One reader posted a comment to my Between the CoversÂ article about a family album from 1864 thatâ€™s survived smoke damage and is now in terrible shape. The acidic paper used in the manufacture of the pages is now brittle and easily falls apart.Â Sheâ€™s wondering what to do with it now. She asked a series of questions about preserving this heirloom. What sheâ€™d like to do is remove all the photos, scan them and then preserve them. Thatâ€™s a good plan, but it doesnâ€™t address all her questions.Â Iâ€™m going to answer each her questions one at a time.
â€œShould I just go ahead and remove the photos?â€
Each album tells a story and offers clues about whoâ€™s who in the collection of images. Before removing the photos from an album itâ€™s a good idea to photograph or scan the page in its entirety so that you have a record of the original order. This also helps preserve any identifying information written on the album page.
The first photo in an album is a key family history document.Â The person who laid out the book spent time selecting just the right image for that first spot. Itâ€™s usually someone important to them–husband, wife, mother, father or child. Iâ€™ve even see albums where the person whoâ€™s created the album put a picture of themselves on the opening page.
â€œShould I worry about further damage to the album?â€
That depends on if you intend to save the original album. Technically itâ€™s a family artifact, but if itâ€™s falling apart the question becomes, is it worth saving?Â According to Tim Salls, Senior Archivist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, â€œThe ideal situation is to document the original order of the photos, preserve the pictures in individual acid and lignin free and non-pvc plastic sleeves, and then store the old empty album in a separate acid and lignin free box, thus maintaining the historic value of the collection.â€
When getting ready to scan, carefully remove the photos to cause as little damage as possible to the image and the page then scan both the front and back. Designate their position in the album as 1 front and 1 back. If there is more than one photo on a page then 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d–each followed by front and back.Â You can then use your copies of the whole page to see their exact placement.
At one of the recent conferences, a vendor (I wish I could remember who) was selling new albums that looked just like the late nineteenth century albums with the cut-out pages for cabinet card photos. They were even acid and lignin free. Using one of these albums would allow Kathy to recreate the old order of the photos in a preservation quality product. She could also use acid and lignin free scrapbook pages to recreate the look of the original album.Â
â€œShould I catalog them as I go (some have writing on the back, others do not)?â€
By cataloging them one at a time, youâ€™ll be able to enter in the information such as labels and keywords, youâ€™ll need to find the pictures later on. In the case of unidentified photographs, leave the cataloging record blank to be filled in when youâ€™re done scanning.Â Genealogical software programs and photo organizing programs allow users to import photos and record data relating to the image.
The reader is on the right track thinking about preserving her family album. Once she has scans of all the images sheâ€™ll be able to piece together the family story that is present in the arrangement using her family history and photographs.