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family photos
protecting your family heirlooms

By Deborah K. Millemaci
(return to genealogy)

One of the most valuable heirlooms passed on in our families is photographs, as photographs help us to identify our ancestors from long ago. With time and improper storage, these pieces of our past become yellowed, torn, and sometimes almost unrecognizable. But there are some things you can do to bring family photographs back to life as well as tips to help you preserve the photographs yet to be.

How many times have you come across photos improperly stored in drawers or in cardboard boxes? Upon looking at them you noticed the color had changed, scratches were noticeable, or something unidentifiable had been spilled on it. You are probably thinking that all is lost and nothing will bring this photograph back to its original state. This is not true, as photos can be restored in a couple of ways:

If you are computer-savvy and own a scanner, you may want to experiment with scanning a photograph and doing some of the restoration yourself. Most scanners have in their software the capability to lighten/darken, change contrast, remove scratches, etc. Shop around until you find the software that will best suit your needs. Or, if you have a family member that can help you, by all means enlist his or her help with this project.

If you would rather not try restoring photos yourself, then consider having the restoration work done by a professional. These wonderful people have been expertly trained to work miracles on damaged images, and I have found their services to be quite reasonably-priced as well.

When storing your family photos, great care must be taken to keep them out of sunlight, and extremes in temperature should be avoided. Also, before storing photographs or any important documents, make sure your hands are clean. (I use sterile plastic gloves like you will find in hospitals). This will prevent the natural oils of your skin from damaging your photographs and important papers.

Many of us at one time or another have stored old pictures in boxes. This should be avoided because most cardboard containers are not made of acid-free materials and will eventually damage the photographs. Many photo-supply shops carry special acid-free boxes and albums that you can use to store your family photographs. They are inexpensive and a good investment in protecting your important documents and photos.

Remember also when storing photographs to keep them away from damp areas in your basement or where they might be prone to water leaks in your home. Water can seriously damage your now painstakingly-restored ancestral treasures, so place these irreplaceable items in a cool dark place away from such potential hazards. By following these few tips, you will ensure the preservation of your family's photographic heritage for years to come.

©Deborah K. Millemaci - 2002
No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.


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