Where to start with parents' photos, mementos

alisonAugust 13, 2008

While my mother is out of the house follwoing a stroke, I'm hoping to organize some of the drawers of photos and mementos in a way that will make them accesible and enjoyable.

(I know some will say dump them all, and some will say scan them and dump them all -- that's not what I'm looking for. My goal is not to get rid of them, but to make them more accessible for my parents, who are not likely to pop in a DVD or CD-ROM.)

Right now I have a big grocery bag of photos, letters and whatnots, and I'm struggling to figure out how to sort them and organize them.

-- By subject? immediate family in one pile, former students in another, neighborhood functions in a third?

-- By year? (Could be iffy, but I can probably guestimate decades at least.)

-- By type of item? Photos in one stack, letters etc in another? (One of the really cool things I found (long buried) is my mother's journal from her post college European tour!)

Appreciate any suggestions -- there's several more bags worth of material after this one!

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justgotabme

Alison, I agree with you not to throw them away. Yes you could scan them all and put them on CDs. But I'm thinking of your folks, or even someone my age (52)that loves her digital camera, misses the feel of holding a photo their hands or tacking it up on a bulletin board at odd angles. One of which I have beside my desk of family members and pets. It's just not the same. If they like looking at them individually I'd buy some plastic folders with the ponytail like elastic that holds them closed and sort them according to either year, or family, friends, holidays, etc. Whichever you think will be easiest for them.
Label these folders alphabetically and add the letter to the back of each photo that belongs in each folder so if they ever get left out they'll know where to put them back.
That's just one way. You can also sort them in the photo boxes that have dividers you can label. Again I'd label the backs of pictures as to where they go. As in what box and behind what divider.
I'm sure other's will have ideas too.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 4:18PM
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sheesh

Well, when my SIL sorted my mom's photos and mementos into beautiful albums such as your subject idea, Mom wondered why she did all that work - Mom was perfectly happy with her unsorted boxes of photos. She knew who the people were and what the events were and it didn't matter to her that there was no order; she liked it the way she had it or, as she said, she would have tended to the matter herself over the years.

I know it seems like a worthwhile project to you, but perhaps your mom is satisfied with the way things are. Or, maybe it's just that my poor SIL can't do anything right in my mother's eyes, no matter how hard she tries. She's only been married to my brother for 38 years and hasn't given up yet.

Has your mom expressed her desire to have you organize her things?

One thing Mom had always done was write on the backs of most of the photos who it was and the approximate date. That helped SIL organize and label, but no one has looked at the albums in years. I feel bad about that, but what can you do. Maybe when your mom comes home she'd like to reminisce with you while you label and make albums.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 4:50PM
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talley_sue_nyc

If they're all dumped together, your mom may not be all that interested in actually looking through them.

And sorting them might be hard for *you* to do, bcs maybe she'd rather have them chronologically, or by subject, or by people inside, or something.

What if you first just got them *accessible*, even if never sorted.

if you just got them into a binder that your folks could flip through. Then they can at least look at them more easily. Keep everything from one roll in a group--chronology will be the most helpful scheme if the pics are unlabeled and you want to have any hope of figuring out what they are. And then it's easier to eep them w/ the negatives, in case you run across something another familiy member would like.

So, I vote, "keep everything together grouped by the original rolls & processing envelopes whenever possible."

And in the process, you could maybe spot one or two that *you* think are gems (maybe they illustrate an oft-told family story, or your niece just looks SO cute, or it's a really beautiful shot, or it's a clear picture of Uncle Dave who just died last year).

And pull just THOSE out for special highlighting--put 'em in a frame, or put them in a special "highlights reel" binder apart from the other pics.

I'm thinking if they've been jumbled together, your folks may not be that invested in them, and maybe your "highlights reel" would actually be a bit welcome.

I do like the idea of labeling all that you can (and if they're semigrouped by roll, maybe still in their processing envelopes, you can write that info on the ones that you don't know--let's say, you know it was your sister Julie's 8th bday, but you don't know stuff about another pic on the roll, you could just write, "on same roll as Julie's 8th bday."

