How to Begin to Preserve your Family Archive

Many baby boomers are passing down a physical legacy known as a family archive. The 20th century was the heyday of analog photography. People recorded their lives with a variety of photographic processes—all of them resulting in physical objects that make up a large part of family archives.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with the task of sorting and storing your family’s collection of old photographs and other memorabilia this post provides tips on organizing your family archive. If you want them to survive for future generations, you need to safely handle and store these items in archival enclosures in proper environmental conditions.

A typical family archive prior to being sorted. The cigar boxes and old Kodak paper box are not archival and over time the acids and lignins will damage your photos. Note the wide variety of photographic processes spanning 150 years – from a daguerreotype to an analog color C-print!

There are many options when it comes to storing your valuable photographs, documents, letters, scrapbooks, books, diaries, recipes, garments, films, and other smaller family heirlooms. You need to make decisions based on several factors—time, budget, space, and how frequently the collection will be accessed



How big is the project and how much time do you have to dedicate to it? An upcoming milestone celebration is often a good place to get started – collect photos and memorabilia that relate to a graduation or anniversary. Digitize them to use for a photo book or slideshow, then preserve them in archival storage.

If your time is limited or you aren’t ready to sort, store, and label everything, then try to store the bulk of the items safely until you have time to go through them. Do not store treasured archival materials in basements, attics, or garages where they are more likely to be damaged by water, temperature and humidity fluctuations, insects, and rodents. If using plastic bins make sure you only use safe plastics—polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Stay away from vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).  


If the collection is quite large and your budget is small, start slowly and plan to tackle it over time. Look through the options we outline and choose the most economical. Some archival protection is better than none, so putting things in archival Metal Edge Boxes would be better than shoeboxes. We send out several email promotions each year so sign up for our email list and save that way. 


Figure out where you will be storing your collection once it is in archival boxes or binders. Closets and bookshelves in your living space are good choices. And store them out of direct sunlight!  

The other space you need to determine is where you are going to sort and organize your collection. Be sure that it is clean and away from food and beverages. If you have limited table space and are sorting on the floor be sure to lay down a clean sheet first.

A table in a home office is a good place to sort your family archive. If leaving photos out between work sessions and they are exposed to sunlight or fluorescent lights, cover them to protect them from light damage. Ultraviolet (UV) light is extremely damaging to photographs and other paper items.


Will you be looking at the original photos and other items very often? Or are you scanning or making copies to look at instead, with the intent of long-term archival storage of the originals? 



Divide the collection into subsets and make an inventory. For instance, you might have 6 early photo albums and scrapbooks, 5 “magnetic” albums from the 1970s and 80s, a shoebox of loose snapshots, a box full of snapshots and negatives in the original drugstore envelopes, a series of letters, 3 slide carousels, a christening gown, etc… You need to decide when to keep things in their original format and when to rehouse them. And you can keep track of what’s been digitized or rehoused on your inventory. 

When sorting and organizing, you can use non-archival boxes and index cards during this temporary stage. Once you determine how much you have to store you will need to decide what archival storage methods to use.  

A vintage family album from the 1800s containing mounted Cabinet Card portraits. Many times it is preferable to store old photo albums intact. An archival metal edge box is a good choice for this. You can add more protection with archival tissue interleaving between the pages and placing the album in a polyethylene bag within the box.

Determine Storage Method

Box or Binder? Our Metal Edge Boxes are the most economical storage option, but Binders are great for accessing and looking at your collection.  

When choosing box storage, look at our line of Archival Storage Kits for inspiration. We have storage kits for Newspapers, Documents, Photographs, Film Negatives, 35mm Slides, Textiles, Books, and other small Objects. Our Photo Storage Kits present several different options. The customizable Create-a-Kits were designed to store different sized photos and other objects. 

Our Large Create-a-Kit is great for storing a variety of items and different sized photographs.


We have many Binder options. Collector Grade Binders with Slipcases come in several colors and sizes. The Binder-in-Box provides the archival protection and savings of a Metal Edge Box with the accessibility of an Archival Binder. The RingFolio Binder and Accent L-Series Binder are two high-quality “binder-in-a-box” designs.  

The binder-in-a-box designs and the binders with slipcases provide that extra level of protection from dust and other pollutants because the contents are protected on all sides.


We offer many archival 3-Ring Binder Pages. The Print and Slide Pages have top-loading pockets to hold your photos and documents without the need for adhesives. Card Stock in White, Gray, and Black can be ordered separately to create a barrier between photos mounted back-to-back. 3-Ring Page Protectors and Archival 3-Hole Mounting Pages are two other excellent options, but you will need to attach your photos and documents to the pages with Photo Corners or Gudy Dots.  

Our Binder-in-Box combines the convenience of a 3-ring binder with the protection of an archival metal edge box. These are best stored flat but can be stacked because the metal edging provides strength. When storing upright the binder spine should be at the top allowing the contents to hang evenly from the rings.

Calculate Storage Needs

It can be difficult to figure out how many boxes, binders, pages, sleeves, and bags you will need to store everything in your collection. Sorting, measuring, and counting are key elements to determining what you will need. Start out conservatively and as your project progresses you will get better at determining what you need.  

Our website has Capacity Charts for many of the products. They are general guidelines to give you an approximation. Most snapshots are about the same thickness and 100 photos measure about one inch. If you were to store 4 x 6” photos in our Short Top Box #04-003 which is 6-½ x 10-½ x 4-½ H you would likely be able to fit 1050 prints in it (100 x 10-½). 


Once you determine what items you would like to start with, visit our website and place your order. Most items in stock ship within 2-4 business days from our Rochester, New York manufacturing facility.

If you live in the Rochester, NY area or will be passing through, you can opt to pick up your order in person during our business hours and save on shipping costs.

If you are struggling to decide what to order or find what you are looking for, please give us a call or send an email. We are happy to assist you!