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Organizing Family Photos in 8 Easy Steps

Next month, my husband and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I would have to say a good portions of those 25 years – 15 at least were recorded via the old-fashioned kind of camera. The kind of camera that resulted in boxes and boxes of pictures.

I was a working mother for 20 of those 25 years, days came and went and life marched on and those pictures continued to pile up. I always had big ideas, and some of the best intentions but never a plan or quite frankly the time.

What do I have to show for those 25 years? ( besides a wonderful husband and two brilliant daughters)


That’s right, I am embarrassed. This is my family’s history. I have pictures of my ancestors that I have carefully scanned and catalogued and backed-up and filed. But my own family history, my precious pictures of 25 years of marriage, my children growing up, pictures of some are our most special days are piled in totes, no order, no care, just chaos.

I will be the first to ewww and ahhh over a wonderfully preserved picture of an ancestor, what a treasure…and yet aren’t my pictures treasures? Won’t my grandchildren and great-grandchildren be thrilled to have these pictures? It’s time to get busy.

I know I am not alone. I also no I needed a plan, one I could fit into my busy schedule. I know I don’t have a 9-5 job anymore but there is this little thing called a blog and this big thing called family history that keeps me pretty busy.

So when this handy gadget call the Flip-Pal entered my life, I knew I now had the tool to get this job done once and for all.

Here’s the plan I’m following to get my picture dilemma under control.

Step 1 - I grabbed a small picture box, one I had floating around the house with the full intention of using but never got around to it. I transferred some pictures from the totes into this box.

Step 2 – Here’s the big tip- as the armchair genealogist that I am, I keep this small box picture with my Flip-Pal beside my armchair. The rule is when I finally sit down in the evening to watch TV, I must be scanning these pictures. The pictures stay handy but don’t look like my office is spilling out into the family room.

Step 3 - I also have beside me a package of  81/2 x 11 envelopes. I am putting the pictures into the envelopes by the year after they are scanned on the Flip-Pal. So one envelope for every year of my marriage. Mark the envelope clearly. (Yeah, I know you may have to estimate on some of those pictures if you didn’t label them way back when.)

Step 4 - Scan the picture with your Flip-Pal. Trust me this little guy will be your new best friend. When you have scanned all the pictures in your small box, refill it from the bigger box. Rinse and repeat until all pictures are scanned.

Step 5 – Label the picture on the back, insert the picture into the envelope for the proper year. At this time you can make a note on the envelope regarding any specifics of the pictures such as birthdays, vacations, special events etc. 

Step 6- Toss out those blurred unidentifiable pictures and  multiple copies. I know it’s hard you paid could money for them.

Step 7 - Now set up a filing system on your computer to store your digital photos. Follow the same procedure as you did for the hard copy. File them by year, then within each year separate file folders for events. Back these up to CDs or a USB drive or both.

Step 8 –Purchase some beautiful photo boxes.( I am still shopping for those) Once you have found them, each envelope will go into the photo box with the year marked on it.

Here’s a Bonus Idea

I am creating photo books for my daughters, one to be given to them every birthday. Each book a different theme, such as birthdays, dancing, Christmas, until I have created multiple volumes of picture books chronicling their lives.

Hope this helps you to get your pictures organized. I will keep you posted on my progress.


  1. Congratulations...your very own Family Treasures are getting the same treatment that your Ancestors have been receiving. Nice that you have a plan that you know will work.

    I too had all the proverbial boxes, totes and old scrapbooks. How do I know your plan works? Been there done that right up to the envelope filing system...which I am still using. One difference...the duplicates that we PAID for way back when...a new envelope with name of Family Member's Name in the duplicate. Also, recycled back to them old school photos and other photos they sent to me that I have scanned.

    Yay for the flip pal scanner...which BTW I learned about HERE on your website. Thanks for your Tips and always informative posts. I read religiously, but don't always comment.

    CollectInTexas Gal/Tracks of My Texas Ancestors

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Sue. How do you know it works. Stay posted, I will offer up some proof. But it like anything weight loss, writing, exercise, need a plan and goal and accountability. Thanks for your advice on the duplicates. Stay tuned.

