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  • Kim Clay

Preserve Old Family Media — 1. Store & Digitize

Updated: 21 minutes ago

Preserve Old Family Media

A Five Part Series

Part 1 Restore & Digitize an overview of: (1) types of old family media; (2) why & how they are being destroyed; (3) why & how they should be properly stored and digitized.

Part 2 - 5 specific preservation information for each family media type:

Part 2 Photographs loose and in old albums

Part 3 Paper handwritten letters, important documents, newspaper clippings etc...

Part 4 Film negatives & slides

Part 5 Movie Film film reels & videos

1. Old Family Media Collections are...

Treasured Possessions

Our Family Media collections are among our most treasured possessions — they tell stories of who and where we come from , capture memories, and allow glimpses into our lives that we cannot get in any other way.


Family media collections trace back to the Industrial Revolution mid -19th Century Industrial Revolution, when photography, adhesive postage stamps and mass-production of paper from wood pulp, were invented. This lead to the popularity of family photography, letter writing, card sending... and saving them as family keepsakes.


The 21st Century Digital Revolution heralded a paradigm shift from paper and film to electronic and digital . So our Old Family Media collections are:

—anything from rare 'vintage' crumbling, yellowed portraits of great-great-distant relative, through to our —at least 20 year old— 'modern' albums and all the vintage albums, scrapbooks, loose photos, slides, negatives, films and documents in-between!!

2. Old Media is Fragile

Old photos can yellow and curl at the edges and the images fade. They can also be harmed with handling... stained from fingerprints and oils from the skin; damaged from being folded, creased, or torn and scratched and speckled with dust.

Vintage documents can also get stained and are even more susceptible to deterioration, which over time causes the the yellowing and brittleness of old papers (especially newsprint) and in the worst cases, the crumbling of the paper. The inks can fade or smear, and the paper can easily rip.

Film shrinks over time and will be damaged if run through a projector. Oils from our fingers can breakdown the cellulose in slides & negatives. Tapes warp and curl and get caught up in recorder heads. Slides, negatives, and film reels can also be damaged just from the containers they are stored in..

3. The Destructive Elements are...

The Environment:

1. Sunlight causes inks & dyes to fade... on paper & photos

2. Heat interferes with the photo-processing chemicals ... leading to discoloration

3. Humidity causes decay, and damp environments are a breeding ground for mold and insects which wreak havoc on all media

4. Dust particles are very electrostatic-ally attracted to film & photos

So ideal storage conditions for family media are:

low light – the darker the better to slow fading of inks & dyes.

regulated temperature... the cooler, the better but at least below 75 F (24 C), the activation temperature of photo-chemical reactions.

low relative humidity (below 65 %)... to slow decay and reduce the chances of mold and insects wreaking havoc

well ventilated areas, since circulating air can combat mold, dust other damaging particles.

Old Materials

Wood pulp that is used to make paper contains lignin and other residual acids. Over time, these acids are activated by heat & humidity and interact with paper, film & photo image-making chemicals. This 'off-gassing' in old media products and many of the materials used to store them are contributing to their destruction. Beyond the old albums, scrapbooks and envelopes, old rubber bands, staples and paperclips holding vintage papers can also be doing damaged. Also, slides, negatives, and film reels (old metal cans) are being destroyed by the containers they are stored in.

Magnetic Albums... a special case! These more 'modern' albums (also known as sticky albums) were popular in the 70's & 80's but are now destroying the very images they were meant to protect. The cheap cardboard pages, the adhesive, and the plastic covering are all contributing.

Where they are stored

Although Garages, Basements or Attics tend to be our go-to storage places, these are rarely 'climate controlled'... they are less likely to be well ventilated; dustier and fluctuate from freezing in the winter to very hot and humid in the summer.

Ideally we should store our precious family media on the (regulated?)main levels of our homes. If the basement is the only option, at least keep them off the floor and consider putting them in airtight, lightproof containers lined with acid-free paper... barring a flood or fire this will keep them relatively safe, ... and never touching them again will definitely increase their life-time! ...

4. Modern Storage Solutions are...

The buzz words for modern photo-related products in the consumer marketplace are Archival, Acid-Free & Photo Safe. While there are no official standards, It is generally understood that

Archival, when referred to paper- based storage products, means that is made from wood pulp (with a pH above 7) that is acid-free and lignin-free.

Photo Safe when referred to photo albums and other photo products such as paper, plastics, and adhesives meets the Image Permanence Institute standardized Photographic Activity Test (PAT) They provide a downloadable guide with a description ... (and I quote:....)

"of the standard's requirements to meet the “photo-safe” designation depending on material type (paper, plastic, adhesive, etc.), as well as an illustration depicting which elements of a photograph are most likely affected by harmful components (reactants) in photo storage, display, and labeling materials, and which tests are necessary to detect each of these reactants. for “photo-safe” designation depending on material type (paper, plastic, adhesive, etc.), as well as an illustration depicting which elements of a photograph are most likely affected by harmful components (reactants) in photo storage, display, and labeling materials, and which tests are necessary to detect each of these reactants"

Acid-free does not apply to plastic photo storage supplies, which should be inert and stable. Cheaper plastic enclosures are often made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC, or vinyl), with plasticizers that make the compound unstable, so in this case, Photo Safe refers to inert plastics such as polyester (Mylar), polypropylene , and polyethylene.

On the whole, the our 'newer' photos, housed in 'modern' plastic-sleeved albums are safe. However, the best long-term storage options for 'older' media (slides, negatives, photos and documents and other memorabilia) are photo-safe, archival-quality (acid - free & lignin free) folders, sleeves and boxes that have passed the PAT test. As well as protection from light and dust, the boxes come in a variety of sizes, with metal edges to provide extra stability, and dividers to help with labeling & organizing your media. come with dividers and tabs that help and organizing.

5. Old Media should be Digitized...

These photos, pages and film hold our most treasured and unique family memories that are meant to be shared and enjoyed across generations! They may be old family recipe books accumulated from past generations or a hand made scrapbook with photos of the whole family. The stories they tell are worth more than the paper or film they are (im)printed on... AND much like old photos, our memories fade over time.

  • Creating digital copies of the originals of these family heirlooms, and backing them up, is the BEST WAY to preserve, share and pass on treasured family memories !!

  • Converting old photos, to digital photo files helps organize and reclaim memories from those bulky attic boxes... They can be viewed without any heavy lifting and uploaded to the cloud to be easily shared with people who are not sitting right next to us in our homes!

  • Digitizing old film (slides, negatives & video) brings back images that may have been lost for years, for lack of the equipment needed to view them.

  • Another benefit is that it allows us to digitally restore (think Photoshop) damaged items.... and to handle copies of documents without damaging the originals.

  • And it is a great backup plan in case of that flood, fire, or other damage in the basement.

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To Learn More, Go To:

Blog to see more posts about Why and How -To preserve, organize, plan and present family media (there are a number in the works).

Resources for external links, useful information, products, services... and more!

FAQ this may answer some of the questions you have;

Services to see the personalized guidance solutions that Digital Kreation offers.

The information presented in this Blog is an accumulation of my own experience and internet searches. I am not affiliated with any of the institutions, services or products that are mentioned.

#digitalkreation #preservefamilymemories #digitizetopreserve #scanoldmemories


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