Preserving Family Photographs

Your family photos are a great legacy you’ll be passing on to your children, and which they’ll pass on to theirs. If the photos survive.
Photos are fragile, and have certain needs for temperature and humidity. The basic rule is, “keep them where you would be comfortable”. In other words, NOT in the attic or basement. This photo shows what can happen when photos or papers are stored in a moist environment: you're seeing mold.
And the attic is hot, accelerating fading. In addition, basement, attic and garage storage carries a risk of small creatures setting up residence and using your family papers and photos as nesting material. This is a particular problem of rural areas, but affects town folks as well.
House fires are rare, by God's grace. But neither are they unheard of. What you may not know, however, is that the process of burning (chemically known as oxidation) happens to photos at a slow pace when they're stored in inexpensive albums or in commonly-available cardboard boxes or envelopes. These paper products contain manufacturing acids and plant lignins which degrade over time to produce acids. These acids are what cause the yellowing of paper and the fading of photos.
Flooding isn't that common in the New River Valley either, though yesterday I blundered into ankle deep water from a downpour. We're not in New Orleans, so there are few worries about levees here. But we do pipe water into our homes: burst pipes and overflowing sinks and tubs are real risks if one has improperly-stored photos. And flooded basements would certainly put photos at risk if that's where they're stored.

Tornados? We've had them nearby - a buddy of mine lost his roof to one in Pulaski a year or two ago. A tornado does combination damage: no roof and heavy rain puts all in-house storage at risk, as does the risk of fire or broken pipes that would come with the structural damage.
Finally, even if you have stored the box of family photos properly, what about the treasured few you have on display? Sunlight can fade photos in a surprisingly short time: the ultraviolet rays are the culprit, and sunlight has lots of UV.

The answer

The answer is to store your photos in an acid- and lignin-free box, on a shelf in your closet. That will protect them from sunlight, acid damage, water damage and most mice.

To protect them from fire, flood, tornado and the othermice, you should have copies stored somewhere out of the area. Making physical copies can be daunting, but electronic copies can now be done inexpensively. One can create a CD or DVD to hold the information, and make multiple copies so each of your kids can have their own copy and you get the benefit of off-site storage.

We offer photo archiving services to help you preserve your treasures - for generations to come.

We also offer, as a free service to our customers, color correction for faded photographs. This treatment brings vibrant colors and clarity back to photos which would normally be only of diminishing sentimental value: with the new lease on life, you could print and display these photos, too!
In addition, we're often able to improve the quality of photos which were backlit and taken with automatic exposure. This caused the camera to think it had all of the photo it needed with all of the light from the background, but left the shadows too dark. By altering the midtone levels, we're often able to bring detail back to a dark photo.
Thanks to Melissa Mannon of ArchivesInfo for permission to use the mold and mouse photos; others are in the public domain or are from our family's collection.