  3. Hi Lynn, thanks for posting! This is a project that is always hanging over my head. I have a Flip Pal, and love it, but still haven't made my way through the boxes of photographs. I think if I follow your process it might be less daunting.
    Thanks again!

  4. I love your systematic 8 step system and will do a Follow Friday post on our genealogy society blog.

    I too have lots of boxes of photos of 20 years of our children's lives (slides were taken before children were born). I did make Creative Memories photo albums for my girls. But now if have all of the "extra" photos.

    I have a question. What are you doing with all of the negatives?

  5. @Lisa everyone may not agree with me, but I am not keeping the negatives. You have a hard copy and as far as I'm concern your scan is your new negative. At some point we need to purge. You may want to keep a couple to show the grandchildren how pictures used to be taken.LOL. I figure if I haven't used those negatives in 25 years, do I really need them?

  6. @NoOceanInKansas, thanks for the comments, I didn't accumulate these pictures overnight, so this is not a quick fix, but so far I'm making progress.

  7. I wrote about your post here:

    Lisa Gorrell

  8. I wish I had thought of doing this 20 years ago. (I'm at 45 years) Most of our pictures are slides. Arrrgh. It's a hard slog. I'm working at it.

  9. Not sure I want to spend $200 for another gadget when I can just as well use my printer/scanner/fax. Good idea on how to organize those photos, though.

  10. @Debra, while I can appreciate your concern for another gadget I can assure you that this tool is very handy. It travels so well, take it with you to archives and libraries. Visiting family who may be reluctant to let you take pictures out of their home, the Flip-Pal solves that problem. Our home scanner is on my husband's desk not convenient and comfortable for me, and if I was going to move through this mountain of pictures, I needed to find away that was a little less painful. So far it's working for me.

  11. Congratulations on your upcoming anniversary, Lynn! Sounds like a great--and doable--plan. We still have a lot of scanning yet to do, ourselves, but one item we added was a digital picture frame to help display the "Best Of" shots we had scanned. Got another one and set it up as a gift for my aunt one Christmas, too. The trouble with scanned photos is...I think they are even more tucked away than the hard copies were! A digital pic frame lets me load 100 scanned photos, and I can set it to scroll through them all in display mode. I think the display can also be set up as a clock/calendar, too, for those needing a more practical use.

  12. How right you are Lynn, we are so good at archiving family history and neglect our own. I was very good in scrapbooking in my days, but with three kids and album for each to make, I could never keep up. Eventually I went digital, but I have so many photos backed up and my youngest really suffers with have so few albums of his own. I'm always scanning old photos and never get making family albums anymore either. You've given me another great reason to buy the flip pal (Jaqui had already convinced me recently (with her great post about the amazing gadget), but I haven't made the investment yet, now I even more excited with getting one!

  13. Great method for scanning family photos. I was pretty good about labeling and placing our pictures in albums over the years but need to digitize now. I'm thinking of pulling albums and keeping one by the tv with the flip pal to scan. Thanks for the idea.

  14. Good plan, Lynn, I like your logicall methodology.
    I have a small feeder scanner, (Scan snap) which scans two sides of a document at once. It's not as portable as the Flip Pal, but it's really fast--like 4 times as fast as my flat bed. Of course, it doesn't have the stitch technology, not can it do that cool scanning of a photo stuck in an album, but I have few things I'd scan that way. For photos with info on the back, it will scan both sides at once. If most of the work will be done at home, some folks may want to consider this. At first I was loath to put old letters in it, but found, if they're not cracked and fragile, the letter went through perfectly, saving me hours. Thanks for a reminder that I'm spending all my time on the ancestors, not thinking I'll be one some day!

  15. Is the Flip Pal as good as a flatbed scanner for photos in the albums that have the "tacky pages" with the clear plastic sheet covers? I just got a Flip Pal and it does great for loose photos but I prefer not to remove the ones from the albums if at all possible.

    Thanks for the motivating article.


