Organizing Vintage Photos

Yes, you might have boxes of old photos, ones handed down through several generations. However, unless they are organization and especially labeled, they are not very useful to the family historian. It will take commitment to achieve such a task of organizing the collection of photos, but once it is finished – you will be so happy.

Mary-portraitThat was one of the first things I did once I started doing genealogy, was get the photos into categories and I had nearly a thousand to do. There are several methods that are usable.

You can arrange the photos in the family archive by families (Smiths, Jones, Johnson, etc) or by individual people (such as John Wilson, Mary Harrison, Martha Richardson, etc). Now those categories can include anything having to do with them or the family surname including the homes they lived in, vacation photos, school graduations, etc.

The next method is by time periods, such as decades – 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, etc. I use this method, mostly I had a good sense of history and even if I didn’t have an exact date, I came very close to identifying what the time period was because of clothing styles, autos, photo type, etc. To me it is very easy now to pull out any number of photos of when my mother was a youngster – 1917 to 1928 (just two separate packages with the 1910s and 1920s). However, I had taken it a step further by keeping my mother’s side and decades separate from the collection of my father’s family by decades.

Another method is by events. School graduations or even just school photos can be one category. Then weddings, which could have many photos and vacations is another big category.

Next can be places, here would be many photos of hometowns, occupational places such as shops, factories, businesses, etc. Photos of homes, barns, ranches, does make a nice collection.

You might have many images from relatives who served in the military, another good category. This would include them in their uniform and maybe shots at their base where they were stationed.

Some image might even cover two categories. There could be your uncle Jerry Williams in front of his new home. You decide, is it a better photo of the uncle or of the house?

The most important is to label as much as you do about the places, events and people in each photograph. Never write on the front of the photo or even on the back with a pen. There are archival pens that can be used, but still keep marks to the lower edges.

Having the photos groups you can add a more descriptive write-up especially if the topic is family homes or military service. Use archival paper (safe) to protect the images.

Now once that big challenge is achieved, and you will be happy that the photos are organized, making the task to locate a specific image quicker. Then think about scanning all the images. You will have them saved as digital images and can be shared easier and preserved.

Photo: Mary Elizabeth Vann McClellan of Florida in the 1880s.

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