Protecting Family Memories with Photographs

  We all have those old photos, many with minimal to no identifying information, stored away at the bottom of the picture box waiting to be explored. These old photos can unlock treasured memories that may otherwise have been forgotten. Digging out those old photographs is a great way to Have the Talk of a Lifetime and open new discussions about your family history. You might learn something new about your loved ones as you work together to preserve them. Today there are options for sharing these old photos. Whenever there’s a large family gathering on the schedule, the cameras tend to come out! Photographs are a great way to jump start your Talk of a Lifetime. Just one click can capture the vivid colors, the happy expressions, and the beautiful scenery of a memorable day. But, delicate photographs are also prone to fading, discoloration, and tearing. They say a picture is work a thousand words. Make sure you don’t let those old memories fade away. Learn the steps to protecting those treasured photos and family memories, so you can pass these mementos to future generations!

Why Do Photographs Deteriorate?

Photographs are made of several layers: a top layer of colored gelatin, a layer of adhesive, and the photographic paper. Deterioration over time can affect each layer in different ways, resulting in a dull or discolored image. The last thing you want is to gather around the photos, only to discover they are in worse condition than the last time you reminisced over them! Here are the most common factors that can ruin your prized prints:
  • Temperature and humidity are two of the biggest factors that can wreak havoc on your photographs. Humidity can cause mold to form on the gelatin layer, while fluctuating temperatures can cause the base to warp.
  • Air pollutants can also harm your pictures. Be wary of cleaning products, oil-based paint, and other volatile chemicals. They should be stored away from your photo album.
  • While temperature and humidity can be harmful, don’t forget about light. Fluorescent and ultraviolet light can quickly deteriorate the vivid colors of your prints.
  • If a natural disaster strikes, be sure to check on your photo collection. A flood or a fire can destroy cherished pictures rapidly, so consider storing your valuable photos in a safe or other protective unit.

How Should I Store My Photographs?

While you can go as low- or high-tech as you’d like, it’s easy to store your photos by following a few simple guidelines. When storing stacks of prints, prevent sticking by placing sheets of acid-free paper or plastic between each print. If you’d prefer to use a photo album, look for terms like archival quality, or PVC and acid-free paper. This will help prolong the quality of your prints as you store them for the long term and for generations to come. Also, it may be worth your time to scan your favorite photos to create a digital copy, perhaps saving a folder of photos for each family member to reflect upon. This gives you a crystal-clear image as a backup, just in case anything happens to the original, and you will have a digital photo album of each of your loved ones for special occasions, or when you need them to honor their lives. As you’re preparing your portfolio, consider gathering a stack of faded photographs from your loved ones, and make sure you make a family project out of the task. Talk about the events that were taking place at the time of each of the photos, and share stories of the loved ones that are in them. You can often rekindle some wonderful memories while restoring these priceless keepsakes. Be sure to record these memories in writing as they are shared. This will help avoid future family mysteries, and will ensure that those stories live on after we are gone. For more ideas about how to share family stories and legacies, download our free Have the Talk of a Lifetime guides and workbooks.