written on the back of the photo by an editor. Yes it’s kind of strange to find your mother’s photo being sold on an auction site but I imagine they could just as easily have thrown it away.
And then there’s a man in California known as the Photo Man. He buys and sells millions of personal photos of complete strangers. It’s a great story!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that a printed photo is always more likely to withstand the test of time. The printed photo is something that can easily be passed along from generation to generation. The digital form of a photo is invisible unless you have a device to store and view it with — and as someone who treasures the story of the past … that scares me.
When my father passed away, I found thousands of photos on his computer that had never been printed. Family photos, trip photos, old negatives that had been scanned. If I hadn’t been diligent in looking for them, they would have been lost forever. His computer was ancient (in technology years) and we sent to where old computers go to die, but not before I saved the photos.
How many times have you been asked recently to view someone’s family photos on a phone or a computer? It just isn’t the same as seeing the photo in physical form … in an album, in a picture frame or in a printed book.
I get behind on printing photos and I start to have anxiety about it. I think part of the problem is with the digital photo phenomenon we take gazillions of photos where before we were limited to only 24 exposures. Remember how cool it was to get the photos back from the processing center? And then 1-hour photo came along and that was a huge innovation. Only 1 hour and you can see how your photos turned out! Wow.
And now printing at home is ever faster — especially when you can print images directly from your phone!
I grew up in a household where our lives revolved around photography. My father started the company that put portrait studios in Wal-Mart way back in the 1980s. Chances are if you walked into a Wal-Mart during the 1980s you passed a huge poster of either my or my brother or my sister. My dad had worked for his company’s competitor in the 1970′s and all of our family portraits were taken in the studio there. But photo processing is never an exact science … and the paper that the company used was faulty. For many years photos were taken on a paper called Type 4. They looked beautiful when the families got them … but fast forward 6 years and every bit of blue dye disappeared. Millions of photos turned red … including ours. All of my baby photos and family photos for a span of 5 years are a dull shade of red:
But at least I still have the printed photos. I’ve even scanned many of them and reprinted them in black and white. I know people that have lost full hard drives of family photos that were never printed or backed up. I know people who have backed up onto only a CD and lost the CD. Those stories are heartbreaking. Years worth of photos go *poof*.
And sometimes I wonder:
What if all of my grandparents photos had been digital…and no one had ever printed them?
What if the newspaper that was selling my mother’s photo had only saved a digital version?
Or what if my entire childhood had been captured on Instagram and the account was deleted?
My guess is that most of them wouldn’t be around today.
I’m constantly reminding myself :
1. 24 exposures worth of an event is plenty. Keep only the digital photos worth keeping.
2. Print family photos often — and print photos from your phone as soon as you take them with digital printing.
3. Back up photos again and again and again. And in more than one place.
And why all the effort? Because if my daughter has as much of an interest in her history as I have in mine I think it will all have been worth it.
I rounded up a few tips and articles on preserving your family memories that might be of interest. Feel free to browse the gallery below:
Organizing and Printing Years of Photos 1 of 13
Do you have years and years and years worth of photos on your computer? It can be very overwhelming if you are behind in getting prints made. Here's an in depth tutorial on how to organize, print and keep track of the process as well so you don't have to do it all in one sitting. Click here for the full tutorial and organization template download.
Preserving Handwritten Recipes 2 of 13
I don't know anyone that hand writes recipes anymore. Do you? I wish I did but most of the recipes I get are printed out from a website. Do you have recipe cards that have been handed down through your family? Here's an idea for sharing and keeping them safe: Scan them so that you can print and share them with others. 4x6 inch photo sleeves are perfect for keeping the originals free of ingredients. Read more at Polka Dot Chair.
Filling a Jar with Memories 3 of 13
Sometimes it's fun to just throw a bunch of memories into a jar and then one day spread them out and pick through them to reminisce. I love this idea of collecting tickets at She's Crafty. If these were mine I'd have everyone that attended the event sign the ticket stub. We do that with wine corks at special dinners: Sign & Date
Organizing Holiday Cards 4 of 13
I can't bear to throw away all those yearly Christmas card photos we receive from friends and family. I even add them to my yearly albums. Craftivity Designs has three ideas to preserve and organize christmas/holiday, baby shower, etc cards. I think the best part is looking from year to year at how the kiddos grow up. They also tell a story of how your social circle shifts over the years!
Timeless Photo Albums 5 of 13
I have been super focused lately on making simple and timeless photo albums. They all are the same size, shape, and organized by year. With expandable albums you can build them as big as you need to and some of mine are close to 3" thick. I think the key to keeping up with albums is keeping up with your photo printing! I work by year and by month. And I keep the pages as simple as possible.....no fancy scrapbooking, no fancy backgrounds ... I just print, tape and write captions with an archival pen. Read more here on keeping your albums simple and timeless.
Organizing Artwork 6 of 13
The amount of artwork that kids create at school can be daunting. Organize it by year and label the pieces with titles to look at for years to come. You can find the full article at Kuzaks Closet and be prepared to organize ... Amanda Kuzak is a professional organizer and she has great ideas.
Displaying Mementos 7 of 13
A blank wall is a great focal point for family memorabilia. Susanne's mother passed away 16 years ago and she displays her special recipes out in the open where everyone can admire and enjoy them. Thanks to Me and Alice for this special project.
Photo Book Ideas 8 of 13
I think photo books are a great way to share family photos with extended family. I keep a copy for ourselves as well. But I also print the photos and put them physically into an album. I love the printed books but I also like being able to remove a photo for enlarging or sharing in the future. Click here for tons of unique ideas for yearly photo books.
Baby Shower Cards 9 of 13
I have a stack of my daughter's baby shower cards and I've never really had any ideas of what to do with them. I love this idea of turning them into a special piece of wall art. Verona Brit has the step by step tutorial on turning cards into a special piece of home decor. Because we can't keep everything right?
Frame Letters 10 of 13
Do you have any love letters? Handwriting is becoming a lost art form. Help keep it alive by framing and displaying special notes and letters you hold dear. Read more at His and Hers.
Home Movies 11 of 13
How many home movies do you have sitting in your phone or camcorder that have never been burned to a DVD? I like to make a checklist and work year by year, month by month. It makes the process so much more manageable. I recycle old DVD cases and put my newly burned home movies in them (plus a few backup copies). We have a great time watching the movies together as a family. You can read more about how to organize and backup your home movies at Lil Blue Boo. Plus there is a handy checklist download to keep you on track.
Journaling the Story 12 of 13
If you have jewelry or trinkets or art pieces that have a family story behind them...make sure that story gets passed on. I have some of my grandmother's jewelry from when she was a child. My aunt saved the pieces for me and told me the stories behind them. An easy way to make sure the story continues is to sketch the pieces or take photos of each piece and write or attach how you ended up with them. This idea is part of the Lil Journal Project.
Converting VHS 13 of 13
One thing I've started to do recently is transfer old VHS tapes to digital format so that I can burn them to DVD. It's easier than most people think. It just requires borrowing a Digital 8 Handycam (someone you know has one...promise) and running it through a VCR into your computer. I helped my friend Daren convert all of his old demo reels into digital format onto IMDB. I loved seeing the the old clips from all my favorite shows. Maybe you recognize him from Wonderyears and a few other 1980s sitcoms? Oh, and you can click here for a full tutorial on importing VHS onto a Mac.