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Following these steps will help you get your photos in order. Once you have the physical artifacts organized, you can digitize your collection and will be ready to get your digital collection into Ponga where you automatically organize them by person and start sharing your photos and the stories that go with them.

I found all my Family Photos during the Pandemic. Now What?

2020 was certainly a year to remember. An extremely hard year, but also a year of discovery and time to do things we always wanted to do. Many people made use of lockdown time to dig out the old family photos and memorabilia, and are now working on organizing, digitizing, and sharing photos and stories.

Stacks of old photo albums
Precious photos and memorabilia

As a professional photo organizer, I have helped people organize and preserve their photos and memorabilia for years. Helping clients with their family heritage collections as well as working on my own, led me to look for an easy way to tell the story behind the photos. My big discovery during the pandemic was Ponga.

I learned about Ponga by “Zoomin’ with Ponga,” and listening to other members who are working on a variety of projects. I soon realized that there are a few steps between handling those physical boxes of albums, documents, and photos and using Ponga.

Everybody wants to get into Ponga (“Pongatize?”) so that individual photos can be organized and you can get in there to tell the stories.

It feels like daunting task but doesn’t need to be.

I want to share my process with you so you can get from all those boxes to sharing your stories as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are basically 2 main tasks to accomplish before you are ready to upload to Ponga: Organize and Scan.

This is the first of two articles that will help you get the most of your exploration in Ponga if you’re starting with boxes of photos. Stay tuned for my second in the series about deciding whether to scan your own photos or hire a professional.

8 Steps to Organizing Before You Scan

I recommend starting with some basic organizing. Scanning is an expense (time and equipment) in the process, and you may not want to scan everything. There will be duplicates, blurry photos, many of photos of the same famous place (how many photos do you need of the Eiffel Tower?)

Organizing is also how we downsize the physical collection. You do not need extensive organizing before scanning, as Ponga is a great place to organize your collection once it is digitized, but there is value in doing some organizing before you scan.

One of the challenges of sorting physical photos is deciding what to keep, what to digitize and what to dispose of. If you’re working to build a photo legacy that your family and future generations will enjoy, you need to think about

  • what you want people to see (these will be scanned and disposed of),
  • what do they need to have (scan and preserve in archival storage) and
  • what do they need to know (record the information and stories that go with the photos).

These steps will help you think these details through:

A box of disorganized photos

1. List the main categories of the photos you have

This is unique to you — for many, it will be family groups — my parents and their histories, my spouse’s parents and histories, and so on. Or it may be photo albums from an organization or association, or service or charitable groups your family belonged to.

Once you have a list, rank them according to priority, or where you want to start. You can either organize everything before scanning, or work from your category list. If you have lots of loose photos and documents, it may be easier to sort everything first. Then, use the rest of these steps to get your physical materials organized. You’ll be amazed at how the organization can help dissipate the anxiety of launching into a big project.

2. Find a space and gather your supplies

Clear off some table space where you can work on the collection, and preferably leave it there while you work. You will need file index cards, pencils, some clean boxes (shoebox size works well), photo safe pencils, post it notes, pens for labeling boxes (never use pen on a photo), and a notebook. I find painter’s tape to be useful for labeling boxes or taping file cards to the table.

3. Gather Family Information

Family trees, family history, timelines that reflect milestones, events, and places can be a big help. Collect this information, or just make some notes from what you know. Making the notes in advance will speed up the process as you work. Add any information you find as you work.

4. Set up Index Cards with Dates

Date index cards with years or decades, depending on the range of photos you have. Date ranges are fine to start, for example 1960 to 1965, or 1960’s. Add more specific dated cards as you work through your collection and find more specific information. Keep track of all the information on the index cards.

5. Start with Albums

If your collection includes albums, you may find dates, names and description in the albums. This will give you a good base when you encounter the random piles of photos.

If you are keeping the albums intact, label the album with an Index card indicating timeframe and subject. If you are taking the album apart, first photograph the intact pages for reference. Create index cards for the groups of photos that you remove (if a wedding album, 1 index card would be all you need. If a family album with different subjects, group photos together with their own index card). Note on the index card what album the groupings came from.

A table with a file card, pencil, loose photos. Areas of table are labelled with dates
Sorting by dates

7. Sort what you know first

Move on to the loose photos. Work with envelopes and photos that have information on them, or that you are familiar with first. This gives you reference images for the unknowns you will encounter. Set aside the ones you can’t identify until you have finished sorting what you know.

8. Sort with Caution!

When removing photos from envelopes, developer’s sleeves, mini albums, pocket albums, make sure you keep them together if they are from the same roll, and that you transfer any information from the envelope to your index card for that batch before you dispose of the envelopes. Even a random month and day of developing seems useless at first, but later in the sorting may help narrow down a timeframe. Any information is better than none!

Now You’re Ready

Following these steps will help you get your photos in order. Once you have the physical artifacts organized, you can digitize your collection and will be ready to get your digital collection into Ponga where you automatically organize them by person and start sharing your photos and the stories that go with them.

Photos Matter. Stories Matter. Celebrate Yours.

Meet Kathy Stone live during our Zoomin’ Session July 30, 2021 at 4 PM Pacific time. (Registration will open after our session scheduled June 28 at ponga.com/zoomin.) These sessions are free and open to Ponga members, their guests, and the Ponga-curious! (This article was published in June 2021, the recording of the July Zoomin' session is available on YouTube.)

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