Saturday, August 8, 2009

6 Steps for Scanning and Preserving My Grandfather's WWII Photo Collection

Way back in May, I borrowed my grandfather's WWII photo collection from my grandma. In July, I scanned his veteran newsletters and other documents he had collected about the war in Alaska. (He was stationed for over 3 years on the island of Shemya in the signal corp.) Today I finally got started scanning his photos.

Here is the process that I am using:
1. Photograph each page of his scrapbooks in order to have a record of what the page looked like before I remove any photos. I want to be able to put it back just like I found it. I completed this step this morning and put the photos of each album into separate folders on my computer. I wasn't too worried about the quality of these images. I just want something to refer back to if I get the photos mixed together when scanning.

2. Scan the photos while wearing archival cotton gloves. Even though this collection was passed around the country so that other veterans' could make copies of my grandfather's photos, I am still trying to keep my fingerprints off them. (I did run into a problem with the gloves: the touchpad on my laptop wouldn't work. Good thing we have lots of spare computer parts in the house. Of course every time I want to move the mouse I use the touchpad and have to remember that it doesn't work and I need to use the mouse sitting right there.)

I am scanning the photos at 600 dpi into TIF files. Remember that TIF files give you the best archival quality when you go to do any photo editing. They take up more space, but they will last.

I am currently working on this step. I love that my grandfather took so many photos of his time in Alaska, but it makes a lot of work for me.

3. Edit the photos to the correct size. Since the photos are odd sizes, I scanned them too big and now need to crop out the extra space.

4. As part of step 3 and editing the photos to size, I am also going to use a naming structure on them. I will probably name them something like: Roy SUCKLING WWII photo collection 001 - airplane.tif. This format will tell me the name of the collection, the item number and what the photo is to easily find it later.

5. Publish the photos. I have a few ideas of how I want to share the photos:
  • A coffee table book of photos for my family members. By creating a book, I will be able to share the photos and only have to make the book once. I had originally thought about making a scrapbook, but I think that this will be the most efficient way. Especially if others want a copy and I think they will. What companies and products have you used to create a photo book?
  • Online photo album. Not sure exactly what I want to do with this part yet. I would like to put the photos online in order to share them with other researchers. Many of the photos are of other soldiers and are labeled with the name and address of that person. This is something that I will need to think about. What ideas do you have that would make the photos accessible to others?
6. The most important step: cherish these photos forever. I have to give the albums back to my grandma, but having digital copies for myself and creating a book will make sure that the photos last a long time.

Leave a comment with your tips and experience of publishing and sharing your ancestor's photo collections.


  1. Great post time and I think you covered all the basics. On the issue of how to name photos - my system uses a last name then first then date (if available) then subject such as MacEntee_John_19430901_wedding_01.jpg. It makes it easier to sort.

    Also, if on Vista I take advantage of tagging and using the photo properties to store comments.

    Most important: whatever system you come up with, stick with it and be consistent!

  2. Hi Tina,
    thanks for the tips. I just came across this posting after finding some old photos of my Grandfather in WWII. I just have a quick question before I proceed. Did you have any problems or concerns with damaging the photos from light during the scanning process? A lot of these older photos appear to have little or no protective coating, so I would be devastated if a pass from the scanner ruined the photos.

  3. Phobus,
    I look at it this way. A one time burst of light is going to do far less damage than me having to pull the photo out every time I want to see it or share it. Just make sure your scanner has been wiped clean with a dry cloth (no chemicals!) and that you wear gloves to prevent oils from your hands getting on the photos.
    Good luck!

  4. Thanks for this very helpful article. I do not have a scanner yet, but I am taking digital photos of my irreplaceable photographs. I use a file-naming system similar to Thomas's, but his is actually better than mine so I picked up a useful tip there too!

    I am storing my digital files off-site, with relatives in a different town. The importance of that was brought home to me when entire towns were destroyed by bushfires in Victoria.

    P.S. Thanks for following my blog!

  5. Great article Tina! I am using your tips to scan my Grand Fathers photos & documents from WWII now.