Building a Family Photo Archive

One of my quarantine projects started last summer when my dad brought over a gigantic box of family photos. I had never really ¬†thought about what happened to photos that we printed that didn’t make it into the albums. As it turned out, my dad threw all of them into a box. Who knew?

With my parents being separated and my brother living out of state, we wanted to figure out the most equitable way of sharing the collection. We looked into the option of sending them away to be scanned, but most companies charge roughly US $.30 per scan and, while I didn’t know the exact number of the photos, I was guessing we were into multiple thousands of photos. I started researching photo scanners and discovered there is actually now a scanner that exists that can scan multiple photos at a time in a manner very similar a high end copier.

The Epson FastFoto FF-680W is not cheap as it retails at $600, but I convinced myself that if I could scan 2,000 photos myself instead of sending them away for scanning, the math work out where the scanner would paid for itself. Plus, because I was spending more time in my office, I made a goal to scan 100 or so photos a day. Usually I can scan around 25-30 photos at a time before the scanner starts to jam. I also have the scanner set to 300dpi (could see a major difference when increased to 600 or 1200 dpi though its possible) as well as set to scan both front and back. It only scans the back if it detects handwriting which has been really helpful particularly for older photos.

About a month ago, I eclipsed the 5,000 photo marker, so I can officially say it’s been well worth the investment.

Sharing is also pretty straight forward. The files are directly written to an external hard drive but also simultaneously backed up to my Dropbox account and Google Drive. While Dropbox is probably the easiest way to share the files, I’ve found that the family has found more enjoyment surfing the archive on Google Photos because built-in facial recognition makes it really easy to find a photo of a specific person.

My dad’s box turned out to be more than 3,500 photos. How we ended up with that many loose photos is an interesting story itself. My dad was an early adopter of some pretty neat developments in the photo industry. He was a power user of a company called Seattle FilmWorks in the late 90s. You would mail your film in, they would develop it for you, and send you back new, unused film. In addition to new film, they would also send you a floppy disk with digital versions of the photos.

Once the box was completed, I moved on to some of my mom’s photo albums. As I wrote a few months back, my grandma passed away in January, so some of the albums were included and reached back four generations. Several pictures that I’ve scanned include family members that I’ve never heard of, which has led to some great conversations.

It’s been fun to reflect back on both moments of my childhood and peak into my family’s life before my existence. For example, the last time I saw my Grandma in a condition where she could still walk was last Thanksgiving. I went over to her house to bring her some leftovers from dinner and after she started walking around the house. She was literally pulling pictures off of her wall for to give me, as she knew her life on Earth was coming to an end soon. The other items that she desperately wanted me to have were her Christmas decorations. She must have given me three separate nativity scenes as well as the star from the top of her tree. She loved to spray her tree with fake snow bringing some of her Maine roots to our snowless Oklahoma Christmases, and she tried to give me an old can of it which had to be at least 20 years old. I politely declined seeing that I had already filled up a box with some decor that I already wasn’t quite sure what I would with.

Recently, as I was scanning some of her photo albums, I realized that Grandma had a picture from nearly every year of her Christmas tree. I joked with my mom about how many of Grandma’s photos are just trees, and she told me that decorating the tree was a big deal to her. She wouldn’t let anyone else touch it so she would do it while the kids were at school.

Grandpa and Grandma’s tree

Hearing that story made me appreciate even more the fact that Grandma wanted to give me her tree topper. Grandma was a very private person and was literally gifting me pieces of her that she would have previously never let anybody else touch.

Seeing pictures of my grandparents has been awesome and makes me miss them both very much. Growing up my Grandpa was my hero. At various points in my life, we were inseparable.

He was also had an incredible fashion sense. I love seeing the photos of him like this one doing work in a suit in his HOME office.

Or this one of him on vacation.

Some of the oldest photos give a glimpse of Dust Bowl Oklahoma

And I also enjoyed seeing pictures of my parents back when they were just two baby faced teenagers.

There are hundreds of jewels that I’ve found and I’m sure they’ll make their way into the blog. I suppose it’s best to post something I found from my childhood after posting about everybody else so here’s the portrait photo from my first baseball team. GO MUSTANG BLACKHAWKS!