Photo Backup Strategies to Save Your Precious Memories

Photo Backup Strategies to Save Your Precious Memories

The Abundance and Challenge of Ancestral Photos

If you know me at all, then you know that I have been blessed with an abundance of ancestral photos. Seriously, an abundance. Like coming-out-of-my-ears-I-will-never-finish-scanning-in-my-lifetime kind of abundance. This is both wonderful and challenging. [1] The wonderful definitely outweighs the challenging – definitely! But we need to be careful not to underestimate the time, effort, expense, and organization required of those who work to digitize and share family photo collections. It is so much work. But those of us who do it, do it out of love, and we want to share!

Recently, one of my sisters sent me this text message: “If I want to print some pictures of ancestors, would I just download them from the Facebook groups you’ve created? Will that give me the best quality?” [1] What fantastic questions! First of all – hooray! that my sister is noticing the photos I’m sharing on Facebook, that’s why I do it. Second of all – hooray! that she wants to display some of those precious photos in her home where her children will see them all the time. Third of all – hooray! that I was already all set and didn’t have to slow her project down by finding a way to share the images with her. We were able to text back and forth a few times with simple instructions and answers to questions that easily led her to the highest quality version of the photos she was interested in. This experience caused me to decide to share my process for dealing with photos right here.

Scanning Strategies for High-Quality Preservation

I take several steps with each photo. Each step has a very specific purpose for sharing, preservation/back-up, or both. I hope my method will inspire you as you consider how you digitize, preserve, back-up, and share your treasures. Remember, there is no perfect or “right” way. We all have to find what works best for us.

There are so many options for scanning. After many years of preserving photos in different ways, I have finally settled into a groove when it comes to scanning. I use three different scanning methods depending on the circumstances. At-home scanning of items in my possession is all done on my Epson Perfection V600 Photo Flatbed Scanner. This is my preferred method because it yields the highest quality images. [1]

I have two other on-the-fly scanning methods I also use. [1] First, I have a ShotBox and DSLR camera that I take with me when I visit a relative. That way I can capture images and treasures in the moment without having to “borrow” them or wait for a relative to scan and share when they have time. Second, I use the Google PhotoScan app for items too large to fit in my ShotBox. I suggest everyone have this on their phone. Be sure to practice a bit before you visit a relative. While it’s easy to use, it definitely has some quirks.

Now about those all-in-one scan/print combo machines. If that is all you have access to, go for it. Scanned is better than not scanned. But the image quality is much poorer. Often there will be a library or Family History Center that has a flat-bed scanner you can use at little or no cost. I suggest you look into that option. [1]

Editing for Optimal Presentation

I, admittedly, am a photo-editing snob. I like to remove as much distraction as possible from my images. Dust, scratches, stains – I like to get rid of those. I want to focus on the faces. For really special photos I will spend more time. For most photos, I focus on the biggest distracting elements and remove those, and I always clean up all faces. [1] My preferred photo-editing software is PhotoShop. I know it’s an expensive program and not accessible to most, but I had a family member work for Adobe and got a sweet, sweet deal. There are many other free, or low-cost editing software programs available. Find something you like and edit – or not – as much as you prefer.

Sharing Through Multiple Platforms

This sounds like a very long step, but it’s really not. For starters, I open six windows with each website I will need. If I am using the photo in a blog post, I start with that and upload the photo into WordPress. Then I upload the photo to my Ancestry Tree, FamilySearch, Flickr, Costco Photo Center, and Facebook. [1] It’s pretty fast to start the uploads in each one. For most photos, I just copy and paste the description into each website. Occasionally I tweak it based on the audience.

Why upload the photos to so many places? Each serves a different purpose. [1] My Ancestry Tree is private, so this step is for me and the family members I have invited to view my tree. I like to have my photos there – simple as that. It also serves as cousin bait. Cousins will still see that the photos exist, even though they can’t see the images, and often send me a message. I always share and I have made some great discoveries because of these connections. I upload the smaller jpegs that I saved from my TIFF files. Ancestry has a 15MB limit.

FamilySearch is next. I add the photos to FamilySearch for four reasons. First, preservation. FamilySearch is really good at preservation and I know they will do their best to preserve those images in perpetuity. [1] Second, I feel a sense of responsibility to share the family treasures that have made their way to me as widely as possible. It’s my way of showing gratitude for the abundance and trying to make the photos accessible to all of my relatives. Third, cousin bait. It’s great stuff that cousin bait. When a cousin sees that you have added a photo, they can message you right inside of FamilySearch. Great things can happen from those contacts. Fourth, this one may seem weird, but my little one likes to play the Little Family Tree app. Putting photos on FamilySearch means there is more cool stuff in his game experience. I also upload the smaller jpegs that I saved from my TIFF files here. FamilySearch also has a 15MB limit.

Leveraging Cloud Platforms for Preservation and Access

Next comes Flickr. It is a great, free, photo storage website. [1] It has awesome privacy controls that can be set differently on each photo. You can make each image completely private, viewable by people you have designated as family or friends (two separate categories, cool!), or public. You can also make them searchable or not, within each of those categories. Flickr has great organizing tools in the form of albums and tags. Photos can be in more than one album. The description area for each photo allows for very lengthy text. You can comment on photos to add additional information or receive comments from family. Photos can be tagged. I like to tag people with their full name, no spaces, with capitals to make it legible, ie RonaldSkeenPeterson. Clicking on a tag will bring up every item with that same tag within Flickr. Albums can be collaborative so family members can work together. I love that Flickr allows large file sizes, up to 200MB. I upload the large TIFFS here. If the people in the photos are deceased, I make them publicly accessible (this is where I directed my sister to get large files), if not, I restrict them to family members. You can download the files at their original upload size. Awesome!

Then comes, Costco. I upload all of my photos to Costco Photo Center into albums. [1] This way I can print photos anytime I need them without having to find them and upload them. My albums are chronological for my children, but by name for ancestors, ie Ronald & Margaret Peterson fam. I upload the TIFF files here as well. The file size limit is 95MB.

Lastly, I upload all photos to Facebook. I have different albums and they are set to be viewed only by my family members. [1] This is a great way to give my non-genealogy family members little bits of our history. It’s also an easy way for them to “find” our old family photos in a simple, non-genealogy way. Plus, it’s that whole social aspect of social media. It gets family members thinking and talking about their ancestors.

Backed Up and Offline Storage

Once I have my photo everywhere that I want it, I move it onto an external drive. [1] After making my backup copy, I delete the files from my computer. Gotta keep that hard drive nice and clean.

This step is really important. I’m still working on a long-term, one and done plan for this. My problem is volume. There are simply so many, many photos that it’s hard to physically store them all in the best way. [2,3,4,5,6] But I’m working on it.

And that folks, is my method for digitizing, sharing, and preserving photos one image at a time. My focus now is to try to O.H.I.O. – only handle it once. Take a photo from start to finish and move on to the next. I know some people like the idea of “scanning everything” and just “getting it done”. My problem with this is that often the images sit somewhere and nothing else happens with them. There is also the added challenge of technology changing. My goal isn’t to “get it all done”. My goal is to do it right. I know that my method isn’t the fastest, but it works for me and my family. [7,8]

So family members, if you want to find a nice sized original of a photo I have shared here on my blog or elsewhere, go to my Flickr account. The largest files are found there. Remember, if anyone in the photo is alive, it will be marked private and you won’t find it. You will need to request to follow me and then I can mark you as family.

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