Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Food for Thought: Preserving Your Family Photos, Documents Before the Next Disaster

The recent hurricane here on the East Coast and subsequent wind and water damage that occurred to tens of thousands of homes and businesses has compelled me to write to you with a worthwhile suggestion, as well as some food for thought.

As I have thousands of your precious family photographs already on my museum website, I am constantly reminded of the value of the material possessions that help us preserve and recall our own family’s history.

I know that many of us do not “back up” or photos or documents, as we generally do not anticipate natural (and some unnatural) events affecting us so severely, a tragedy that may occur to one’s property, not only from wind and flooding, but from disasters such as fire, earthquakes (or bombs, G-d forbid).

Many received extensive damage to their homes, especially their ground floors and basements. One can only try to imagine all that was lost, and the emotional impact it had on those who suffered because of it. I come to you here as one who strives to help you preserve your own family history, who has a vast, genealogical interest in his own family history, with a wish that you – perhaps as the fulfillment of a resolution for the New Year – make a full effort in the coming year to preserve and protect your own family legacy.

Can you imagine having all your precious family photographs, etc. destroyed, with absolutely no hope of recovering them? Surely we care more about our own personal well-being and that of our family members, our home itself, etc., but I am talking here solely about photographs and documents, and perhaps other material, family “mementos”.

It is my suggestion that each of us find some way of saving our precious photographs in at least a secondary location, e.g. on an external hard drive, thumbnail drive, CD, etc. Or one can save them to one’s computer, put them online to a photo-sharing program, e.g. with Flickr, or on other such websites.

One must remember, however, that only saving one’s photos to the same relative location is not a good idea, as your precious family photos, etc. can also be destroyed along with your photo backup, e.g. if your house’s first floor floods, and that is where you keep your family albums, as well as your computer who you may back up your files. So perhaps saving your photos (and documents too, let’s not forget) to an outside location (perhaps in a different part of the country) is probably the best bet, whether one backs them up online or in some other physical location.

I could go on, but I think I made my point. Many of us care very much about our family history and the preservation of physical remembrances, etc., so we should make this a priority to back up our precious photos and documents to a safe place. We don’t want to lose valuable family “heirlooms”, nor have to go back and do all our family research over again.

A similar suggestion can also be made with regards to preserving one’s own personal history, either by writing it down or recording it for posterity, before one’s memories fade or worse. Here time is the enemy, not any natural disaster. But that’s for another discussion….


  1. Thanks for the thoughts. I recently completed a project to scan in over 400 old photos from our family album that was literally falling apart. These are now on disks in the hands of my sibblings as well as my computer and back-up disk. I took the time to also label each picture (file name) with comments written on the back of photos or atleast who each person was and approx year. Now what to do with the box of loose photos??/ can't seem to think about throwing them away....

  2. What I did was, once I scanned all my family photos, was to reorganize them into new photo albums, so that they will have a "fresh home". I decided to organize them by family, e.g. my own, my uncle's family, etc., my family pre-WWII, and after. It all depends on what makes sense for you.

    This way you will best preserve them materially, plus many of them will now have fresh labels on the photo backings.