Saving your family photo collection from devastating events

I recently had a chance to visit the fire zone in Agoura and Malibu, this was the wildfire called the Woolsey Fire that scorched parts of LA and Ventura Counties in November of 2018. It burned almost 100k acres, destroyed over 1600 homes and killed three people. Almost 300,000 people had to evacuate their homes, and it was many days before they could return because of fallen power lines and the danger from falling trees and branches. Most were lucky to return to intact homes, but many were not.

Losing ones family photo collection cannot even be compared to the loss of a family member or beloved pet, or even an entire home full of possessions, but it can be a devastating loss with the enduring pain of irretrievable memories and family history. In the days of photographic prints, many times there was only one copy of a print or album, kept by one family member - sometimes the family historian, sometimes just the person who ended up with the family photo collection. If that person’s home is destroyed an entire family history can be wiped out, which doesn’t just impact the existing family, but all future generations in that family will be without its photographic history. What a loss!

Scanning old prints and albums is of course the best and really only way to begin to preserve printed family photo collections, but to fully ensure their enduring safety, some additional precautions must be taken. When I sit down with a new client, I always advise them that after organizing their collection or scanning old prints, the end result should include a back-up plan of both local and off site storage.

Some of these clients may already have one of these in place, but rarely do they have both, so I sit down and explain the benefits as well as the risks of both.

Local back-up is easily done on a Mac using the Time Machine app and Windows has a couple of built in back-up options as well. Both offer automated and regular back-up of your computers internal hard drive and any connected external hard drives you choose to include. The benefits of course are the proximity and ease of accessing your info. If your computer or hard drive fails or gets destroyed, you can usually quickly restore any and all of your data yourself.

However if your whole house is destroyed in a fire or other disaster, you can lose everything including all local back-up. Even a flooded room from water leakage can damage or short out any electronic equipment in proximity. Having an off site back-up is the only way to keep from losing your entire digital photo collection in cases like these.

Off site back-up can work similarly to local back-up in that is it done automatically and in the background of your computer’s system. There are a number of companies that offer it, I personally use Backblaze, but Carbonite is a well know company and even iCloud and Google Photos, while technically not a back-up, at least offer an off site option to having it all local. Much better than nothing!

So why not just have an off site back-up. Well, its almost every week that we hear about some major company being hacked and all it’s client’s data breached. No one ever knows what becomes of that personal data and just think about how much can be learned from your personal photos.

There is also always the chance that a company goes out of business and everything along with it. It happens, it happened to me. But it won’t happen again because I back-up locally and off site. I sleep well at night knowing the world would practically have to end (knock on wood) for me to lose my photo collection and other data.

I want to be clear that this is about the preservation of our photo collection and in order to do that we have to digitize everything that is not already digitalized. Even after you scan old prints and albums, I wholeheartedly hope you keep and preserve your printed matter, as it to me is still the best and most connecting way of enjoying and reliving memories and family history. But we do have the means with today’s technology to ensure that in one form or another, we can preserve our past and pass it on to future generations of our families, so please do so and sleep well.

All photos ©Peter Bennett - All Rights Reserved