Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on December 17, 2013 in Ask Ancestry Anne, Research, Website

You’ve found that image or document that reveals a great story or confirms that missing clue you needed, and you want to make sure it is saved for generations to come.

What is the best way to save and preserve your images?

Lord Morpeth Roll 1I asked Sabrina Petersen, Director of Global Imaging here at, and she shared these 5 tips:

  1. Think like an Archive. Archives think about how to preserve records and photographs for their patrons and posterity within a budget.  Digitization allows for multiple copies of the original that can be shared as well as stored, which allows you to store a master copy and make copies as needed.
  2. Future Use. Think about how you are going to find this particular picture or document in the future.  Putting metadata within the name of the image itself is the easiest way to find it in the future. You might put “Aunt Nancy Family Reunion 1982 picnic” as the name of the picture or “Death Certificate Benjamin Franklin Blansett 1912”.  By making the name the basic information you can then easily search and find it again. Then you can further organize the files by putting them in folder by event, family surname or by type of record, which will help make retrieval of this easier in the future.
  3. Digitize your records.  This can be done by using different types of equipment, but probably the easiest is a digital camera for most documents. Capture the document or picture as straight as possible when photographing, this avoids creating unwanted “artifacts” or spots on the image if you need to straighten it on your computer. Our Shoebox app is a great tool to use as well.
  4. Choose formats wisely. There are a lot of formats to choose from – JPEG and TIFF are the most common. Whichever you choose, make sure that you have the original copy someplace safe and then make a second copy which is the one you play with, send to others or upload for safe keeping to your family tree on Ancestry.  This second copy can be any file format you choose, including a PDF.  This makes it easy to share, send and upload.
  5. Anything is better than nothing! Lastly remember that anything you do now is better than nothing.

A little thought as you store your finds will save you a lot of angst later.

Happy Searching!



Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.


  1. joan4164

    Thank you, Anne, for another interesting article. I found it a great motivator. But I could use a list of web sites and/or other posts that give detailed information about each of your points. What suggestions do you have on “where to go next”? Joan4164

  2. Kirk Sellman

    Be sure to scan at 300dpi at minimum. Otherwise, the pictures can’t be zoomed in showing detail. I scan to TIFF and then create a JPEG copy. I also use software which can create white space at the bottom of the picture to add information. Metadata can be lost as it’s passed around.

  3. Jen Ringsmuth

    I thought the article was a good start but failed to mention the more basic aspects of saving the original such as keeping it away from light and keeping the conditions that it is stored in both dark and dry. Why do we have ancient manuscripts from desert cultures and not so much from the tropical cultures? Because the conditions were not amenable to preserving them. I understand that it is the information that is important but paper and film remain,to my knowledge, the best way to preserve originals and digitization is only as good as your migration plan.

  4. Etta

    I read your article on preserving. I am also, primarily needing to know how to preserve old family Bibles. I have serval. My grandmother’s Bible is in bad shape. The cover is crumbling around the edges. I have tried to find this at several different places, but nobody seems to know. I would appreciate if you could give me some so
    solid useful information. Thank you.

  5. JackiMex

    I agree, Anne, that putting the metadata in the digital file title is very useful. To make it easier to find the digital files on one’s computer, start the file name with the surname, followed by other info in an organized manner. After the surname comes the first name (and middle if known )and then the type of photo or document, and finally the source. If more than one person is in the photo or is mentioned in the document, the name of the person most related to the researcher is given first. For a married woman her maiden surname is given before her married surname. Here are some examples:

    Jones–John P–birth certificate from Smith Co TN

    Harris Jones–Mary E & John P Jones–marriage certificate from

    Harris Jones–Mary E & John & Susan & Wayne Jones–photo abt 1922–from Aunt Jane Harris in Chicago IL

    Writing the metadata at the bottom of the photo is another excellent idea from Kirk.

  6. Barry Edwards

    I agree with your comments, and one item I would add is a fireproof file box to store the original. These are fairly inexpensive at many stores. Also place a printed out backup in a different fireproof file box. Be sure and put the fireproof file boxes in a dark and dry place, and don’t forget where the keys are kept.

  7. Lucia Foster

    In 1978-1979 my late husband, Glenn R. Foster and I bought over 100 rolls
    of microfilm from Union, Spartanburg, Greenville, Laurence, York counties in
    South Carolina from the South Carolina Archives. Plus we have a few microfilms of Census bought my my late father-in-law. Today, the end of 2013 the microfilms are in perfect condition as when they were received 35 years ago. The microfilms are in individual small boxes, kept in shipping cartons in the daylight basement until last year. Also no scratches: just
    perfect. They were taken across country West to East, East being very humid country, a few years later shipped by Post Office to Oregon Willamette Valley. The census ones bought by my father-in-law, the late
    Howard Cornish Foster, have something like a greasy coating. I do not
    know how they got to be that way. He had loaned to some of his friends.
    and I do not know where the greasy, sticky stuff comes from.
    We have a manual microfilm reader that projects the image, on top of the desk or on a wall to make the picture larger, this allows me
    to trace the documents on paper: Important documents and maps I have
    been tracing on 100% COTTON or LINEN PAPER. This is how books and documents are preserved in important Archives and Museums.
    Want to leave a Family History, Documentation, etc. for your descendant
    to treasure through the coming centuries? NOW YOU KNOW HOW TO !
    Cotton and Linen paper is expensive, can be found for sale on the Internet and in stores Like Office Depot, Office Max, Staples, etc. There is also acid-free paper but I have not tried it.
    Good luck,

Comments are closed.