06 January 2014

Motivation Monday - Get Those Old Photo Albums Out

I posted about having unidentified photos that had been pulled from old photo albums on Friday; you can read that post here.

I received lots of comments (thank you so much!) asking about removing the photos from these old albums without damaging them. Why bother to remove them? Because for long term preservation, it’s better to remove them from the album and place them in appropriate archival quality storage (acid-free envelopes, folders and/or boxes).

A word of caution first: take digital images of the pages BEFORE you try to remove them from an album. If the album is flexible enough for a scanner that’s a fine way to get the image, otherwise using a digital camera or smartphone will do the job. I've done both with a number of albums I've processed. And, while it’s great to capture an image that’s of good enough quality to clip each individual picture (later), the purpose in capturing an image of the page as a whole is to preserve the original arrangement on each page as well as the original order of the pages. This, in turn, preserves the context that can be inferred from how the images are arranged if they are not identified; we call that respect des fonds. 

So, how the heck do you get the photographs off the pages?! Patience and a steady hand are important components in this process along with a couple of tools that you can use:

1. If the adhesive is not very good and the edges of the photographs are loose, you can use a micro spatula to attempt to gently pry them up. What’s a *micro spatula*? You can see what it looks like here. In a pinch, I’ve used a palette knife (used for mixing oil paints) that you can get at an art supply store. The key is in using something that has a fairly sharp, thin edge, but not so sharp that it will cut the photo.

2. Dental floss. Yep, here’s a case where an inexpensive household item can work magic. Make certain that the floss does not include flavor (think unnecessary chemicals on your photo), but it can be waxed. Teflon floss works the best, since the Teflon helps to prevent sticking. Begin with a corner; gently work the floss under the photo and then use a back and forth ‘sawing’ motion - G E N T L Y.  Again, this takes a very steady hand and lots of patience, but often it’s an issue of getting past the first line of adhesive and the picture will come off the page. 

If, in examining the album, you find that the vast majority of the photos are securely adhered to the pages, it may be best to leave them as they are. In this case, acid-free tissue paper can be placed in between the pages to help to reduce the eventual degradation of the images from the acid in the pages.

If you have other issues with your albums, let me know and I'll see if I can make suggestions that can help you. Archival supplies are NOT expensive, in general. I am an Archivist, which means I'm on an incredibly tight budget (i.e., I don't make a lot of money), so I totally understand needing to be frugal. Frugality shouldn't prevent you from protecting your family materials for the future!

*Please note: I am not compensated when suggesting products and/or suppliers. I'm going by the experience I've had with the products and suppliers; your experience may be different. Common sense is my rule for 2014.


  1. Thank you for this helpful post, Laura. You motivated me to remove the old black scrapbook paper from the back of a century-old photo postcard last night. A splotch of black was just covering up the name of an ancestor, (Blank) Quinn. When I successfully removed the paper and placed the card under a magnifying glass to read the name, I had to laugh - it was "Grandpa" Quinn! At least it should be preserved a bit longer. Will begin looking at my other photos with an eye to cleaning those off, too. Greetings from your newest follower.

  2. Linda, welcome and thanks! And, I'm so very glad that you were able to get to another clue in your family history. It's a scary prospect sometimes, but with a bit of patience the rewards can be great. :-)


Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my blog!