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How to organize your old scanned photos

Old pictures are fun because they bring back lots of memories. It’s funny how we mostly remember the good things about past memories. Memories are the primary motivation for me to go back into my old childhood photos and scan some and make them digital. I have hundreds of photos from when I was a child, mostly black and white. Even though I would like to scan all of them, I usually pick a few to scan and then forget about it for a while. However, organizing old scanned photos is mostly the same as organizing current digital photos. I follow the same system I use with all my pictures with one important difference. Read on to learn how to organize your old scanned photos.

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What is missing from scanned photos?

The most challenging aspect about organizing scanned photos is the fact that scanned photos are missing metadata.

What does this mean?

Scanned photos do not contain any information about when the photos were taken, there are no tags or keywords and certainly no geo-tags.

In terms of metadata, scanned photos are dead.

So where do you get metadata for your old scanned photos?

There are three possible sources for gathering metadata for your old scanned photos.

On occasion you can find metadata on the back of old photos written with a pencil. It might be fading away and hard to decipher but that is lucky metadata left by an organized family member long time ago.

Secondly is an old family member with all the metadata in their head. My best source of metadata for old family photos is my 94 years old grandmother. I can show her pretty much any old photo and she tells me the event , a pretty close date and who is in the photo.

The third source of metadata for scanned photos is yourself. Whatever you can remember or whatever you can guess from your old photos is all you have.

Scan old photos in groups related to the same time period

My wife and I have quite a few old pictures of our families: parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins…you get the picture…I have a large family with lots of old photos.

The best way to approach the organization of these scanned pictures is to group them by approximate time…I mean large approximation since for many old pictures we do not have any dates unless something written on the back.

I usually pick a group of pictures that have to do with similar time period. And I mean roughly similar…more like: “these are pictures from the 70s and these are pictures from 80s”. Unless you have more clues written on the back of your pictures (or somewhere else), it’s really hard to determine the date and place of an old picture. Unless of course you have a grandmother that remembers every detail about every old picture.

Sometimes the content of the pictures triggers memories that help me remember more details about the date and place, but those pictures are not too many. When I run into pictures from a particular event, I put them all together in a folder and create a precise folder name (Read How should you name your folders?)

My folder structure for organizing old scanned photos

I place all my newly scanned photos in the TRANSFER folder and I process them just like new photos I just transfered from my camera.

Then I create folders for scanned photos just like I would create folders for current photos. The only difference is that I place them in the higher level folder called VLAD. My wife’s old pictures when she was a child I place in her own folder where I create similar folders for the years.

As you know, I place all my current photos in the FAMILY folder.

So my folder structure looks like this.

TRANSFER
FAMILY
  2008
  2009
  2010
VLAD
  1970s
    1970s-childhood (pictures scattered all over the 1970s)
    1979-12-first-day-of-school (a few pictures from this event I remember)
  1980s
    1980s-childhood
    1980s-school

You may choose another name for your high level folder for scanned photos. You may call it OLD-PHOTOS or you may simply choose to put your old photos in the FAMILY folder along with all your current photos.

What is the most important thing about organizing scanned photos?

The fact that you don’t know the time and circumstances of these old photos will force you to group them generically by long time spans. This is the most important and challenging difference between scanned photos and current digital photos.
Other than that, you treat scanned photos like any other digital photo you take with you camera or phone.

What do you think? Have you found another helpful way to group old scanned pictures?

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