  16. Yes Larry the Flip-Pal will scan through those plastic sheet covers. Remove the cover of the flip-pal, flip-it over and lay in on the album, view what your scanning at the same time. I don't think you will be disappointed. Thanks for stopping by.

  17. Once I scan the photos, how do I label the people in them? I'm looking for how to label both the old photographs (write on the back? with what?) as well as the digital files (rename the file? use software such as Picasa?)

  18. A few comments from the professional trenches:
    The original photos will outlast your digital scans, so take good care of them. On the back of each photo IN PENCIL record the names and dates of the people pictured. "Paper" prints made from the '80's on is not paper, it's usually polyester and the picture will start flaking off after several years when kept in less than ideal storage conditions. Be careful what kind of envelopes you use for sorting and storage. Materials in the paper will affect the long-term stability of photographs - the color of slides and prints. It's best to keep prints separated so they don't scratch one another, scratches will show up on the scans. Humidity and fungus are the biggest enemies of slides, so keep them separated from other photographs and dry, in boxes made for slides - use those silica gel drying packets too. The fungus usually shows up along scratches and fingerprints.

  19. More from the professional trenches:
    The Flip Pal is probably OK for 1:1 copying of drug store prints, but not for archiving. For that you will really need the negatives - so please don't toss your negatives. Buy some negative sleeves and store the negatives separately - please. Future generations will thank you. If you have albums with "sticky pages" send them to a reputable restorer to be removed or scanned. Most can be recovered undamaged. Never use tape or adhesives - that says it all. Never try to remove photos glued or taped to album pages - let a professional scan them in place. Never use an automatic sheet feeder for photographs or newspaper clippings. Store newspaper clippings away from photos and other paper materials.

  20. I like you idea however I have pictures that go back to my great grand mother, some have no names and no dates. Where do I being? I have been searching for people on ancestry with the same surname hoping someone can help identify.

  21. I personally prefer to use iPhone to scan photos. Its 5 megapixel camera takes sharp photos, and I use a terrific free app Pic Scanner that automatically crops and saves my scans. This app is speedy (can scan up to 3 photos at a time), convenient (I carry my iPhone everywhere, not my flatbed scanner), inexpensive (free, or $2.99 for paid version) - and gives high resolution photos (especially as I scan 1-2 photos at a time instead of the recommended three).

    Puritans may carp that anything short of 600-1200 dpi is heresy, but the quality of scanned image can never be superior to that of the original that is being scanned, and I am sure that my iPhone-plus-app scans are easily of higher quality than prints made 100 (or even 30) years ago.

  22. My dad was one of 13 kids. There is 21 years difference between oldest and youngest. Over the last few years, I have been 'bugging' members of each of the families to copy all the old family pictures they have. With scanners, home photo printers, cd's and such, there is no reason why pictures can't be shared. And with only 4 of the elders left, we need to identify who are in these old pictures before it's to late. Please go through your old pics and your 'newer' ones too. Identify the people in the pics. Generations in the future will thank you!

  23. Can someone give me advice on how to label an old photo, in writing, for which I don't have all the people identified? Is there a numbering system that people use? I am wanting to make a framed image, and there will be a metal plate under the photo inside the frame. Without putting numbers directly on the photo, what do people do to identify the people in such a photo?

  24. Thank you so much for this post. 2014 is the year for me to get ....wait for it ...33 years of photos organised. I have cut down from full time work to 2 and a half days this year and the photos are one of my first tasks to complete on my " days off " - you've given me some good ideas to get started - which for me is the hard part ! I'm great at procrastinating. Happy New Year.

  25. Thank you so much for this post. 2014 is the year for me to get ....wait for it ...33 years of photos organised. I have cut down from full time work to 2 and a half days this year and the photos are one of my first tasks to complete on my " days off " - you've given me some good ideas to get started - which for me is the hard part ! I'm great at procrastinating. Happy New Year.

  26. I would expand this to 9 steps and add "Get a photo scanning software". It will really speed up your workflow by a lot. Put 3-4 photos on the flatbed, scan, then let the software crop all the photos and save them to separate files. Time saving potential: 9/10. Cheers!


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