The Family Photo Album

I hope I live long enough to get my photographs in albums. This has been an ongoing project through the years but somehow never quite finished.  At one time I started albums for each child and attempted to place copies of all the “good” pictures therein. The children loved to look at their books, and this was a good activity, but it required constant monitoring to preserve the photos from the ravages of little fingers. “Is this me?” they would ask as they pointed to each baby picture. These albums were quickly outgrown and became much too expensive and time consuming to maintain. “I’ll finish these when I have more time,” I rationalized, “and give them their albums when they get married.”

Only our first six children had photo albums; the younger three only knew manila envelopes. That was the makeshift method to sort out and store the photos until we could get them properly placed. More than once I tried arranging the contents of these envelopes in chronological order. Some progress was made, but usually I had too much “help” from those who wanted to just enjoy looking at the pictures. Once again the photos went back into envelopes and on the closet shelf.

I wonder if teachers know how much stress they cause by asking students to bring a baby picture of themselves for this or that activity. Finding the “right” picture always meant sorting through every picture in the envelope. There is also the problem of protecting the photo from damage during its trip to school and, hopefully back. Too often this resulted in a blank spot in the album where a picture once was. I don’t think teachers will change in the future, but if I had it to do again, I think I would have copies made of those babies to use as loaners.

I found school pictures to be the biggest challenge.  They come around with regularity, thanks to the person who created this tradition, and also multiply by children and years. Add to this the issues of hand-me-down clothes and similar genes, and a problem of identity arises. “Is this Brian, or Mark in Brian’s old shirt?” More than once we had pictures of the same child in the same favorite outfit for two years running.  “Was this Ann’s fifth grade picture, or her fourth?”  One summer Jennifer and I tackled the school picture problem once and for all. We set up a folding banquet table in an upstairs bedroom and laid them out, children on the Y axis and years on X. Careful scrutiny of 30 years of school pictures ultimately revealed correct years and children. That was a productive summer resulting in every photo being placed neatly in albums!

The cycle continues, however, and now in the autumn of my life I feel a pressing need to get my life in order–including the photos. They really need to be taken out of the sticky albums and mounted on acid-free paper, under acid-free plastic sheets, and properly labeled. That’s my current project.

I began by purchasing several three-ring binders, a ream of heavy, black, acid-free paper, and began punching holes. That was my first mistake. Now we need a new paper punch. Hindsight would suggest one have a copy center drill the holes. Next, I bought three boxes of photo corners and began pasting. It seemed I had barely begun when they were all gone. So, I went back to the store and bought ten more boxes. If that doesn’t do it, I will have to put corners on my Christmas wish list.

Computer file folder labels were used for the labels. I had labeled perhaps 8 or 10 pages of photos when Kristen said, “I didn’t know Howard’s middle name is spelled R-e-i-d.” “It’s not,” I replied. “Well, that is what it says here.” Sure enough there it was, typed with my own fingers! “Oops! This is not right. This is Jennifer in the cupboard, not me. Just remember Jennifer in the cupboard, Kristen in the fireplace.”

I admonish you not to procrastinate properly organizing, labeling, and storing your precious family photographs, an essential part of your family history.  I plan to use my albums to help construct the journal I never kept. I think this year at Christmastime I will gather the children around the kitchen table, bring out the albums, turn on the tape recorder, and sit back and listen.  The contents of the family album can have a profound effect on later generations and help answer the gnawing questions of “Who are we?” and “Where do we come from?”

I remember how much fun it was as a child to look at my mother’s albums. They were stored in her cedar chest under lock and key, and carried with them a nostalgic cedar fragrance. I hope our children and grandchildren will remember our family albums and the people whose likenesses they contain with similar fondness.

January 2015.  Time marches on, and since 1992 when the above article was written, computers have entered our lives, complicating even more the photograph preservation problem, with scanned and digitized multiple copies of photos in multiple formats, shared with multiple children and grandchildren.  Cameras on hand-held devices have increased the sheer numbers of photos in existence, most of which are stored on multiple devices and multiple nebulous clouds.  I wonder how many of these precious memories will survive this generation?  Perhaps we should sort the keepers from the sillies and post them in Memories on FamilySearch.












One thought on “The Family Photo Album

  1. I’ve been plagued with this dilemma myself. Just recently I lost half of a year’s photos due to a hard drive crash that I was going to get around to backing up…. The fact that I had uploaded many of my images on Shutterfly (free, unlimited storage) saved me. I only had to pay them to send me an archive cd of the images, well worth the $30. Then I took a good look at all the photos I had taken, and realized about half really mattered to me. So, I’m trying to get in the habit of weeding out photos before I store them for putting in albums later. I am only making family albums now, but hope that after “tagging” all my photos I can make each child some memory books online. I do all my album making digitally, but it also became too time consuming while I tried to make a “themed” or “cute” page. In fact, I got so frustrated I just quit. Now, however, I’ve found a great system that has saved me. Simple, grid-like system that makes it really easy and fun to document memories. I use a digital version (she also offers and iPhone App for people who use camera phones), but she also has a pocketed binder system for photos that are already printed. I’m amazed at how much I’ve accomplished using this method, so I thought I’d pass it along. Also, I love Family Search and the photos I’ve been able to share and download from the site. But again, my generation needs to remember to PRINT the photos at some point. 😉 My Family History best friend has been my laptop and portable scanner, I’ve been able to “borrow” family photos without them leaving a person’s premises.


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