Help with archiving/preserving family photos (long, lots of questions)

I have inherited the task of archiving and preserving my Grandma’s photos and a few other documents. I’ve already done a bit of research so it’s already become clear that I need to get the photos themselves stabilized into an acid-free environment. I also have a set of 35mm slides that need to be managed…somehow. I have no idea how or where to begin. Most of the pictures are 1930s-50s with a few outliers.

NB: the photos themselves are “free range”, not in albums. I did notice that my Grandma had apparently cut or pulled some photos free from the old style black cardstock albums. I think I need a microspatula to remove the rest of the paper and adhesive, am I correct? What do I need to do with black and white photos as compared to color photos from later? Some of the pictures are torn or fragile - should I seek out a conservator? And what do I look for in one if I do?

How do I decide whether to use acid-free envelopes vs. buffered envelopes vs. polyester enclosures? Should I stack them flat or is a filing system OK? What do I do about the slides? Right now they are filed singly and upright in a metal case that includes a viewer. How do I stabilize the originals? Also, after I’ve preserved all the materials in acid-free enclosures, can I then store the enclosed photos in, say, a Rubbermaid tote or similar?

OK, digital archival: am I OK to scan these at home in a high-DPI flat bed scanner or will the light be damaging? I know dust is an issue, especially in my home environment (Mojave Desert), so I will be taking extra care there. My plan so far is to scan to a TIFF, clean up the image slightly, and store on a 1TB external drive (with DVD backups). Does this sound reasonable? My only “archival” work has been with engineering documents, so that’s the only experience I have to go for.

I also have a collection of letters and telegrams, mostly from my Grandpa from when he was overseas in WWII. They are still in the envelopes but some of them are in friable condition. Any different procedure for taking care of these?

Sorry if the post is a jumble of questions; Grandma died suddenly and we’re all a mess over here. I feel really strongly about getting these photos stored and archived properly. I may have other conservation questions later as well. Because of the state of things right now, I may not be able to check in on the thread as often as I should, but I need to get an idea of cost to submit my plan to Cheez_Whia for approval (cost is not too big an issue, but I’d rather not throw money away either). Thanks for help in advance, conservation Dopers! My family and I appreciate any help you can spare.

The ones that are damaged or fragile, I would take to a conservator. You should be able to find a good one locally through a photography shop or your local historical society.

The b&w photos should hold up better than color ones of the same era. The color processing is not as stable as the black and white.

I have a number of inherited photos as well. One of the first things I would do would be to scan them and save to DVD. This allows you to print them at will and place the prints in albums or scrapbooks. The originals can then be put in archival storage. I use acid free and keep them in a fireproof safe in a climate controlled room where they are shielded from the light.

The other thing that I would do is ID as many as possible; names, approximate dates, places, relationships, etc. Talk to your parents and other older members of your family. Most of the time, they will be happy that someone is interested in what they remember.

Sometimes, inheriting photos can lead to discovering some fascinating aspects of
family history. I discovered a couple of years ago that two of my g-g-g-g uncles were buried within 25 miles of where I live and I live 400 miles from where they did (Civil War soldiers killed in battle). I wouldn’t have found this out had I not inherited daguerreotypes of them in uniform and done a little research.

Happy sorting!

This part is key. Otherwise, you just have a big pile of old photos, and 20 years from now, it will be “Oh, here’s a man and a woman. They’re dressed nicely. Do you think that might be Uncle Bill? Maybe they’re at someone’s wedding?”

As for going digital, you’ve got the right idea. TIFF format is best in terms of not throwing away image info. I’d also save them all as JPG - passing around CDs or DVDs of TIFFs can be iffy, but just about any device with a screen now can display a JPG image. There are bulk conversion utilities out there that you can aim at a directory of TIFF images and they’ll automatically make JPG copies, saving you from having to remember to save the original TIFF, then doing a Save As… to make the JPGs.

Scan at the highest resolution and color depth you can. You’ll want every pixel you can get your hands on. The light from one scan shouldn’t harm anything.

For the really fragile things like those telegrams, if you can’t flatten them for scanning without harming them, you can photograph them with a digital camera. For one or two items, you can get by hand-holding the camera, but a copy stand setup (or even a tripod) would make the task easier if you have a bunch.

I should have mentioned that part of my plan to digitize is to batch-process the TIFFs into JPG copies and upload to a photobucket account. My Mom, aunt, and sister will have access to the account to help me with identification and captioning, my aunt being the biggest help in this department. This or something like it will be best, since we can work remotely (they’re in Colorado; I’m in California). I think we can order prints now through photobucket as well, so everyone will be able to order whatever they want, which is a nice bonus. Additionally I will be sending some materials to a limited-run publisher, which everyone seems pretty excited about.

Oh good. I was a little worried about this one.

Thanks guys - if anyone has an extra tips, keep 'em coming!

Just a bump to add that I also have the Blue Star Mothers banner to preserve as well. I have no idea what to do for them.

Regarding the storage of your materials, I would suggest contacting a local archives or museum for advice.

I used to work in an Archives that handled all sorts of photographs, but it was a long time ago, and I didn’t personally work with the photos, artwork, etc - so the only phrase I remember is “acid-free”. :slight_smile:

Good luck with your project - it sounds fascinating.

(PS I have all of our family’s slides and have taken on the task of scanning them - I started a thread on it a few months ago in GQ if you want to bother searching. I got lots of good advice. A friend just loaned me a little device to help me scan the slides but I haven’t started yet so I don’t know how well it will work. It basically looks like an L-shaped mirror - hard to explain).

This might be an option: (NYT article “Your Photos, Off the Shelf at Last”)