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Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Winter 2000 > Preserving Family Memories

Preserving Family Memories


Your family photographs are just as important to you as SPNEA's archive of over half a million historic images is to the thousands of re-searchers who use it each year. Here are steps you can take to preserve your own family pictures.


As you are in effect the archivist of your family's history, keep in mind that time will erase the significance of unidentified images, so try to identify the subjects and approximate dates of your pictures. You may write on the back of the photographs with an extra-soft pencil or make notes on the pages of an album. Albums should have neutral (pH 7.0 - 7.5) acid-free paper; use mounting corners to hold the photos in place. Albums with pages of polyester (Mylar D), poly-propylene, or polyethylene sleeves are acceptable alternatives. Avoid self-stick pages and vinyl or PVC sleeves, all of which can cause damage. You may also keep your photographs in archival-quality folders and boxes to protect them from light and dust. Negatives should be placed separately in envelopes or Mylar sleeves. Choose a storage location in your house away from light, heat, and moisture, with moderate levels of humidity-not in the attic, basement, or against an outside wall. Color prints in particular are best kept at lower temperatures.




When framing photographs, be sure to use acid-free mats and backing. Remember that photographs on display, especially color prints, will gradually fade, so place a second print in storage. Heirloom prints, or ones for which you have no negative, may be copied professionally, which will give you a copy negative from which to make prints for other family members. Hang the copy print on the wall and store the original. Never hang pictures in sunlight or fluorescent light or over a heat source. These steps, based on archival methods, will ensure that your family pictures last for future generations to enjoy.

-Lorna Condon
Director of Library & Archives


We gratefully acknowledge the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), 100 Brickstone Square, Andover, MA 01810-1494 for providing the information on which this article was based. The NEDCC conserves valuable photographs and is an important resource for information on managing collections on paper, through their website at


Archival materials may be found at specialty camera stores and are also carried by the following suppliers:
University Products,
P.O. Box 101,
Holyoke, MA 01041,
(800) 628-1912;
and Light Impressions,
P.O. Box 22708,
Rochester, NY 14692, (800) 828-6216.


Preserving Family Memories