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 5:02PM
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donnawb

If there is quite a few I would put them in photo boxes because my mom recently died and she has given me photos over the last few years and after she died she still had a big tote full. My brothers weren't interested as she wanted to give them some, after she died one brother had to look through every picture. Looks like she had sorted some. Some weren't in the albums they originally were, etc. I found it easier to put in the boxes and they seem to take up less space then albums.

If your mom has old pictures and you don't know who the people are now would be a good time. My mom took my grandmothers pictures when she died and I don't know who the people are. I do know some are my grandmother but don't know which ones when she was small.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 5:42PM
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alison

Appreciate the suggestions -- this is kind of a tough call, isn't it?

You're right, shermann and talley sue -- I don't know for a fact that she wants to access them. On the other hand, I don't know if she knows half of these things are still around. This lot are from a cheap dresser in the closet; I think she's been tossing things in there for a long time, thinking she'll get around to sorting them "someday".

On the other hand, I know there are photos, and in one case a piece of embroidery, that I've pulled out and asked her about, that have sparked an afternoon of nostalgia, and a couple of happy tears. Which makes me think that while not *everything* in there means something, some of it does. And I don't necessarily know which is which!

(One area I know I'm not going to spend a lot of time on is photos from the neighborhood school she helped launch. She taught there for years, and there are perhaps hundreds of pictures of kids. I'll arrange those in a box with dividers in case anyone in the future wants to go thru those -- but I'm kinda doubting it.)

I think the highlight reel is a good idea -- I am planning on scanning some of them for my sisters and me.

And I like the idea of the pony tail folders for the bulk of these, justgotabeme -- I think an actual scrap book for anything other than the really old, really important photos would be overkill.

Thanks for the ideas -- any suggestions on the bulkier memento type things? (the journal, ration coupon books, embroidery, fabric swatches, programs, etc....) I guess that probably depends on what they are.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 6:15PM
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talley_sue_nyc

On the other hand, I know there are photos, and in one case a piece of embroidery, that I've pulled out and asked her about, that have sparked an afternoon of nostalgia, and a couple of happy tears. Which makes me think that while not *everything* in there means something, some of it does. And I don't necessarily know which is which!

I can believe that! That's why I think you can't lose if all you do is make them easily accessible.

I'm actually a fan of those totally random "Oh, this picture makes me think of the time..." moments. I enjoy those MUCH more than flipping through a perfectly organized book. The organized book feels like a chore; the random encounters feel like presents.

Also, if you start out seeking simply the opportunity for more of those "found" moments, then you can work in fits and starts--because the enjoyment of those moments is best done intermittently, too.

(I think the binder feels like a chore to flip through, because you end up overloaded on all the pictures at once)

(as for the pics of the neighborhood kids, maybe ask your mom if she'd like to get those out into the neighborhood somehow, back to those kids, or their own kids)

Bulkier things: what about "project cases" (they could stand on their edge on a shelf like a book, or lay flat in a stack). They wouldn't hold too much at once, so might make some sort of semi-sorting easier. And when you lay them flat to open them, you don't end up having to dig down forever; the stuff will be in a shallow layer, and your mom could see almost all of it ina single glance.

These aren't the world's cheapest, so you could use cardboard boxes too, but I vote for something not too large, and something pretty flat or shallow. Like a stationery box or a pie box from the bakery. (they can be less than $1 each).

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 6:28PM
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jannie

How about making scrap books? When MIL died, her daughter (the "crafty" one) took all her stuff and put it in books. Everything from MIL's 1930's era baptismal certificate to her son's 1966 high school diploma to photos of her four grandchildren. She arranged them by subject/family. She filled three books. One was given to me and my husband (MIL's son) , SIL kept one, and a third went to the remaining sibling. I treasure my book. It's not cutesy/decorated/or stamped. Just meaningful photos and papers glued to the pages. I keep it with my own photo albums. It was a very nice gift from SIL. I know it took her a while to organize.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 7:01PM
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elizabethzen

alison - So much is lost in a generation. Stories, names that go with faces, locations. I wonder if you could make this project a joint effort with your mother when she is able? She probably has a lot of information that you could write on the backs of the pictures that would make them more meaningful.

