From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Scanning Family Pictures

My concerns about scrapbooks



In 1995, as my parents' golden wedding anniversary approached, they decided that they should organize their photos. So Mama and Daddy spent many hours, looking through their photos and newspaper clippings and arranging many of them in chronological order. They taped (yes, taped!) them into scrapbooks, and for a few of the photos, they wrote captions. They enjoyed making the scrapbooks, and they enjoyed showing them to the friends and family who gathered to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

My parents have both been gone for over a dozen years, but my brother, my sister, and I haven't divided the family pictures yet. I hope that day will come eventually, but for now, I'm scanning photos from a couple of scrapbooks that I brought home from my brother's house last fall.

The scrapbooks and the taped-down photos are a bit of a problem. I can't remove the photos from the pages for scanning, so I opened the hinges of one of the scrapbooks and took out the pages. I have to make two scans for each side of each page. Then it takes a fair amount of time with image processing software to crop the individual photos, straighten them, and save them. I have an older Canon scanner. It works well, but it doesn't do many things automatically.

The worst problem is that we can't divide the photos in the scrapbooks without destroying the scrapbooks. For example, it would be nice if I could have some of the photos in which I appear -- the original photos, not just scans of them. Pictures of me as a child won't mean much to my five nephews and their descendants, whereas my own children and grandchildren might value them. Is that more important than keeping the photos in the scrapbooks that my mother and father created?

The photographs probably should be cut loose from the pages, whether or not we ever get them divided among the three of us. I am very sure the scrapbook pages are not made of acid-free paper.

Scanning these photos has made me wonder about the scrapbooks that many hobbyists enjoy creating today. How will their children share the family photos and memorabilia that are embedded in fancy scrapbook pages? No one will want to ruin the pages, so one person will inherit each book and its contents. I hope that the scrapbook crafters are saving duplicates of the photos or creating similar scrapbooks for each child.

People like to decorate their scrapbook pages with embellishments that they purchase at scrapbooking shops. Little doodads of any thickness would be a problem on my scanner. If a page doesn't lie flat, I don't get a well-focused scan. I'm glad my parents' scrapbook pages are not lumpy!

I think I'll try to write some information on the backs of my own photographs, instead of putting them in scrapbooks. If the kids want them organized chronologically, they can do it themselves.

5 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Genevieve, You are fortunate that you have the photos to scan. I lived in another state when my last parent died and all my parent's photos disappeared mysteriously. What I wouldn't give to see my father's large collection of family photos today. As a result of this loss, I started parceling out my photos to my four children soon after my parents photos disappeared. This way my children can arrange their own way of displaying them -- hopefully not in one of those scrapbooks you describe. -- barbara

John Ruberry said...

I don't want to be morbid...but it's important to write the names of whomever is in each photo on the back of the pic. My mother has a lot of photos like these--and when she passes--so will the identity of who is in those pictures. (My mother won't let us touch them--for now at least.)

Mark said...

My father has been gone for 10 years, but my mother is alive. I recently scanned a bunch (about 200) of old prints anywhere from 15 to 80 years old and loaded them onto a digital picture frame. My wife and I gave it to her for her 87th birthday and she has said it was the best birthday present she has ever received.

I strongly advise getting a scanner that can identify individual photos from a group of scanned images. I didn't realize my own scanner could do that until I experimented with the included software. What would otherwise have been a very tedious manual process became a relatively efficient production process. I can scan multiple images and the software saves them automatically. Later I go into them and sort and identify them.

I'm sure you already know it, but I agree with John about identifying all the people in the old pictures. I have some pictures with possibly important people in them, but there is no one alive now who knows.

Laura said...

As an archivist, I hope I am able to provide you some info that will help you and family make some decisions about the scrapbooks.

To keep a reminder of the creativity and care of your parents creating the scrapbooks, you could have the pages scanned, saved digitally, and printed, as a whole. There you have have the entire layout of the page and be reminded why they selected certain photographs to be placed on the same page. :)

And yes, since the scrapbook itself is not archival/acid-free, you will want to remove the photographs from the pages. Eventually the acid in the scrapbook paper will make the photographs brittle, discolor, etc, in addition to the chemicals in the photograph itself breaking down.

Once the photographs are removed, you can place them in photograph or sheet protectors that are archival quality - Office Max, Office Depot both sell some of these. Or look specifically for Print File, Lineco Infinity, Vue-All brands. Look for sleeves that are PVC-free as well. Certain plastic off-gas and destroy negatives and photographs over time, but PVC-free ones do not off-gas.

As for writing on the backs of them, also look for archival pens. The ink will be acid-free and will be felt-tip instead of ball-point so that pressing on the photo will not leave an impression that shows on the photographic side.

There's also acid-free paper, so if you cannot afford the photo sleeves, get some acid free folders and paper. Place the photos in the folder and put a sheet of the acid-free paper between each one, so this way they do not speed up the break-down of time being exposed to each other. Writing on the paper in pencil for identification of the photo with it would be a pretty good idea.

In an archives we number the photographs and create a kind of "table of contents" so that if one ever goes missing, we know which one and what number. If anything, the information about it is still saved. And digital photo files would be named the same number.

As for the tape... Its easy for me to explain tape of the 60s or 70s because it becomes brittle and breaks off pictures over the years. But I think 1990s tape was made with a stickier adhesive. Do cut the tape off as close to the edge of the picture as you can. Some people have suggested using a blow-dryer to heat up the tape to slowly peel the tape from the picture; Yes and no. It will work, but if these are photos from the 50s and before, the heat will really weaken the lifespan of the photo. I have seen some suggestions of lighter-fluid, but that is indeed acidic and would saturate the photo in it, even if the alcohol dries it leaves the photo weakened. Leaving the tape may be the only thing to do in interest of time... Otherwise, I would suggest working very slowly with a knife edge or metal edge to gentle lift the tape from the corners of the photograph. I keep imagining they taped the corners - Did your parents use double-sided tape? If so, the knife suggestion is the better idea, while keeping the photo flat - If you bend, peel it away it will gain some creases in the emulsion of the photographic image.

Also, great link:
http://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives/
Another great link:
http://www.loc.gov/preserv/presfaq.html

Goodness, as usual, I wrote too much! I would love to become an independent archivist working on family albums and collections on a contractual basis, but I know the folks that would matter the most to me wouldn't be able to afford it! How would I keep a salary to live on? haha!

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of mom and dads family pictures now. We also need to get together and separate and copy them. I am then giving a lot to my cousins that have the same family names of those in the photographs. It sure is fun to look at them though! Sammie

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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