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Help, I Inherited A Pile Of Family Photos and Scrapbooks!

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This question (and answer) is reproduced here for the benefit of all… this is a very common situation that appeals to the heart of family history.

To Scott,

Thank you for the photo archival information that you sent to me as the Preservation Tips that I signed up for on It’s been very useful.

I put the info in your book to use recently. I found a ton of photos of my parents from the 1940s on… A lot of photos of my dad’s from WW2. I quickly put them in photo albums to protect them per your recommendation. I, also, found a scrapbook of my Mother’s from the 40s that’s falling apart. She wrote names on the paper pages so I need to retain those mounting pages, but they are disintegrating. The photos are attached with those corner triangular shaped things that the photos slide into. Any ideas?

Louise Elam

Park and Rec Dept. (Care of Public Art Work)

City of Dallas, TX

Family History photos

Piles of family photos handed down from relatives


Congratulations of taking action! There are two things you can/should do:

1. Scan or take high-resolution photos of the original pages and have them printed onto acid free paper with a laser printer. This will make an archival copy. You can have the pages bound or you can put them into page protectors into a notebook of your choice. See other blog posts that talk about these ideas. But of course, this does nothing to protect the originals.
 I’m in the middle of this process myself, right now, on a photo album about my Dad.

2. The original mounting paper onto which the photos are connected can be deacidified with a product called “Bookkeeper” which can be sprayed. This does nothing to restore strength to the old paper, but it does keep it from getting worse. Usually, a photo conservator will tell you NOT to spray the original photos because the chemicals interact with the materials in the black and white photos. But I like to give the reverse side a light spray anyway (don’t soak the paper).
 Finally, you can find page protectors for the entire original page and remount them into a new notebook.

Suggestions for materials to use can be browsed at University Products and Light Impressions (Google the sites).

Let me know how it goes!

10 Responses to "Help, I Inherited A Pile Of Family Photos and Scrapbooks!"
  1. Deena Saffron says:

    Great information! My goodness, Louise is going through the same thing as I am. I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Will more info be coming?

  2. Scott Haskins says:

    I respond to all comments so ask questions. There is also free info to download in the “Products” page. My book, How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster, goes through much of this in step by step instruction to help you do this in the most efficient least costly way possible. So, order a copy now!

  3. Kari Byron says:

    Great blog and thanks for the info. In another post you mentioned photos and preserving them but I was wondering about insurance issues if I loose professional photos and the like? I’m a professional model and have a lot to be worried about.

    • Scott Haskins says:

      Well, there is a lot to your question! Actually, you’ve asked two questions; important questions when wanting to be prepared and, especially when protecting your livelihood and business assets (your modeling photos). So, let me answer publicly with two short answers. Then, if you like, you can email me and we’ll discuss particulars privately.
      1. Make excellent copies and keep them (your second set) some other place than in your home. Preferably, keep a set in a different region of the country or even in a storage facility online. Digital copies need to be updated every 5 years. I like having archival printed copies. If you live in Hurricane Country, you’ll understand about having a copy in another location far away.
      2. Contact your home insurance agent for business asset coverage. But if they are of no help, you can contact an insurance broker like Huntington T. Block in Washington DC and they’ll figure it out for you. You can also contact an appraiser friend of mine, Richard Holgate, at
      My email is
      All my best Kari and I love your Mythbuster’s Show!

  4. Karla says:

    Loved the blog and answer to common questions my readers ask on how to keep their beloved keepsakes. When printing as per your first answer, make sure that you use photo paper and that will ensure long lasting results. Photo papers now can last for quite some time. Printer ink is also important. Don’t print on draft mode. Remember these are your memories that need to last even longer than they have now. For more info on photo printing tips visit our blog at

    Will come back to the blog and let my readers know where to get great help!

    • Scott Haskins says:


      Thanks for commenting on our blog. Your answer is the kind of info that gives people the wrong impression about preserving their memories. Let me comment specifically about the points you make:
      1. “make sure that you use photo paper and that will ensure long lasting results.” This suggestion needs to be put out there with a specific recommendation. Just because you pay more for a photo paper does NOT mean that it is higher quality or will last longer. What is the standard for archival quality for photos? Those standards are set by the Library of Congress, not the paper manufacturer. paper that “lasts for quite some time” does not mean it is of archival quality. What is “quite some time”? 10 years? Archival photo papers should BE STABLE for a 100 years and so should the image.
      2. “Printer ink is also important. Don’t print on draft mode” Draft mode has nothing to do with permanence. Ink jet inks will run if gotten wet and will fade in a very short time even if printed in the best printing mode. That makes ink jet inks NON ARCHIVAL. Don’t believe me? Take a photo and put it under the faucet.

      My suggestion is laser printing into acid free buffered paper if you want archival long lasting photos. Epson makes an archival printer that I have evaluated as far as exposure to water goes. I have not tested the light fastness of the prints.

      I know your intentions are good to provide reliable info to your readers. But you are not well informed on this preservation matter.

  5. Peggy Johnson says:

    How do I restore a handwritten journal damaged by snow, rain and sun that has dried? The journal was stored in a leaky attic in Switzerland for twenty years. How do I handle it? Is it repairable?

    • Scott Haskins says:

      There are two answers to your question: the short answer and the long one.

      The short answer is that, yes, it can be repaired/restored/conserved; the pages can be flattened, the acids washed out of the paper, the binding redone if needed, the book cover restored to perfection, mold spots can be removed. About the only thing that cannot be done is to undo the running of inks. But that all comes at a cost, of course.

      The long answer accompanys a desire on your part to preserve/restore it yourself. Your options are, therefore, much more limited. Are you interested in having it look perfect or do you just want the condition to be stable?

      Lets start with those questions, back to you, before I go off on some long tangent that’s not of interest.

      Looking forward to hearing back from you. Thanks for contributing to the conversation on this blog with your excellent questions.


  6. Peggy Johnson says:

    I am most interested in being able to decipher the writing. Are there techniques for recovering handwriting that has faded/smudged? This journal is of historical value and is part of my research.

  7. Scott Haskins says:

    It kind of depends on what was used for writing. Pencil can be “deciphered” differently that ball point pen. For instance, infrared can make make some writing stand out while UV works better for other writing. Either way, you would need the services of a professional photo service or a professional conservation lab that could help you.

    Perhaps you could also do a digital enhancement of a high resolution photo that would help to see the writing more clearly.

    If you would like to talk about it, give me a call at 805 564 3438 (CA)

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