I'm the keeper of our family achieves and genealogy records. I'm always looking for better ways to preserve and share the growing collection with the extended family. I like the photo boxes as a quick and simple solution to sorting piles of photos. I label the boxes by date (years, decades, or whatever is appropriate) and it does not take long to fill a box. I just stack the pictures in the box rather than filing them and I don't use the dividers at all - they just take up space and are more subdivision than is needed, I have found.

Scanning and having the photos in digital form is also important. It makes it easy to share and protects against loss, especially if several people have copies.

You can also post photos on the a website - I have a members only MyFamily page where the family can log in to share family history, photos, events, and see the family tree. I've been surprised that several of the younger members of the family have become intensely interested. One in college even used some of the information for a project she was doing.

Just a few ideas. Organizing the photos is a worthwhile and rewarding project and may make you curious about your family history. The more you learn, the more you want to know. Warning: it can be addictive and time consuming!

Elizabeth

Here is a link that might be useful: My Family

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 9:30AM
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graywings123

I'm actually a fan of those totally random "Oh, this picture makes me think of the time..." moments. I enjoy those MUCH more than flipping through a perfectly organized book. The organized book feels like a chore; the random encounters feel like presents.

I agree. And I wouldn't put a lot of time into organizing these photos without knowing the level of interest she has in them.

There is also the issue of rearranging things in someone else's house while they are not there without their knowledge or permission. She may prefer the comfort of "everything like it was" when she returns home.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 9:52AM
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minet

One of my aunts took the time about 12 years ago to start putting together photo albums for some of us. They weren't fancy with ornate writing and stickers and colored paper - just the scrapbooks with black pages and photos with handwritten notes about years/people.

I was very fortunate that she did mine first and sent it to me - because while she was working on the others, her condo burned down completely and she lost almost everything she owned. So the only family photos were the ones she'd sent to me, I think.

I agree with the people who say put together a simple scrapbook or use the project cases to just group them together in a way that the two of you could look through them together. If she's not interested, you won't have spent a whole lot of time. And if she is, then you could work on it with her, maybe, to spark more of her memories.

And there is the tricky part of organizing someone else's belongings, as graywings mentioned. Perhaps you should casually tell her what you're thinking about doing?

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 1:54PM
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alison

I think concern over 'trespassing' or intruding on someone's space/style may be relevant for some, but it really isn't an issue here. We're a very close family, and everyone knows that -- after my mother -- I'm the most interested in family history and "old stuff".

We're not really "scapbooking" people, so I like the suggestions for simple binders and boxes. And I like the idea of working together with her on the projects. (Just got to see if I can sneak a recorder in -- I forget half of what she tells me if I don't take notes. I'm a reporter -- you'd think I'd be better at that!)

I think the best thing is to get stuff in some sort of rough chronological order -- perhaps just family and people I recognize, or sitautions that seem important -- and get a photograph box for now. When she's home, or has more time and energy, we can go thru them, ostensibly for names and dates (of course *nothing* is written on!). I can take note of special photos I want to reproduce for my sisters, and she and I can talk about what to do with them.

I think I'll do this with just this bag to start, then a drawer or so when I go to visit. Less overwhelming that way -- and I don't risk sending the message that I think time is running out!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 2:17PM
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sheesh

Alison, you sound like all the reporters I know, which is quite a few since my hub spent 40+ years as one and make up almost our entire social circle. Steel-trap minds for facts and minutiae and what your minds deem important family matters, very analytical; everything else just doesn't make it into that valuable real estate. Unless you're a social reporter, I bet you can't remember celebrity names.

Yes, you should take notes!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 3:09PM
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talley_sue_nyc

get stuff in some sort of rough chronological order -- perhaps just family and people I recognize, or sitautions that seem important

Just remember NOT to take them OUT of chronological order just because you don't recognize them. Being in that context--after the vacation to Indiana, but before the pics from the school play when Johnny must have been 11--could be useful clues to who and what!

