A guide to Organising Family Photos – Part 2

If you were born before the advent of digital photos, chances are you have a backlog of paper photographs – in albums, cupboards, envelopes, drawers or just loose, hanging around.  What to do with them?  What happens if there’s a fire, are they getting damaged?  Who will get them when you pass on?  How will your children know what these are pictures of??  All questions I asked myself when looking at the mountain of photopaper and albums in my home.
‘I’m not sure if even Edmund Hillary could conquer this one!’  I thought.
But I did.  Bit by Bit.  And it was fun.
Now I can find everything, copy anything, digitalise it, and share it.  It’s fantastic.

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this pair of posts, go back and have a look! It’s a valuable tool in making the MASSIVE task seem smaller, by breaking it down into manageable pieces.

A Guide to organising Family Photos – Part 1


OK – part 2.  We’re up to stage 8.

8. The second round of sorting!

That’s right, this is the second round of organising, but it’s SO much easier now.
You’ve successfully thrown out all the pictures which included someone’s thumb, the zebras at the zoo, the blurry ones, and the ones of your cousin’s cousin’s friend.  You’re left with a number of piles, each in their own broad category.
(that’s how it was left after step 7 of  A Guide to organising Family Photos – Part 1.)

You’re going to work with just one pile now, at a time.  So perhaps you’ll want to put the others away, out of danger, out of mind.  (less overwhelming?)  I

  • Buy some plastic storage boxes, dust free, water safe.Useful later.  Whatever, just keep your nicely sorted piles separate from eachother and pick one.   I started with the oldest.  For me, this was my Grandparents.

You’re going to delineate the category into narrower subcategories.  You need to make new ‘sub categories’ labels to  sort into.  Mine looked like this :

CATEGORY/PILE I was working with:   Jenny’s Grandparents. (Mum’s parents, and Dad’s parents.)  I sorted it into   Sub Categories of:

IMG_0477 (2)
My Grandparents’ wedding, c 1920
  • Nana and her family to marriage.
  • Pa and his family to marriage.
  • Grandma and her family to marriage.
  • Grandpa and his family to marriage.

So note, these photos will be of these people BEFORE they were married.  After they were married I put them in the ‘next category which is about the next generation’ eg about my mother. You have to decide what works for you.  I used marriage as the line between one category and the next.

Q. What happens when you don’t know who is in the photo?  
First I would ask family.  Your elders may know.
Second, if you’re a historian I would keep them.  Put them in an envelope marked with as many details as you know – where you got the photo, what album it came out of?, who’s house you found it in, when you came into possession of it, who owned it before you, and the approximate era you think it is.  Then keep it with your pile.
Third – if you don’t care, and it’s not recogniseable, you probably don’t need it anyway.  Throw it out.

Q. What if I find duplicates or ‘very similar’s?’ – you can give these away, to family members, but if your plan is to digitalise then there’s no point really.  Keep the best and throw the rest.

Q. What about pictures of cars, houses, flowers, scenery, cats…? etc. This is only my opinion, you have to decide yourself.  I find houses and cars to be an integral part of people’s lives.  I don’t find flowers, scenery or cats and dogs to be.  Unless you KNEW the pet, or scene, or remembered the flowers.  I would keep the houses and cars and throw the others.  If They don’t tell you something about the person, then don’t keep it.
NB – there’s a side issue with scenery.  It may have been an important voyage, eg the trip from Britain to Australia.  Keep it.  There are also many amazing photographs of scenery from generations ago that are very valuable.  If you’re looking at a photo of Sydney, Australia circa 1900 chances are it’s valuable.  You might want to hang on to it, or publish it! ensure you keep the photo’s provenance, Where it came from, etc.

9. The third (probably final) round of sorting

You’re still working on your one major category pile.  Some of your subcategories need not be further sorted. If you have only a few photos and they fit neatly into one sub-category, eg: Nana – birth to marriage, then no need to go further. So ‘Nana’s’ photos included a few of her mother, her family, her old house, and Tasmania where she lived.  It also included photos of inanimate objects, which may feel a little confusing, but they were HER photos, and contemporary to her, so it went in her pile. For example, her car, her cat, her holiday.
Bundle up and label your finished 2nd round categories.

Q.   What if I was in possession of a few generations of photos?  Well, you might have to do a 3rd sort.  It’s easy and quick though.

For my Pa, he was from Scotland and there were a hundred or more photos.  I divided these up a little further in ‘another sort’. (you could say a third sort for this category.)
Pa – birth to marriage.
Pa’s parents – birth to marriage. (great grandparents.)
Pa’s Grandparents.(my great great grandparents.)family history organising photos sorting photographs genealogy

Q. What happens if the subcategory is still large?
The amount of ‘sorts’ you have, depends on the volume of photos you have and the diversity of them.   I stopped at 3 sorts.  I saw no sense in going further.  It’s a personal choice.

You will generally find the younger the generation, the more photos.  So your own ‘category’ may be the largest.  Mine was. I continued to sort further.  The subcategories were narrower as there were many photos to sort into each one.  Mine looked like this:

  • Jenny and husband and our two sons – (sorted into further sub categories.) eg, before Children, child one birth to child two, Child two birth to present.
  • Jenny and husband meeting – wedding.
  • Jenny adult from age 20 to age 29
  • Jenny childhood pt 2 from age 10 to age 20
  • Jenny childhood pt 1 from birth to age 10

As you finish, ensure you bundle and label each one, keeping them in order.

10. Chronological order – sort of.

Finally, you get  to put them away.
What are you going to do with them?  Digitalise them?  (see my upcoming post about scanning photos). Or put them in labelled boxes for easy access?  Or use photo albums? (see my post Those Damn Photo Albums – what to do? )

Whatever the end result, you will possibly want to get each little subcategory and put them in some kind of order.   As you finish with each group, make sure you mark the label in some way, so you don’t go through it again.  Now it’s ready for it’s final destination…wherever that may be.

If you’re interested in digitalising your photos, on a DVD to copy and share with your family, parents, friends or other loved ones, you can do this, easily.  Watch for my upcoming post on – Making a Slideshow out of your photos.

Click this link:  Here’s an example of a photo slideshow on DVD Capture

If you have digital photos that are in a mess, in piles of pixels in your computer, phone or camera,  Click Here  10 Steps to organising your digital photos. For good.

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