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Get old family photos organized in the New Year

A distant memory, the author and her spouse on the day he shipped out to Vietnam in 1971.
A distant memory, the author and her spouse on the day he shipped out to Vietnam in 1971.
Fred Wagner/Used by permission

With each New Year, we create a new list of promises to ourselves. Our lists are usually aimed at reaching any number of personal goals. Rather than focusing inwardly, consider a goal that will have lasting impact on friends and family members: preserving and organizing your family photos.

If you have decades of family photos in various formats, such as slides, photographs, negatives, and digital disks, consider purchasing a multiple format scanner. If you don’t already have a multipurpose printer/copier/scanner, excellent versions can be purchased new for less than $100.

Start with your most recent images – probably already in digital format – and what you know about them. Gather the most recent photos taken from all sources – cell phones, cameras, and tablets – and save them on your computer. After all that effort, be sure to make back up copies of those image files to a removable hard drive, a high capacity thumb or flash drive, or burn them to CDs or DVDs.

Don’t forget to download images from all your digital memory cards and organize the individual images with basic information – at least date, event, and subject – as part of the filename, such as Sam2013Halloween or GrannieJonesThanksgiving2012. You can also download them to your social network page where you can add captions and tag the subjects.

When you are ready to work with your print photographs, you can choose to use a file box system to store the photos and negatives. You can even place them into albums, but with the sophistication of digital imaging software and the plethora of apps available to sort, tag, filter, and organize your images – which will enable you to find, filter, and sort them again later – there is no longer any need to go to great lengths to organize the hardcopies. Yes, it’s practical to keep the print versions in a safe place, but why waste money on bulky, space-hogging albums when you can organize them via computer.

If you are truly committed to preserving and organizing your family photographs, you will want to go digital so that you can easily share them with the rest of the family. It’s also easy to email a JPEG image as an attachment. As you work your way back year-by-year, or even decade-by-decade, you will probably want to work with the most representative photographs. Larger photographs do not require higher resolution scans, but those little wallet-sized school photos won’t look so pixelated if you scan them in at 300 dpi.

When you add your details, think ahead to another generation that is less aware of your family’s history, and add those informative tags. It is quite possible that someday your future grandchildren will live in another city or state. If you have a photograph of your family on the front porch of grandmother’s house in Dallas, include the street address, too. If you can’t remember everyone in the photograph, post the pictures on your Facebook or Google+ page for other family members to tag with who’s who. Together you can build on the family's pictorial history and share the results with the newer, digital-savvy generation.

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