I like the idea of starting small; that's what I'd do. Partly because it's a trial run for what works--no sense having a plan if it turns out not to work w/ what's available.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 3:49PM
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talley_sue_nyc

(don't reporters
write everything down?)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 3:51PM
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minet

Just got to see if I can sneak a recorder in

This would be great. One of the things I regret most about my parents' deaths is that I don't have any recordings of their voices. I have pictures and some mementos, but not their voices. I'd like to have a recording of them talking about different photos and their lives growing up. That would be very special for me.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 4:11PM
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alison

Terrifyingly -- no!

(you're right about reporters, shermann; I can recall school district budget cuts from 5 years back, the home towns of the entire roster of our hockey team, and the name of the reporter I rubbed elbows with election night 2000 -- but couldn't tell you a thing about American Idol of Lost!)

I may have already disturbed some of the strata talley sue, by dumping two drawers in this bag to bring home. I think I may get a few photograph boxes and in the future, take them down with me -- to sort in situ!

Thanks again to all for the advice!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 4:16PM
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elizabeth10029

Two responses (not taking into account all those sensitive comments calling for tact about what your mother would want) :

  1. Treat the sorting like the intellectual task it is. Look at all of the pictures and see if any themes pop out at you. You know you don't want her school founding pictures already. But maybe there are other themes that will just occur to you when you look at the content of the pictures. (Family picnics/holidays or their complete absence in favor of, say, pictures she took on trips.) The content will tell you a lot about your mother, I imagine.

2) My favorite way of storing is to put photos in archival sleeves and then store them in archival boxes. That way you don't have to flip through, but there are still three hole punched edges. When there is a family occasion, I just pick out about ten pages and put them in a leather binder (the same one for every occasion) and voila a themed book, ie trips my FIL took abroad. (I don't know if I agree about keeping chronological order -- good archivists would say YES that is essential, but I think some randomness in family photos is ok. I would also not put "bad" pictures in the sleeves.

Aside: Todays NYTimes had a David Pogue column on a company that scans photos for 50.00 per 1000. Good, cheap backup for the real thing.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 9:04PM
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talley_sue_nyc

My idea bout preserving chronological order was *mostly* about keeping it long enough to help you identify the pics and label them.

Once everything is ID'd and labeled, then themes could work just as easily.

Also, once everything is ID'd and labeled, then feel free to split pics up. Maybe have a "bday party" section, but pull a pic or two to put in a "for Grant" section.

And yes, throw bad pictures out.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 1:03PM
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brugloverZ9

Just my feeling, if were my own photos...I first of all would not like to have ANY thrown out. What may look like a bad photo to you may be a keeper for me. Maybe just package them up separately and let your mom decide.

Also...I would ask your mother if this whole project is something that she would like done. Maybe there is something else that she would rather you put your time and energy into...like organizing the bathroom or kitchen so that her things will be more accessible to her when she comes home and is possibly not as physically fit as she was before.

If this is a project your mom would like you to do, ask her how she would like them arranged and in what type of organizer. To me it almost seems like you are doing this for a person who is not longer here. That is not the case with your mother, so please include her.

I am really into photos and I know the above would be very important to me! Also my age is probably showing as I know how I would want to be treated under similar circumstances...and that would be with respect. To show respect...you would need to include the person whose pictures they are in any decision on what to do with them.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2008 at 2:04PM
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rima_wa

We have similar issues with photos with my parents. Then we have a whole 'nother set of issues with slides, some 50,000 of them we estimate. Yeow.

Anyway, with photos, we turned on the video camera, filmed the photo then discussed it, and went onto the next. My mom, dad and uncle were there so we got lots of fun info. My DH manned the camera so we could switch between the picture and the people speaking. I filmed in a similar way by myself with my dad. I just aimed the camera at us and did not change the settings after that. That video is not as interesting to look at as the other, but the info is there.

