Posted by Denise May Levenick on February 12, 2018 in Guest Bloggers

Genealogists wear many hats — researcher, writer, preservationist, archivist. We always want more time to track down our elusive ancestors, but if you inherited family photos, documents, or keepsakes, there’s no time like the present to safely preserve your treasures for the next generation.

Here is a list of family history tips to help you save the past and move your genealogy work forward to the future:

  1. Select Safe Storage

Get those old photos out of flimsy shoeboxes and into acid-free archival storage boxes, also known as Hollinger Boxes. These heavy-weight boxes are designed to resist slight temperature fluctuations and moisture, and protect the contents from dust, pests, and light.

Look for true archival boxes like those sold to the Library of Congress and university archives. Typically manufactured in the United States to rigorous standards, archival storage containers may be made of acid-free “board,” paper, or plastic. Avoid any kind of recycled product because the content and quality is unknown. Purchase plastic enclosures and containers that have passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT), a lab test measuring photo stability within a plastic enclosure. If you’ve ever encountered faded and damaged photos in an old “magnetic” type photo album, you’ve seen evidence of poor quality plastic and paper storage. Check out recommended safe archival products at

  1. Digitize Research and Heirlooms

Investigate your options for digitizing family photos, papers, and keepsakes, and then scan or photograph depending on the item. Use your smartphone for quick images, but you’ll have more options for editing and restoration with high-quality archival scans of heirloom photographs or documents.

Use a consistent file naming scheme and organizing system like the four-part filename described in “EASY Digital Filenaming to Organize Genealogy Files.”

  1. Backup Your Files

Protect your family legacy with multiple digital copies. Don’t throw away the original; think of that old black and white photo as another “backup” copy. Use an easy-to-remember habit such as “Backup 3-2-1,” three copies, two different media, one copy offsite. Three copies could include the original digital file on your computer, and two more copies. Use different storage media such as an external hard drive, cloud service, DVD backup, or another server. Insure the survival of your digital files by keeping one copy offsite, away from your home where natural and man-made disasters could damage or destroy your files. With the low cost of digital storage, cloud services are an excellent choice for offsite file storage.

  1. Share Your History

Make this year, the year you bring your family history out of the binders and file folders to share the people and their stories with your family and friends. Find new and exciting ways to enjoy old pictures and stories by following genealogy blogs, Facebook groups, Pinterest boards, and Instagram accounts. What’s old is new again, and lifestyle magazines have caught on to “vintage” and “family history” decorating and craft trends. Look beyond a numbered genealogy for ways to share your family history.

  1. Discover Keepsakes through Cousin Connections

Are you a family historian without many family keepsakes? Before assuming that your ancestors just “didn’t keep things,” reach out to cousin connections to ask about old photographs, family records, or a family Bible. Newfound cousins through DNA testing might hold the answer to your brick-wall problems. Many times, family collections are passed down to the eldest, or youngest, or sometimes a distant relation. With name changes through marriage, it can be difficult to track those wayward heirlooms.

Are you one of the millions of genealogists who sent off a DNA sample, but aren’t quite sure what to do next? New resources and expert guidebooks like Blaine Bettinger’s Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy can help you make sense of this exciting new genealogy tool. Think about DNA as one more genealogical data source to investigate.

Remember the first time you looked at a census report? All those rows and columns may have seemed overwhelming, but with training and practice, the census can yield valuable clues to family lives. Enroll in a course, view webinars, or study a book on the basics of genetic genealogy to build your skills and connect with newfound cousins. Go beyond adding names to your family tree. Reach out to ask about family heirlooms too.

Denise May Levenick

Denise May Levenick is the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes (Family Tree Books, 2012) and How to Archive Family Photos (Family Tree Books, 2015) and owner of blog and website. She presents workshops and seminars, and is the course coordinator for “Family Archiving in the Digital Age” at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.


  1. David Vandeveld

    I want to put my digital pictures in my FTM (over 800!) so others can see them and help me ID them. How do I do this?

  2. Julie A.(Morgan) Brewer

    Thanks for your help. I keep photos in an olla army bullet storage box. And other birth &death certificate in a fire proof safe. Thanks, for extra help. Julie brewer

  3. John Wolf

    My father was born Feb 14,1912 in Rockford, Il. Mothers name Gertrude Patterson Wolf, no birthplace. I cannot find any info on her.

  4. Shirley Gillespie

    I have self-published 5 books. OK. A few more. The first was about the only woman commissioned during the Civil War, Captain Sally Louisa Tompkins. Then two on my great grandparents who lived in Laramie, Wyoming. My grand uncle worked and knew Tom Horn. Then along came a “Murder in Eagle, Idaho”. A true story that happened in 1910. Lots of families and their history in that book. Somewhere along that line I took my aunt’s history of the Clyde families, added to it, include history of a ranch that has been in the same family for over 150 years. So now what? Keep snooping through for more history. An archivist in Laramie referred to me as a “professional snooper.”

  5. Walter Cullars III

    My family history goes back to 1735, and the arrival of Swiss & German emigrants to the (then) British Colonies in SC and in GA. Your records do not have this history. I have some of the family history and have used however your files are not open to my family history search. Since your information deals with mostly “current” dates, how can I access History information back to 1735 and later data.

    • Walter Cullars III

      I want to access History for the Swiss & German emigrants that arrived in SC and GA in 1735-1750. How can I find that information?

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