Grandma’s Scraps: The Task of Digitizing Hundreds of Family Photos

It has been a while since I’ve posted. Frankly, I just haven’t felt like sharing. During my trip to Omaha my sister reminded me the family has been waiting to see more of my grandmother’s scrapbooks. I’ve had them for a number of years and they’ve become a long-term project.

When I returned home, I brought out the big tote and began to carefully unpack it. The albums and photos are fragile, uncooperative, and there are tons of them. They aren’t the kind of thing you leave sitting out either. After sessions of sorting they always need careful repacking.

The collection came to me while both my grandparents (Ed and Virginia Petersen) were still alive. There had been a massive leak in a basement storage room and in the haste to get things out the scrapbooks, and bundles of photos wound up in a trash bag, in a separate, basement room. While home for a visit (I think it was Christmas), I found them and loved every moment of discovering my family history. I had never seen photos of my great-grandparents, my young grandparents, or even photos of my mom and her siblings as wee ones. They were glorious. When I asked Grandma about them, she said she planned to throw them all out! Some had water damage, but most were OK. I did not hesitate to ask if I could keep them. She said yes.

Little did I know… It has taken me many, many hours to sort the pages, trying to put them back in order, returning escaped photos to their homes, and separating the three albums.

It was during this last session of sorting, that I finally felt I was ready to start digitizing.

Friday, August 3rd, I received news that my Uncle Steve had unexpectedly passed away. It was a shock. He was the middle child of Grandma and Grandpa Petersen. My mother is the oldest and my Aunt Kate the youngest. It was shocking to say the least. Though I had not been close to my uncle since I was much younger, my sisters were both close to him.  I assumed I would soon be sharing all the old photos with him and the rest of the Petersens.

Digitizing the photos took on a new importance. The time frame covered in those photos includes my uncle’s childhood. I did not expect to be sharing those in a time of mourning. I am glad I could.

The digitization of the photos has begun. It is a daunting task trying to figure out how to get a good image. I no longer have a scanner, which wouldn’t have helped anyway as it was so slow and too small for the pages.

My current method involves using my Nikon Coolmax camera, a bench, and the bright, soft light of an east-facing window. Because I’m using natural light, there is only few hours a day the light is bright enough without being glaring.

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I take a photo of each page. I want to share the sense of flipping through the scrapbook without having to have the pages flipped through all the time. It would also take me way too long to each picture individually.

DSCN2871Next, I upload the pages to Amazon Prime Photo. I looked through numerous options for photo-sharing. I didn’t want to pay monthly fees and needed a lot of space. I am already an Amazon Prime member, so Prime Photo seemed like a good place to start. You can add contributors to the “family vault” making it a place to share a lot of family photos, The amount of photos you can add is unlimited. There are also editing, sharing, and print ordering options. It is not without its short-comings. Prime photos is a bit awkward when it comes to uploading in order and there are only two options for reordering your photos. My camera’s settings are messed up for date/time, which I didn’t think would be an issue. It has been. All of the pain-staking time I have spent to put the pages in order is lost in translation between uploading and creating Prime albums.

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There are definitely faults to this method, but it is a start. Most of the images have turned out clear without glare. Someday, they may need to be redone and put online again (hopefully in proper order). For now, they are sharable and family members will be able to ask point out specific photos they want higher resolutions of. I can then get a close up of that photo and send it to them for printing.

Photos are such a great way to learn about family history, and stay connected to loved ones no longer here. Make sure to take good care of those old photos. They are finicky and fragile. In a post somewhere down the line…I will share some articles that have helped my strategy for preservation and some of my own tips.

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