What Should You Do with your Parents’ Old Photo Albums?

by Barrett

Now that both of my parents are gone, I’m left with all of their photo albums. And I’m faced with the complicated question of what to do with all of the pictures, like this cool photo of my father from the 1950s. Here’s one perspective…

My mother documented my youth in three large photo albums that were eventually forgotten in a hallway closet after she passed away in 2006. But not entirely. I knew they were there. For different reasons, I’ve borrowed a few of the photos and digitized them, but the vast majority still lived in analog form in that closet.

Sure, I could have easily taken the albums and started a digital conversion project at any point in the past decade, but I always had my existing family photo management work to do, which I was seemingly always behind on. And so this archival project never began.

These albums stayed buried in that same apartment where I grew up and my father still lived.

And then he passed away.

Remembering the Good Times
So, I’ve finally taken possession of these albums. (They’re one of the first things I moved out of my dad’s place.)

And now I’ve begun the slow process of digital conversion for some of these photos. I’ve quickly realized I don’t need all of them. Just enough to tell the story… the story of my family’s lives during those decades.

What I’ve uncovered mostly aligns with my memories, but it’s amazing what you forget or what you were too young to ever remember. It’s good that the photos are there to tell the story.

It’s comforting. Really comforting.

Reviewing Someone Else’s Memories
But there are other photo albums too that lived in my father’s apartment. These were his albums. And they lived separately from the core group. I knew they also existed, and I had seen them across the years, but they were much less familiar to me.

Some contained pictures of my grandfather and grandmother. Then, there were photos from my father’s youth. Others displayed people I didn’t know. There was also a treasure trove of photos from my dad’s travels to distant lands. He was very much a world traveler.
Here are a couple of his pictures from his trip to Egypt.

Then, there are boxes and boxes of his slides from the 1970s. (Remember when that was in vogue?) I’m not exactly sure what those contain… not yet.

I will need to go through all of my father’s photography. He’d talked to me about some of it across the years, but now I guess it’s left to me to figure out how to integrate it into the larger family ‘story’ that will get carried forward.

I think about his legacy. I think about how it is now left to me to carry forward my father’s story. I realize I’m more than a family archivist. I’m suddenly a historian.

It’s a daunting process. And yes, I am overwhelmed. How could I not be?

Keeping the Project Manageable
The good news is I’m not starting entirely from scratch. My father was a great storyteller. And I’ve videotaped many of his stories. And I have digitized some of his photos across the years.

I have to remind myself that this should not be an exercise in quantity. I don’t have to digitize every photo! Instead it’s about finding just what you need to properly represent the story and put any remaining pieces of the puzzle together.

This should support my healing… not make things worse.

Finding a Way Forward
I know this is going to take time (months? years?). So, I’m trying to keep all of these albums and photos properly organized in boxes and bins in our home.

Organization is key.

Is it possible they’ll simply live in the back of another closet until the next generation finds them? Let’s hope not.

Their future state deserves to live in digital form and integrated into my larger family archive collection.

Wish me luck…