Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Tips and Hints

You’ve found that image or document that reveals a great story or confirms that missing clue you needed, and you want to make sure it is saved for generations to come.

What is the best way to save and preserve your images?

Lord Morpeth Roll 1I asked Sabrina Petersen, Director of Global Imaging here at Ancestry, and she shared these 5 tips:

  1. Think like an Archive. Archives think about how to preserve records and photographs for their patrons and posterity within a budget.  Digitization allows for multiple copies of the original that can be shared as well as stored, which allows you to store a master copy and make copies as needed.
  2. Future Use. Think about how you are going to find this particular picture or document in the future.  Putting metadata within the name of the image itself is the easiest way to find it in the future. You might put “Aunt Nancy Family Reunion 1982 picnic” as the name of the picture or “Death Certificate Benjamin Franklin Blansett 1912”.  By making the name the basic information you can then easily search and find it again. Then you can further organize the files by putting them in folder by event, family surname or by type of record, which will help make retrieval of this easier in the future.
  3. Digitize your records.  This can be done by using different types of equipment, but probably the easiest is a digital camera for most documents. Capture the document or picture as straight as possible when photographing, this avoids creating unwanted “artifacts” or spots on the image if you need to straighten it on your computer. Our Shoebox app is a great tool to use as well.
  4. Choose formats wisely. There are a lot of formats to choose from – JPEG and TIFF are the most common. Whichever you choose, make sure that you have the original copy someplace safe and then make a second copy which is the one you play with, send to others or upload for safe keeping to your family tree on Ancestry.  This second copy can be any file format you choose, including a PDF.  This makes it easy to share, send and upload.
  5. Anything is better than nothing! Lastly remember that anything you do now is better than nothing.

A little thought as you store your finds will save you a lot of angst later.

Happy Searching!


  1. ian

    What BS victoria B D M records require $ to access
    Ancestry >com recq’s Cedit card details (Which I don’t have) to access 14 day free trial this info recq not upfront only when u try to access, Rubbish ! just another con . cpy’d here by stop .delete, finis ,end ! any and all temporary m’ship of this site! I shall not respond to any and all requests for info and/oe monies now or later . I bet a penny to a pigs head u don’t publish this !

  2. Holly

    This article really doesn’t address how to preserve the original – only how to make and preserve digital copies. I would like to know how to prevent or slow down original documents or photos you are copying from deteriorating, e.g. 100 year old birth certificate, a letter that is 70 years old.
    I think most people know how to take a digital copy of something.

  3. Chris

    I realize that this is not a free service, that there is no kind person to subsidise my enjoyment of the facilities. I am retired and on a pension but intend to join when convenient. Other payment methods would be appreciated because I distrust giving card details on internet.

  4. Debbie Corder

    Hi, I have very old papers that are deteriorating fast I have used the shoebox app which I love to send them to ancestry I also scan and copied them as well onto my computer, I must confess though that I have used a laminator to try to preserve some of my newspaper clipping and certificates, what’s the good in having them if in a couple of years they are gone so using the laminator at least you can handle them and so can others.

  5. Pam

    More clues about physical (not just digital) preservation would be helpful. I think it’s important to remember to write details on the actual photographs (on the back, in pencil). I’ve seen so many people’s precious photographs which are unlabelled. Sure, you know who is shown in the picture, but will your children or anyone else know? A well preserved photograph has little value without a provenance and an explanation.

  6. bkr188

    To Holly,
    Very old documents are easier to preserve than newer ones as they did not use as much acidic material. Also b&w photos will last longer as opposed to colour. Photos kept in albumns with acid free and without plastic pages is a good way. A bit more expensive than normal albumns but worth the investment. A good photographic shop should supply them. Keep away from light and heat. Documents such as birth certificates, kept flat, without creases or folds in a folio with acid free tissue between pages. It is expensive to de-acidify paper, but a wonderful source of knowledge is your local history library who have trained archivists and part of their job is to preserve documents. The less old documents are used the better for them. Take photocopies to handle.

  7. Elaine Klowss

    For original photos and documents,firstly scan them then write lightly who,where and when in HB lead pencil on the back of the original. Have a copy printed so that you can show others. Store your originals in albums made from acid free paper only then store these albums in an acid free cardboard box or similar with silica pellets or similar in a dark, cool and dry place. This can be in the back of a spare cupboard/wardrobe and check and replace pellets every 12 months, but not during the hot humid summer months.

  8. ray coles

    I do agree with some of your replies that giving out ones credit card details is not good practice with the free trial as you may not go any futher Ray

  9. yanine hey

    Chris I am also a pensioner. Join local historical society or library. You can access their databases without payment up front. Or have a relative give a subscription as a xmas or present.

  10. Sue

    The issue here is preservation of old photos and documents. Check out your local scrapbooking shop for reasonably priced, acid-free preservation methods. I have some photos with mercury still sitting on the surface – any tips for preserving these and protecting the handler apart from digitalization?

  11. Phil

    Pam (Feb 10) – I agree with you regarding keeping some photo details on reverse side of prints and to a degree that is partly what is covered in this article in relation to digital copies. This is the beauty of tags/metadata. If you attach tags to your digital copies spelling out details then it can be retrieved for year to come. Even if our handwriting might be a bit dodgy generally our typing isn’t too bad.

  12. Phil

    One little tip for keeping documents and/or photos. I have found that programs like Paperport are excellent ways to keep your digital copies in order and easily retrieved at a future date if wanted. If you look up Paperport you will find what it can do and/or similar programs that you can use in its place if you wish. It has an orderly filing system which you can adapt to your own style and is very easy to use. It used to come bundled with some Brother Printers, I am not sure if it still does. It can be purchased separately anyway.

  13. Rose Morrison

    Why do other people think it is THEIR RIGHT to just take photos and information without contacting the owner of the family tree first.
    Found most are not direct relations but leaves on a twig so far on the end of the branches that they are not often related AT ALL. Think they just like to say they have so many thousands of people in their tree.

  14. Rose

    Why do other people think it is THEIR RIGHT to just take photos and information without contacting the owner of the family tree first.
    Found most are not direct relations but leaves on a twig so far on the end of the branches that they are not often related AT ALL. Think they just like to say they have so many thousands of people in their tree.

  15. Abbie and Harry

    What is the most suitable pencil for recording details on the back of a photograph? I have heard other archivists say a soft B pencil is best, however, I have found that pencils simply won’t write on the back of modern photographic paper. Would Sabrina Petersen discuss this topic? Thank you.

  16. Kath

    Chris I have a bank debit card not linked to any other bank account especially for on line purchases and usage.

  17. Kath

    Terry we do not appreciate your foul mouth and language. Please stop!!!.

    I became frustrated with for various reasons so I decided to take a break. It was a good exercise to do as now I am ready to rejoin and continue.

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