Preserving the past

Last weekend, Husband and I straightened up the main storage room in the basement. We threw out lots of stuff and organized what remained. Finally, all our pictures, slides, and family documents are in one closet. Now comes a bigger problem: what will we do with them.

The photos span from the late 19th century to the present. I am the person from both sides of my family who bothered with collecting the photos and family documents. Husband has lots of family photos and documents, too. My father was an avid photographer when I was a child, and his pictures are in the form of slides.

While it all is in one place, it is all jumbled in plastic, two gallon bags and cardboard boxes. Some are in albums that need to be sorted through. I want to end up with as much as possible in digital form. I don’t know what to keep in the original form.

What course of action would Baboons recommend? Have any of you dealt with this sort of problem? How do you store your beloved things from the past?

25 thoughts on “Preserving the past”

  1. Build several extra rooms. One for each side of the family. Don’t make too many windows. You’ll need the wall space. A third room for coffee and reading would be a nice extra touch.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Renee, I did this same project (or at least part of it—there are still my pictures left to sort and scan) last April-June after we first went into social isolation due to COVID. It was a good project for that. I did take off time to garden. Get a scanner with a feeder for documents. That speeds up things considerably. Also, the project is worth the results.

    I will try to say more later this evening. I have to get out the door now and I have a busy, busy day ahead.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Baby steps. Whenever I have a huge project like that I break it down into as small as possible bits. So say to yourself “one bag a weekend” or “one box today”. And I would sort it all out first and then start scanning because if you start scanning right away then you’re gonna have a massive number of scanned documents that you’ll still have to go through. Just my thoughts.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Morning –
      I inherited several boxes of slides from a theater friend. Mostly photos of his designs. I hate to just throw them out… but honestly, they’re not of much interest to anyone. He was a very talented designer; we all admired his work. But what is a person to do with all this? (He actually donated all his theater stuff to me; I sorted through all of it and everytime I threw something away I mentally apologized to him.)
      The scanner with a feeder is a good idea. But it’s still kinda slow. I’ve done a small percentage of the slides. I do think they should all be converted to digital. It’s one of those things you will need to ‘make’ yourself do, otherwise there is always something that feels more important than this.
      Good Luck!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can speak to the possibility of digitizing the slides. I once had about a thousand slides I needed digitized. The first company to do that produced mushy, ugly slides. I got my money back and tried again. The second firm did a marginally better job, but many slides were soft and the tones were harsh. Cost me about $600. At that point I concluded I wouldn’t find a digitizing service that could produce quality work at a price I could afford.

        I’m not feeling well, so I’ve not been contributing here.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. That’s such a many-faceted problem and the answers depend both on what sort of material you have and how much you choose to preserve. Both Robin and I are the repositories for the bulk of our respective families’ histories.

    For me, that means scrapbooks of photos and cards and clippings and letters from both my paternal and maternal grandmothers, scrapbooks my mother put together from some more old material, plus scrapbooks my mother put together of photos and documents from the early days of their marriage and my first years.
    I have boxes of Kodachrome slides someone—my uncle, I think—took in the late forties and early fifties. I also have a box of 8 MM home movies from the fifties and sixties.
    Robin has all the collected family photos of generations past plus boxes of slides from the years her family lived in Japan and also traveled extensively in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. In addition, when they were living in Japan, from 1949 to 1968, her mother and grandmother wrote extensive letters back and forth frequently. These her grandmother retyped from the originals onto onionskin paper (with carbons in between) and saved. There are several 3-ring binders packed with these letters.

    I had been gradually going through all my photos and scanning the ones that I wanted to archive but the project never seemed to resolve itself. Part of that was because I was reluctant to discard anything. Finally this winter I got some 3-ring binders and boxes of sheets of archival mylar photo sleeves in one, two, three, four, and six pocket configurations. Then I set about dismantling the scrapbooks. They were typical scrapbooks with low grade acidic paper sheets that had degraded and had in some cases degraded the material they held. Transferring everything to an acid-neutral medium was a first step. I also realized that, unless I did some selective culling, I would continue to wade through the same overwhelming detritus forever.

    I am the last of the family who can identify on sight the identity of many of the people pictured in the photos. Unless the photos are marked, if I can’t identify them, nobody ever will. So I discarded photos I couldn’t identify and also duplicate and near duplicate shots. Everything went into an appropriately sized pocket sheet and into one of the binders, separated by family line. Robin, at the same time, was doing the same thing with her family photos. To our satisfaction, we have all that stuff reduced to a few identically-sized binders.

    I have a dedicated slide scanner that I have used to digitize some of our slides. I am reluctant, however, to discard the originals, in part because digital media is not really archival. It’s useful to have a light box to use when you sort through slides. It’s much easier to scan through and compare and contrast similar slides when you can lay them alongside each other.

    Digitizing Robin’s binders full of onionskin letters were a formidable problem, one that had weighed on her for years. I bought her a CZUR scanner, one that scans as a single snapshot and automatically crops and straightens each scan. She was able to lay out and snap-scan each letter in a few sessions over several weeks. There are more than a thousand letters, so the idea of scanning them in a standard scanner and having to crop and straighten each of them manually was too much.

    I haven’t decided whether I will try to digitize the 8MM movies. Their potential audience is very limited. I have a projector but I don’t know how brittle sixty-year-old film is likely to be. I could set up a screen and projector and digitally film them and then edit them into collections but I don’t know if it’s worth the effort.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. It surprises me that no one has mentioned the problem I encountered with my slides from the early 1960s. Despite having been viewed only a couple of times with a slide projector, and otherwise stored in their small cardboard boxes, most of them have faded to such an extent that there’s virtually nothing left. Fortunately, I don’t have kids or anyone else who would be interested in most of my slides from Switzerland, the USSR, or Greenland, so I’ve just tossed them.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Bill is right. I was told that virtually all slide film used the same chemistry that Kodak employed for Ektachrome. That would include Fuji and Agfa, both of which were popular around the world. All were liable to fade. Kodachrome was entirely different, and its slides remain crisp with true color decades after being processed.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Most of my slides were Agfa, and there’s virtually nothing left of them. Wish I had known that back then, but as I said before, since I don’t have kids or anyone to pass these photos on to, it doesn’t matter at this point.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. I should add that I have uploaded many of the oldest images to Ancestry, where far-flung family members might want to see and download them.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I used to be pretty good at getting things into albums when it was in the physical realm. I am (barely) able to download photos from my ancient Kodak camera onto my computer, and can usually find them again to send to someone else. Since I don’t have a smart phone, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this technology.

    I’m glad that there are baboons who can steer you on this one, Renee. I wish I could say that I’ve got all the archival things under control here, and will let you know if that should ever happen!

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  6. I have uploaded some family photos, too, but I used FamilySearch.org, the Church of the Latter Day Saints site, which requires no fees of any kind, You sign up or a free membership. You can identify the people in the photos in such a way that when you mouse over a face, the name shows up. You can also add little stories about the people,

    I still have the boxes of photos, too. Some of them are in those elegant photo studio folders, and have the names of long-gone studios on them. Others are more modern and have those wavy edges that were typical of the sixties era snapshots. Every picture tells a story, you know.

    Liked by 2 people

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