Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Reorganizing Family History, Part 1


The longer I'm involved in family history, the more I appreciate practical organization.

Not just for myself...but for those who come after me.

Genealogical materials for my husband's family tree are in one set of archival boxes, while my family tree items are in a different set of archival boxes. All are clearly marked by name or surname. 

These boxes are being passed down to different heirs, one on each side of the family.

Too many archival boxes?

Lately, I've been the happy recipient of genealogy materials from relatives and FAN club members. Not just photos and negatives from my late father-in-law, but  photos and documents from other ancestors. All need to be stored safely, which is why I just received a fresh shipment of archival boxes, above. And I'm keeping my label maker handy!

My bookshelves now hold 36 boxes in all. They are neat, they are safe, they stack well, they keep contents intact. They are my favorite way to safeguard genealogical materials like photos, original documents, etc. This organizational method has worked well for the past decade. And boxes are easy for my heirs to move and store.

Yet just yesterday, I began to wonder if I have too many boxes. This led me to Part 1 of my reorganization experiment.

Album experiment

Now and in the future, family members might actually prefer to view old photos in a more traditional album format. This could encourage them to open the album once in a while, instead of leaving boxes unopened on a shelf. 

Hoping my hubby will be part of my experiment, I asked whether he would prefer to put corners on photos or slide photos into the sleeves of an album. He was squarely in favor of an album with sleeves. So I browsed good quality archival photo albums and purchased one that holds 500 photos, up to 4" x 6" size, with space for captions alongside the sleeves. 

How to arrange the photos was another big concern. A number of friendly folks at #AncestryHour on Twitter suggested arranging photos chronologically. This approach will guide descendants through the Wood family's history, visually and with brief captions. 

When the album arrives and I begin this reorganization, I'll post about the process and lessons learned. 

Reorganization issues

I have to consider safe storage for the negatives that accompany many of my late father-in-law's century-old photos. Because negatives can't be safely stored in the same sleeve as the photos, I'm thinking about separate storage and a numbering system that indicates which negative corresponds with which photo in the album...which adds another layer of complexity to the reorganization process.

Another issue: How to accommodate photos with notes on the back. An  #AncestryHour friend lets the notes show by not putting two photos back to back in the album. It's something to try if my new album (currently in transit) has clear sleeves that work in this way. 

Reorganizing family history will be a long-term process, best accomplished little by little. But then again, genealogy is a long-term process. If I tackle the photos in one archival box and get them situated (in order) in the album, I can return to caption them at a later date. It's a learning process...

One photo at a time, one box at a time, one album at a time, I'm learning more about how to reorganize family history and plan a future for my family's past.

-- This is my entry for the Sept 2021 Genealogy Blog Party.


  1. I look forward to reading about how you're reorganizing photographs. I have tons of photographs from my mother's side of the family. Many are in archival sleeves in binders, but I also realized (yesterday) that I also have a ton in folders in boxes.
    I'm thrilled to have so many photos, but yikes - how to organize?!?

  2. I love this idea Marian! I don't have many ancestor photos, and those I do have come in all shapes and sizes. I wonder if there is an album to suit.

  3. It looks like you're now officially out of circulation starting winter 2021 through winter 2025. Can't wait to see it looking good.

  4. Can't wait to see your progress!! After re-reading your book, I am (sort of...) looking forward to those winter days that I reserve for organizing projects.

  5. I love the archival boxes I've purchased. I found one that fits my grandmother's scrapbook perfectly. Looking forward to seeing the "finished" product.

  6. Another big project - I have archival albums that have been waiting on me for several years. Getting started - that’s the holdup. I think I am overwhelmed, so go ahead Marian, inspire me!

  7. Dear readers, TY for your comments and encouragement! Album is arriving shortly and I'll be blogging about how things go. "Everything gets done eventually" is my motto.

  8. I have also been considering converting to albums -- although I dearly love my archival boxes! So this blog post is helpful. Look forward to seeing how your process goes and maybe I will join you.

  9. I bought archival albums from University Products that come with slip covers. I've used them for years and love them.

    1. TY for the idea to check for covers for albums. That will help keep them safe!