google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html A Sticky Situation - Removing Photos from Those Evil Albums | The Armchair Genealogist

A Sticky Situation - Removing Photos from Those Evil Albums

If you recall two weeks ago I shared with you the story of a photograph that I discovered and wanted to preserve. After creating a digital copy of it, I then handed it over to Top Hat Photo Repair who did an amazing job restoring it. Go ahead and check out the results I'll wait. Now our attention turns to removing the much damaged old photo from the evil sticky photo album. Why not just leave it there? Because there is something written on the back, and well you know, I’m a family historian and enquiring minds want to know. It may not tell me anything, but what if it does?

I’ve done some research on removing old photos; at this point I’m not as concerned with maintaining the photo since I have a beautiful restored copy but removing it so I can read the writing on the back.

The photo is a picture of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother about 1906-1914. One of the children in the photo I believe is my grandfather. If the writing on the back indicates which child is my grandfather then I can narrow in on the date, and probably identify some of the other children. As well there are a couple of unidentified adults in the photo and perhaps the writing will reveal their identities.

My research on Google came up with several options.

Option 1: Dental Floss (unwaxed) Slide back and forth between sticky page and photo.
Option 2: UN-DU a scrapbook product applied to back of photo.
Option 3: The freezer - leave for a few minutes but not so long to cause condensation on photo.
Option 4: A sharp knife (now with clarification, some recommend this, others do not)
Option 5:  I consulted the curator at the Norfolk Historical Society. Helen suggested a tool that scrap bookers use; it’s thin but dull so it won’t cut through the photo.

Knowing the fragile condition of the photo, I quickly eliminated the UN-DU product and the freezer.  I’m down to the dental floss, scrapbooking tool and the sharp knife.  The dental floss was a fail. It worked nicely on some other photos in the book that were intact and stuck but it wasn’t happening for this photo. It just couldn’t get between the picture and album page. The photo paper is so thin at this point. I need a very thin sharp edge to pry the photo off the page.  The scrapbook tool did not have a sharp enough edge but I could see working well for other photos in a less fragile state.  Its clear there is only one option at this point – a sharp edge not a dull edge is my only option.

Understand I am entering into this knowing full well I may lose the photo, but take comfort in knowing I have a restored copy. I enlisted the help of my husband and I attempted the removal of the photo – the thin sharp blade we chose was the blade from an x acto knife.

 We first cut the page out of the book. 

We very slowly moved the blade, edge down, basically scraping the photo off the page ever so gently.  The use of a light directly on the picture helped. I held the light when I wasn't taking photos. 

We also found it easier to cut the page apart into a smaller piece to manage it better.

There was one particular area of the photo that was very difficult of course that was in the area of the writing. This took a great deal of time –it took us 90 minutes to remove the picture.

It is difficult to make out here but with the help of my magnifying glass and tweezers, I am to able read most of what is written and confirm my grandfather is in this photo.

The Results

I would be lying if I said the photo wasn’t a little worse from the wear and tear but it is still in tack. It can now be stored in a proper archival photo album; I will include a copy of the restored photo alongside it and a label of those identified. So did I get the answers to my questions?

Yes and No?  
I was able to confirm through the photo and in comparison to other photos, my mother’s memory of the photo and through the little bit of writing on the back that the young boy standing in front is my grandfather. I estimate he is about 3 1/2 years old; the baby his mother is holding is his brother.  I can therefore narrow down the date of this picture to 1909.

The writing on the back did not identify all the people in the photo which was a disappointment. Overall, it was an interesting experiment; I hope it helps other family historians who may come across a similar sticky situation. 

Read Part 1 - A 100 Year Old Photo Restored for 100 More! 


Anonymous said...

I have used a hair dryer to soften the glue's hold and then a brand new (sharp) putty knife to remove the photo from the sticky album page. I have had very good success with this method.

Celia Lewis said...

I held my breath as I read what you did! I have some wonderful very old photos in my great-grandfather's Souvenir Album, but there's not going to be a way to remove them from the paper - photos glued on both sides, solidly stuck hard to the edges. Not even a lip to think about trying to remove the photo.
This looks like you managed to get some good information however - well worth the effort, and a good test for the rest of the photos, too, I'm assuming?

Lynn Palermo said...

Thanks Celia, I was nervous, that's why I needed the steady hand of my husband to help out. Good luck with your photos but it sounds like you're stuck with your situation.

Andrea Kelleher said...

Great tips here for removing pics from albums!

Anonymous said...

Hello, we listened to a class on this several years ago. One lady said she used a cheese slicer! The one with a fine wire and a roller to remove the pics from the page. I still cringe. But most important, you must clean the sticky from the backs of the photos or it will bleed thru to the front and still ruin the photos.

Jana Last said...

Lynn, thank you for these tips!

I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tolley Family Historian said...

I had a go at a similar situation.The photo was shot. I scanned the frontside and did some restoration. Decided that was sufficient and if the pic was destroyed trying to get at the backside, so be it. The photo was mounted on some heavy-weight album card. The photo itself was only small (3 ins x 3 ins) Like you I took the page out. But I tackled the problem backwards. Using a scalpel I filleted the album card, It was relatively easy to take more than half of the card away, and after a few more incisions got more layers away until the point when there wasn't much between me and the photo. Then a quick paint over with a light olive oil and the remaining layers of papery stuff became transparent enough to see through to the writing. Photographed the names and dates and all the information there captured. I actually found that wiping/patting the oil off with tissue paper fairly soon after didn't do any much harm to the photo either.