Dealing with a box of family photos

trying to create order from a jumbled box of family photosUntil recently my mother had a box of old family photos in her closet that we would enjoy going through with her when I visited. As I’ve become more involved with family history research and with learning about proper preservation techniques, I realized that I really wanted to get the photos to my home and deal with them properly.

So when I there a couple of weeks ago, I mailed them to myself. They arrived last week. That’s a photo of the box and its jumbled contents.

I don’t know about you, but when I see a box like that and think about creating order out of it, I get a little overwhelmed. But, luckily, something else came in the mail the next day. It was the Family Archivist Survival Kit, sold by Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist. Part of the kit is her Loose Photos Kit (I certainly have loose photos!). That includes archival-quality storage boxes and envelopes as well as instruction.

My intention is to buy the ScanSnap SV600 scanner and scan these babies. But first, I have to create some order and figure out what I have.

Knowing that I have a place to put photos after I sort them (and after I scan them) gives me peace of mind.

Step One is going to be to read the copious information provided in the kits. Step Two (unless I learn otherwise) is going to be to sort into families. And Step Three will be to sort by individual. Maybe it’s the professional organizer in me, but I know I’ll feel better once the photos are sorted and I see what I have and also have segregated the photos that need identification–of which there will be many.

Many aspects of family history research make me feel overwhelmed. And here’s another case. But having resources and supplies available to me is hugely helpful, and probably the reason I was able to actually take the box from my mother. (She’s been offering it for years.)

I’ll write here about the progress and any surprises that are thrown my way!

Label old photos while you can

A great example of how not to label a photo!

A great example of how not to label a photo!

I’m visiting my parents in Walla Walla, Washington, and today my mother and I went through (for the second or third time) a big box of photos that she inherited after her mother passed away. Most of the photos are from here father’s family, the Browns. Thanks to my getting to know some of the Brown cousins earlier this year, the names made more sense than they had in the past.

But oh how I wish more of the photos had been labeled. And that those that were labeled had better labels! (The photo with this post is of the back of one of the photos we looked at today.) And, of course, my other big wish is that I’d taken the time a decade or more ago, when my mother’s memory was stronger, to go through them with her.

If all the photos had been labeled with the first and last names of those pictured and the date the photo was taken, my time going through them with my mother would have been more of a trip down memory lane for her, rather than a series of head scratchers. But we did make some progress and we had a very nice time.

My mother has given me permission to take the photos home with me. I intend to do more detective work and scan the photos that I can identify and attach them to my family tree. (Yet another reason to buy the scanner I’m coveting!) I’ll be attending the Brown family reunion in June and my intention is to bring those photos with me and ask for help in identifying some of the unlabeled photos. And, of course, I’ll be happy to share photos.

Once I get home from my trip and start dealing with these photos, I’ll do more research on what to do with the originals, as well as how to electronically tag and file the photos for ease of access in sharing. (And I’ll share here.)

I have many steps ahead of me. But one thing I know is that while I’m grateful that generations before me hung on to these photos, I wish they’d taken the time to give them good labels!

The irresistible ScanSnap SV600

SV600_mat1I’m not a big early adopter of technology. Well, I did have an original iPad, but I didn’t get my iPhone until the 4S.

But since the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 contactless scanner was introduced just last month, I’ve found myself really wanting one. This scanner allows you to scan books, photographs, and documents without risk to the original. Documents rest on a surface and the scanner scans from above. Sounds like magic to me.

Today, it’s front of mind for two reasons: I have a family history book that my aunt lent me (“The Family of Edward Hampton Rasco and Connexions,” published in 1967) and she wants it back. I was thinking of potentially photocopying it, but what I’d really like is to be able to scan it.

Also today, a client showed me her marvelous collection of letters her father wrote during World War II.  She wants to have them scanned and make a book of them for her family members. This seems like a great application for the SV600.

One of the features that makes the scanner so appealing is that it will automatically straighten pages. In other words, the curvature of the page that naturally occurs when it’s bound into a book disappears, thanks to the included software. It also allows you to easily erase your fingers (used to hold a book open) from the image, and detects page turning, so you can turn the page and scan without having to press the button. (Check out this video from’s review to see what I mean.)

I have a ScanSnap S1500M sheet-fed scanner and I love it. (It’s a precursor to the iX500.) But it’s only good for those items I feel safe sending through the sheet feeder. I imagine being able to easily and safely scan scrapbook pages, old photos, fragile letters, and pages of books using the SV600 and my heart goes pitter-patter. It’s surprisingly inexpensive for what it is. Right now it’s selling for just over $600 on Amazon. Stay tuned!