The Documents You Need: Family Photos

If you’ve watched much disaster coverage, you know that people often mention losing their family photos. Either they didn’t get a chance to go home to collect them or there wasn’t enough time to get out of the house with them. It doesn’t take a disaster to lose your photos, though. My husband’s childhood photos were destroyed by an attic flood. Other people have lost photos to house fires or room fires. Time can also take a toll on photos. Rather than risk the loss, take a few steps now to protect all your photos.

Digitize Your Photos
Most people now have digital cameras, which means our new images are already digitized. You probably have a box or several albums of older photos, though. Set aside some time to scan your old photos into your computer. You don’t have to do them all – choose those that mean the most to you. If no one can remember the people in the photo, it’s not one you need to preserve. You can pay a service to preserve your photos, but setting aside an hour or two each weekend to do it yourself will save you a bundle of cash. Money Magazine rated the various digitizing services in December.

If you do it yourself, the only concern is with some older photos that may have damage. I have a photo of my grandparents holding a newborn me. It had faded from the sun, so I took it to a local professional photo lab. They were able to restore the colors and give me a new print, as well as a CD of the restored photo. If you have photos like that, take them to a professional to ensure that they’re properly restored.

Digital Photo Storage
Once you have them digitized, it’s not enough to leave them on your computer. You have to back them up. There are a few options for doing this:

  • External hard drive
  • DVD
  • Online storage

External Hard Drive
If you have an external hard drive or a large thumb drive and are organized enough to back it up regularly, then this is the best option. You can buy two drives and keep one in your safe deposit box and one at home. Swap them out regularly. You could also keep the drive in a home safe or your emergency box.

A DVD is the next best option for photos. It has more storage space than a CD, so you can cram more photos onto it. It’s also slim enough to fit easily in a safe deposit box or emergency box. You could also mail it a relative in another area. If they’re photos of deceased family members, it might be a nice gift for several family members.

Online Storage
Many of the major photo printing services, like Snapfish and Shutterfly offer unlimited online photo storage. You can also load them on a site like Flickr, although that could expose them to the public if you don’t properly set your privacy settings.

If you do opt for an online site like Snapfish or Shutterfly, I would order a few photos from them every year to be a good customer. You should also sign in to the service every month or so to avoid having the account deleted for inactivity.

If you’re willing to pay for more secure storage, try XDrive. Five GB are free, but you can get 50GB for $9.95 a month. You could also use Carbonite, which costs $50 a year for unlimited storage.

Once your photos are safely digitized and stored, you won’t have to worry about them. Yes, you may lose the actual albums themselves, but those can always be reproduced if you have the digital files. Tomorrow, computer backups are the next in the documents you need in an emergency series.

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