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How to Sort Your Collection of Old Photos

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Sorting and organizing a large collection of family photographs can be overwhelming. Even though most of us have made the switch to digital, we still have collections of old pictures from our own past or those that have been passed down from our relatives. If you have a ton of photos to organize and don’t know where to begin, here are some ideas for tackling the job. 1. Collect them all in one place – Your photos might be scattered throughout your home in boxes, drawers, and albums. Gather them all together so you can assess how many you have to deal with and make decisions about storage solutions. Old albums, especially the ones with sticky pages and a clear plastic overlay, can be damaging to photos over time. Remove photos from these for safe keeping (try sliding dental floss between the back of the photo and the adhesive to loosen them), and if they are truly stuck, consider getting the entire page scanned. This can be done locally at the at the Brewerton Library’s Preservation Studio. 2. Decide on categories – The next step is to start sorting into categories. How specific you get will depend on the level of detail you prefer and the size of your collection. If a chronological system makes the most sense to you, stick to decades or life stage (such as before you were born, childhood, early adult, and later adult). Within a chronological system you can create subcategories if you wish, such as holidays, vacations, side of the family, or important places. You don’t need an overly complex system, just one that allows you to find the photo you are looking for with ease. 3. Weed as you go – As with any other item in your home, the fewer photos you keep the easier it will be to organize them. As you are sorting, consider discarding any photos that meet the following criteria:

  • They are blurry or too dark

  • They are duplicates

  • You don’t recognize the people or places in them

  • You have an excess number from the same event

  • It’s a memory that is not going to be shared by future generations

  • It depicts landscapes, monuments, zoo animals, or other impersonal images

4. Storage considerations – The easiest and most space efficient storage option is to use photo boxes. Get some that are made of acid-free materials and use dividers or envelopes to keep your categories separated. Albums take more time to put together, so use them to show off only the very best in your collection.

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