Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Portraits of a Life – Step 2: Archive the Original Image

To bring the original family portraits and snapshots into the digital realm there are several steps that I follow. A series of blog posts will explain the workflow that is used for the Portraits of a Life project.

Step 1: Create a Digital Image
Step 2: Archive the Original Image
Step 3: Preliminary Sort
Step 4: Edit, Enhance & Restore
Step 5: Identification
Step 6: Finalize Organization
Step 7: Share

The second step in the process is archive the original photograph. Of all the steps in the process Step 1: Create a Digital Image and Step 2: Archive the Original Image are the most critical. Step 1 ensures that a copy of the original photograph exists and step 2 ensures that the original photograph is properly preserved and stored.  Proper preservation ensures that the photographs can be handed down to the next generation of researchers.

The Materials

The first step is to use quality archive materials. In order to protect the original photographs it is important to use the correct materials for storage. The recommended method is to store photographs in individual sleeves.  Photographs taken at different times can contain different chemicals. Storing the photos in sleeves will ensure that the chemicals from one photo do not leach into another and cause damage. An acid free backing board can be used for old photographs that are very fragile. After placing the photographs in sleeves, the photographs should be stacked on their ends in archival boxes that are acid free.  Storing an old photo on the end reduces the amount of pressure on the image. 

After some research I opted to purchase products from Bags Unlimited. Bags Unlimited was great and answered my questions when I called seeking advice.  Their line of polypropylene sleeves, acid free backing boards and storage boxes are designed to work as a system. There is also an option to purchase dividers which can be used with to organize photographs within storage boxes.  The prices were affordable and I was pleased with the quality of the products. 

Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 2: Archive the Original Image
Archive supplies in a range of sizes
The collections in my care feature many photographs there are some that are over one hundred years old. It is very important to purchase the correct materials. Note that different types of sleeve materials are available. Be sure to check with the manufacturer that the sleeve material you intend to use is appropriate for your storage method.

Many of my old photographs are small. I opted to order a range of polypropylene sleeve sizes including 3-1/2x5, 4x5 and 4x6. All three sleeve sizes store nicely in the 4x6 archive box.  I also opted to order one large 8-1/2x 11archive box. This box allows me to storage larger 8-1/2x11 photographs, 5x7 photographs and other odd sized photographs.  I also opted to order 8x10 polypropylene sleeves and 5x7 polypropylene sleeves.

Handling the Photos

It is very important to make sure that your hands are clean when you handle photographs. Minimizing the amount of contact is important to ensure that oil and finger prints are not transferred to the photographs.
If you have a large quantity of photographs to sort through consider getting white cotton gloves that archivists use. These will allow the photographs to be handled without the risk of adding finger prints.

Moving from Chaos to Order

The workflow I am currently using is to re-photograph the original image as described in Step 1: Create a Digital Image. After taking a photograph of the original I place the original photograph in a polypropylene sleeve and store the photo in the archive boxes.  Photographing the originals before placing in sleeves minimizes the contact with the original photograph.

Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 2: Archive the Original Image
Old photographs in the original piles

If this step appears over whelming – one way to start would be to take old photographs that are currently sitting in piles, place them in sleeves and store on their ends.  The photographs can then be viewed, studied or sorted at a later time. The preliminary use of dividers allows the option to maintain the original piles or groupings in the storage boxes.

Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 2: Archive the Original Image
Move from old photographs stored in envelopes to 
photographs sleeved and placed in archival storage boxes. 

The use of dividers can also allow you to take another step – separating the photographs by family, event, ect. 

Michelle M. Murosky: Portraits of a Life &emdash; Step 2: Archive the Original Image
The 4x6 storage box with photographs placed in polypropylene sleeves and stored on end. 


It is important to store photographs in the correct conditions.  Old photographs can be damaged by exposure to light, moisture and temperature variations. It is not recommended to store old photographs in unconditioned spaces – basements and attics. The photos should be stored in climate controlled areas – for example a closet in a heating and air-conditioned portion of your home.


If you have what you believe is an original or the only copy of an old photograph it is recommended that a copy be made for display and the original properly stored. Over time continued exposure to light can damage old photographs.  Additionally – over time photographs can bond to glass if displayed in frames. 

Very old photographs like Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes and Tin Types should be re-photographed and the original stored where it is not exposed to light.

If you have old photographs in original frames such as the oval frames popular in the 1920’s consider hanging the original in a location where the photograph will not be exposed to direct sunlight.  Old photographs in original frames can also be photographed in their frames using the steps discussed in Step 1: Create a Digital Image.

There are other helpful tips about care and storage of photographs available at this link.

The review of the Bags Unlimited products was done at my discretion. Our Ancestors - The Murosky & McDonald Ancestral Lines did not receive any compensation for providing a review of products.  


  1. Hi Michelle,

    Your site is absolutely lovely and I'm so glad I've stumbled upon it. This post and Step 1 in this series have been incredibly helpful. Step 1 is how I found your site in the first place. Thanks for the advice and keep up the great work!

    -McKinley Mertz, NJ

  2. Hi McKinley,

    Thank you so much for stopping by to comment on the blog and provide feedback! I am glad to hear these posts are helpful and you enjoy them.