I thought I’d take a moment to quickly discuss the challenges of old photo albums. I’m not talking about those horrible ‘magnetic’ albums with the sticky pages and plastic that holds the photos in place, but those albums with black or dark brown ‘construction paper’ pages. They may be 100 years old, or older, and the photos in them may look fine but the acid in the pages are slowly degrading the images and the paper they are on.
As an Archivist, I’ve de-mounted my fair share of photographs and other items from albums and scrapbooks. It’s a tedious process but one that, in the long run, will preserve the materials longer. The key is in ensuring that the order in which the items were placed in the album is maintained. It is essential that this be done to maintain the context in which the photographs were added by whoever created the album.
Obviously if the images are identified you're well ahead of the game. Simply transferring the information to the back of the photo, using a photo pencil of course, is fine. But if there is no identification it becomes even more critical to keep the images in the order they were in the album. As we all know, it’s rare that someone puts random pictures into an album. While you might not know who are in the images, those 2nd and 3rd cousins that are out there may know, or you may realize through clues in the images themselves who is whom. It’s also possible there’s another album somewhere that may have images that are identified which will provide identification for your images.
So before you remove the images from the pages, scan or take a digital image of the entire page. Then as you carefully remove the images from the album use a numbering system to identify their location from the album. As you place the images in acid-free folders or in acid-free photo boxes, carefully note on the back with a photo pencil the location from the album.
I have a 3rd cousin who removed unidentified images, many tin types, from a number of albums and when she presented them to me to scan, she had no idea who the people in the images are or which images had originally been together. I also found several photos my Mom had in her collection which are unidentified. There’s nothing more frustrating for a genealogist than to have these much older photos and simply have no clue who they are!