How to Organize Old Family Photos

Grandparents by Family Line Video in ChicagoAs a Video Biographer, clients often tell me they’re overwhelmed by all their old family photos. If you grew up before the digital age, you can probably relate – especially if you were born in the 1930’s, 40’s or 50’s, as many of my clients did.

I finally felt this angst after helping my mother sort through a lifetime of her own photos. Along the way I learned a number of tips on how to organize old family photos that I can now share.

Organizing Old Family Photos

What you will need: A large table or surface area as a work space, several boxes of large ziploc bags, a permanent marker, a number 2 pencil, rubber bands or envelopes and at least 8 shoe boxes or shopping bags.

The key: Work fast so you aren’t bogged down by memories and your dining table isn’t covered for months on end. You will have plenty of time to reminisce after the photos are organized!

Sorting and Filing

  1. Label every bag with a year and every box or shopping bag with a decade.
  2. On the table or large surface area, separate photos into piles by years or estimated time periods. Rubber band together or place in an envelope event groupings.
  3. When a year is complete or a pile too big, insert photos into their ziploc bag marked with the year and place the ziploc bag into it’s box or shopping bag marked with the decade.

Now that your old family photos are neatly sorted, it will be easier to whittle down the numbers.

Weeding and Labeling

  1. Spread out the photos from one year or grouping.
  2. Discard those that are redundant, duplicates or simply bad shots.
  3. Identify favorites and label the backs with names, dates, location and event using a number 2 pencil. Replace in their respective bag.
  4. Move on to the next year until you make your way through all the bags.
  5. Repeat until you are content with the quantity and selection of every year and event.

Once your old family photos are pared down, have them digitally scanned. You can then distribute them among family members or post the most important ones to a family website.

Your old family photos are windows into your family history. Preserving them now means they will be enjoyed for generations to come.

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50th Anniversary Gift 50th Anniversary Video by Family Line Video in ChicagoHere at Family Line Video we produce Legacy Videos, modern-day memoirs that weave a filmed interview together with family photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia. The result is a beautiful “moving portrait” capturing your loved one as they recount their life story, family history and memories – a gift your family will treasure for generations to come.

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Susan Saunders
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