While the taping was going on, I also took notes and stacked them with the photos. I hope to put them into albums where I can put the notes in the pocket behind each pic. Not the most user friendly but at least the info will be there. Some pics are already in those old paper albums with the little corner tabs, and I wrote directly onto the paper what each pic was. Eventually I hope to scan the best and the oldest family photos.

For slides I plan to number each and write down what it is in a notebook. I can't see videotaping all those slides as we view and discuss them. Then we will scan the slides and have some sort of database for them, burn DVDs for the rest of the family etc.

I hope your mom is OK. My dad had a very debilitating stroke 15 years ago, but thank goodness his memory and speech were not affected. We still get wonderful stories from him. I hope you will get the same from your mom as you go through this process.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 1:08AM
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elizabethzen

" . . . we turned on the video camera, filmed the photo then discussed it, and went onto the next. My mom, dad and uncle were there so we got lots of fun info. My DH manned the camera so we could switch between the picture and the people speaking".

rima wa - This is a great, fabulous, wonderful idea! I love the way you created AND preserved a great family gathering.

I have lots of old slides too. I'm considering converting them to digital - eventually!

Elizabeth

Here is a link that might be useful: slides/negatives to digital converter

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 8:13AM
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RoxieL

I've been working on a similar project for the past 1 1/2 years. In my case, I don't have children, I'm 52 & my siblings are all older. IOW, most of us do NOT want more stuff!!!! LOL! So I've been scanning all the photos & either tossing them or sending them to someone who may want it & let them toss it if they want. I do save some of the more precious ones for my self. But let's face it, alot of them are dups or similar to each other & you just don't need those.

I've got a personal website where I've uploaded alot of the photos & have used a few programs I'm happy with to make & burn DVDs to distribute to people who may be interested in watching them on their TV or their computer. One program even allows you to specify the original images should be stored on the DVD so if anyone wants a reprint, they can easily pull it from the DVD, after playing it.

Currently, I've got ~12,000 images on my computer. One program I've found invaluable in keeping them organized is ACDSee Photo Manager. It took a while to get all the photos organized in it and it's not an inexpensive program. But I can typically find any image I'm looking for in a minute or two.

Another project I've been doing is recording my 91 y/o Mother talking about her life. I even bought a pocket camcorder (Flip Ultra) that I pretty much take with me everywhere...so if she starts talking about something, I can whip it out & record her. I also post these on our family website and have even included them the past couple of years on DVDs I include with Christmas cards.

My father died 26 years ago. I do have some old audio tapes with his voice that I've uploaded to the computer & it's fun to hear his voice. But the tapes are very old & the recording quality was not that good. I wish I had video of him...it would be nice to see that.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 3:45PM
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breenthumb

I'm actually a fan of those totally random "Oh, this picture makes me think of the time..." moments. I enjoy those MUCH more than flipping through a perfectly organized book. The organized book feels like a chore; the random encounters feel like presents.

Very nicely put. I also like looking at pictures in "clumps" with family. That way we can be surprised by what comes up next and also pass them around, easier than a book.

This just reminded me of a box of slides (actual metal box for storing slides) we took way back when DH was in college and we hung out with Photography students in the '60's. I'd forgotten all about them and DD's have never seen any of them. Maybe I'll check those out myself first. :)

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 12:15AM
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skywatcher

I, too, have inherited a lot of slides. The upside to slides (and why my dad used that film) is that the color is truer and better preserved than in regular photographs. I'm too busy to scan them all (I'm still slogging through scanning the family photo albums) but I've found a number of services online that will convert the slides to DVD. I've seen some good reviews for several, but I'm still looking for a local service so I don't have to worry about shipping. May have to take a leap and send them off, tho.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 12:49AM
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justgotabme

I've heard of so many of my generation having slides of their early years of photography, or like myself, of my folks that I need to scan. I once had a great slide scanner with our first HP scanner, but it won't work on our current HP scanner. I just found that our Kodak scanner has a slide attachment so I'll be back to scanning them later this summer. Being the daughter of two avid amateur photographer and videographer and being both myself I don't want to lose this family tradition because we've gone digital.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 1:03AM
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