What to Do With Hundreds of Family Photos

Marc McDermott
First Published: | Updated: April 16, 2024

If you’ve ever rummaged in your parent’s loft or garage, you may find boxes of photos. Some faded, some intact, but a lot of them will be of grandparents, and can stretch back decades. This begs the question of what to do with hundreds of family photographs?

What to Do With Family Photos

There are many methods available to organize and preserve cherished memories for future generations to appreciate. Speaking from personal experience, I find Photomyne to be an excellent tool for this purpose. In this discussion, we will delve deeper into how to effectively manage and document your family’s history using various techniques.

Follow our steps for photo storing success:

Create a plan

This is where it all starts. It’s a big decision, but what is the outcome of organizing your family photos? Are you storing them to keep them safe, or scanning them? Do you want to share them with your family, or want to hold onto them before you decide what you want to do?

Also, are you emotionally ready to start getting rid of blurry snaps and old pets you have no idea about? 

Decide How To Store Them

This is a big part of the overall plan. Storing original photos in archive containers is a good way of preserving them and making it easier to switch between pages. Perhaps you’re going to use a binder or sleeves to keep them in place?

When you have hundreds of family photos to archive, using archival quality boxes and serves can help preserve them for many more years.

There will come a point where you have to make decisions on how to organize scanned photos. Some websites offer a high-end place to store photos, although you will need to consider your budget before you consider this option. 

How To Archive Family Photos

Your initial sort through will be a lot easier if you have a plan on how you intend to organize your photos. Start with a general sort through and decide on categories. Sort by family members, years, events like weddings or birthdays, or any other category that works for you. 

This makes it easier to break the process down and go at your own pace. A lot will depend on how many photos you have. Some people will find boxes and boxes, meaning thousands and thousands of snaps to organize. The numerous generations and photos at hand can make it seem like a daunting task, but get specific and you can find the process a lot more manageable. 

It can be fun to organize a spouse from childhood to marriage and repeat the process for different people. You can also organize by each of your parents and their extended family, grandchildren, or just by occasion. 

Everyone is different so if you want to stick to one relative and sort through their family tree then this can be fun as well.

Sort Your Photos In Privacy

It’s always an exciting time when someone starts to organize a box full of photos but it is near impossible to arrange them how you want with distractions. If the children are likely to pick up photos and disturb your perfect arrangement then either you will need to have a relaxed approach to archiving, or find somewhere more private.

This is not the sort of task that can be undertaken in an evening, or overnight so you’ll need to take over the space on the kitchen table or spare room for a short while. Because of the room it takes to spread the photos out, it is best to commandeer the table whilst you organize. 

Write the categories on a piece of paper or your phone and keep this record close so you can place it in front of the individual storage boxes ready to be stored. Any strays can then be placed in the correct box with ease. 

Move your collection of ready-to-be-sorted photos on the table and behold, you’re part of the way there! The piles can seem overwhelming but consider the feeling you will have when everything is archived. Start looking through methodically and begin with one album at a time. 

This is the hard part… 

Decide whether each photo is a keeper or you are going to get rid of it. It can be good practice to keep two discard piles:

  • One for throwing away (those photos of random pets and places or blurry images)
  • One for duplicates and photos the extended family may wish to keep

Yes, the time has come to discard those random pictures you took and have no idea why they are still in your possession! 

Categorize the Boxes 

The process should be therapeutic and will even feel good once you discard the unwanted photos. 

Keep the remaining photos in their categorized boxes. If you wish to sort them chronically, it can be best to put them in archival standard albums, but as we said, this does get expensive. 

Otherwise, the main thing is keeping an archive of an individual or family and knowing where to look when you want to take a trip down memory lane. 

Remember to keep any photos you aren’t sure of. There is always time to add them to other albums or toss them later. 

Sort The Boxes

The process should have taken some time already, so if you aren’t ready to archive them properly yet, save this stage for another day. When you’re ready to continue, start by opening one box and choosing how to archive the photos. 

Most people choose to organize an individual’s photos from baby to marriage, with ancestors in there as well, then repeating for different family members. 

You’re likely to stumble upon the common problem here – what is the photo that has numerous people in? 

Well, the best approach is to file the photo by the main point of interest. Who is the focal point in the photo? Or, who is the main relative? It’s a personal choice as to which individual you choose at this point. 

Assign photos of items, belongings, and pets to whom they belong. It is also a good idea to make a note of where the photo came from – what box did it appear in and who gave it to you?

Sort Through Again

At this stage, it is good practice to sort the hundreds of photos and perhaps whittle it down to 100 – 200 photos or whatever feels right and manageable. 

Final Sort

Once you have repeated the process for all the boxes of photos, it is time to bring some order to each one. Most people like to arrange their photos chronologically. Arrange them by years and life stages, if this is how you wish to file them or arrange them by surname. 

Label The Photos

Add names onto the photos and any additional information such as location or date if you know this information.  Write lightly to not damage the photo and this will help future generations to know what they are looking at. 

How To Store Family Photos 

Always store photos in a cool dry place to avoid damp and mold from damaging them. Avoid keeping them in direct sunlight or risk faded memories, and keep them away from extremely low or high humidity. 

What NOT to Do with Old Photos

When preserving your family’s photographic history, it’s just as important to know what to avoid as it is to know what to do. Here are some common pitfalls to steer clear of, based on personal experience:

  1. Avoid Using Regular Tape or Glue: Do not use regular adhesive tape or glue to repair torn photos or affix them to albums. These materials can cause further damage over time, such as yellowing and increased brittleness. Instead, use archival tape designed for photo repair, which is acid-free and will not degrade the photo paper.
  2. Don’t Store Photos in Basements or Attics: Extreme temperatures and fluctuating humidity can wreak havoc on old photographs. Basements and attics are prone to these conditions, leading to curled, warped, or moldy photos. Always store your photos in a climate-controlled environment to ensure their longevity.
  3. Resist the Urge to Write on Photos: While it might be tempting to jot down names or dates directly on the back of photographs, this can sometimes cause indentations or ink bleed-through that damages the image. Instead, use a soft pencil on acid-free labels attached to the back of the photo or note details in a separate photo inventory.
  4. Don’t Over-Clean the Photos: Handling old photos too frequently or trying to clean them with household products can remove finishes or add scratches. If cleaning is necessary, gently dust photos with a soft, dry brush specifically designed for photographs.
  5. Avoid Plastic Sleeves with PVC: Not all plastic photo sleeves are created equal. Those made with PVC can release harmful acids over time, which can damage your photos. Opt for sleeves marked as PVC-free and made from polypropylene or polyester, which are safer for long-term storage.
  6. Don’t Rush the Sorting Process: Organizing a large collection of photos can be overwhelming. Rushing through this process can lead to mistakes in categorization that are hard to undo. Take your time to thoughtfully sort and categorize each photo, making the process more manageable and enjoyable.

About the author

Leave a Comment