I’m always surprised when family heirloom photographs are found. I am more surprised at the conditions that many of them survived!
Some photos in my collection survived 50+ years stored in a trunk in a southern Virginia barn. Another photo survived years in an eastern North Carolina attic. Imagine the heat!
Still… no Focus on Photos series on our ancestors’ photographs is complete without discussing how to properly store and care for our family photos.
What can we do to make sure these photographs last for future generations?
The Basics of Storing Your Precious Family Photographs
Let’s start with the basics of photo storage. This may be a review for many of you or seem a bit obvious, but stating the obvious can be a good thing.
- The best place to store photographs is in a cool, dry place. Attics (or barns in my family’s case!) and basements are not good places to store your photographs.
- Avoid storing photos in extreme temperatures. Less than 75°F is best.
- Avoid storing photos in high extremely low humidity. High humidity promotes mold growth and low humidity promotes brittle photos.
- Avoid storing photos in direct light. Direct sunlight fades photographs.
- Avoid those magnetic photo albums.
Storing Your Photos in Archival Safe Boxes
What does “archival safe” mean when it comes to storing your photographs? Archival safe means the photo box, album, sleeve, etc is lignin-free, acid-free, PVC-free and has a neutral pH to prevent the degradation of your photos.
Photo boxes are a popular way to store family photographs. Even though you use archival safe photo boxes, there are ways to further safe guard your precious photographs.
- Don’t over fill the photo box. Stuffing “just one more” into the box risks scratching or tearing of your photo.
- Don’t under fill your photo box either. Under filling a box encourages bowing of the photographs. Avoid this by using the correct size box or use a spacer to if needed.
- Store like sized photos together. This prevents excessive shifting that could scratch your photographs.
- Use archival photo sleeves to further protect your old photographs. Sleeves come in a variety of sizes. Place only one photo in a sleeve and use a sleeve that is slightly larger than the photograph. You do not want the edges of your photo extending beyond the sleeve. (See an example here.)
- What about over-sized photos? Store in the appropriate sized flat box. Archival photo boxes come in a variety of sizes.
- When you are handling your photographs, make sure your work area is clean and dry and your hands are free of any lotions or oils.
Sources for Archival Safe photo storage products
- Gaylord Archival
- Archival Safe Photo Storage on Amazon.com
- The Container Store
- Great resource! How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records by Denise May Levenick
Protecting Your Photographs From Catastrophic Events
Sometimes the unimaginable happens and natural disasters destroy our precious heirlooms. How can we protect our family heirloom photographs from fire, floods or just poor storage options?
- Have copies made and store off-site in a safe deposit box. Distribute copies among other family members for safe keeping.
- Digitize photographs and back up in cloud storage such as Dropbox or on flash drive. Picture Keeper is a flash drive designed specifically to backup and organize photographs.
I wrote this post as much for you, my readers, as myself. I have a large collection of old family photos and need to focus on storing them more safely. How about you? Will you join me?Please note that this post contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you decide to purchase a product/service. This does not cost you extra. Be assured I only recommend products/services that I use and think you would like too.