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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

What To Do With Old Family Photos While Preserving Family History

Pile of Vintage pictures with quesiton what to do with all these family photos?

Are you asking yourself, "What do I do with all the old family pictures that have been passed down to me that no one wants?"

You're in luck. Perhaps you have boxes of old family photos, shelves of photo albums, or even photo scrapbooks. I have some suggestions that might preserve your legacy while reducing what you have in your home.

Organize Your Photo Collection

Few of the folks I will mention below want a disorganized mess shipped to them. Organize your collection by family and in chronological order. If you don't know the timeline for your images, arrange them by color type, and you'll get pretty close to the accurate order.

Downsize your photo collection. Loose photos and photos in albums by removing blurry photos and separating out duplicate copies of the same image.

Set photos of unidentified individuals or strangers aside. Take time to identify the persons and places shown in the photos. You might be the last living person who may know who or what the pictures depict.

If you're unable to identify some individuals, you could attempt a reserve image search on Google with a digitized image or submit the pictures to a lost family photo website like

With an organized and paired-down photo collection, it's time to find new homes for your box of physical prints.

↪️ Are you looking for more tips for downsizing while preserving your family history?

Grab your copy of my book.

Book: Downsizing With Family History in Mind

Reach Out to Family Members

While you may think you don't have someone who wants your family photos, chances are you need to cast a wider net. You might also consider breaking up your picture collection so that you increase the chances of finding new homes for them.

Contact extended family members to see who would like portions of your photo collection. Use the FamilySearch family tree or Ancestry to find out who is actively researching your common ancestors and relatives.

Use the website's internal mail systems to send an email describing the collections you have and asking whether that person would be interested in having them shipped to them. Be willing to pay for or split the postage cost with those who agree to accept the collection.

If these extended members do not want the collection, ask whether they know of another family member who would. It's possible that a family member isn't active on the family trees you visited.

Additionally, search for Surname Reunions. If you can attend or send your collection to an organizer, there might be someone at the reunion who wants become a curator for your collection.

Reach Out to Historical and Genealogical Societies

Not every society has an archive or library for your materials, but you will never know unless you ask.

You'll want to contact societies for the locations your ancestor lived. If they lived in Columbus, Ohio, search for the Franklin County Historical Society or the Ohio Genealogical Society.

Find societies by typing in a [Location] + Genealogy Society into Google Search. This would look like this:

  • Ontario Canada Genealogy Society

  • Humble Texas Genealogy Society

  • Santa Fe Historical Society

Reach out to these organizations, or explore their websites, to determine whether they accept organized photo collection donations. If they do not accept collections, perhaps they can recommend a genealogy archive or library that will.

I loved explaining all of these techniques in this Facebook video that you can watch below.

Seek Out Special Collections

If your photo collection highlights significant moments in history, then contact groups that are not traditionally genealogically based.

For instance, The Ohio State University has several photo collections in its library holdings. Look through their catalog to see if they have collections that mirror what you have that you can enrich with a donation.

You can also explore History or Specialty Museums. Perhaps you can donate to a Civil War Museum with your Union or Confederate Ancestor's photos.

Finally, reach out to state and national archives to determine whether they accept photo donations.

Notify the Public

Using Facebook groups for genealogists, historians, or locations worldwide, let people know that you have a collection that you would like to part with. While you can not ensure the photos will wind up in the hands of your family, the person who will take them likely has a love for history and genealogy.

Digitize and Share the Photos

Once the photos leave your home, they are not retrievable. Therefore, in addition to organizing your collection, make digital copies of your pictures.

Then share copies of the files with your family members. They might not have wanted the physical images, but they might welcome the digital photos.

It would be best if you also took time to share the images with online family trees, Find A Grave, or other digital photo collections.

The key is to share your photos in various places to have a greater chance of lasting into the future.

Start Now to Divest Your Collection

If you have a year or longer to downsize, you have enough time to find the right repository or family member to accept your photo archive. You'll also have time and resources to digitize your collection and share your images.

If you wait until you are too sick or weak to handle your estate or your heirs have to process your photos, the collection will likely end up in the trash or worse.

Learn what to do with all of your old family photos to preserve them for the future.

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For more tips on preserving your photos and family history, read:

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