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OK, let’s talk photos.

I have a few photos — a few thousand, that is. Once I became an empty nester and could travel, I did. And my photo finger was never far from the little button. Maybe it’s a genetic defect. Anyhow, I now have piles and stacks and lots of pictures. And the wonderful thing is that I know just where they are.

For instance, China. Year: 1999. Event: Trip down the Yangtze, visit to Xian with its wonderful terra-cotta warriors, with visits to Beijing, Shanghai and the Great Wall. And all those lovely photos are right where I left them years ago: in a grocery bag on the second shelf of my basement storage area.

And the photos from the trip to England, Scotland and Wales? I’m happy to announce they are in photo albums — without any identifying information to tell one castle or cathedral from another. Images of Australia? Those are safely tucked away in a box next to the China grocery bag. The ones from Israel? On a disk, fortunately. In a drawer with other disks that don’t have labels.

They say they also serve who only serve as a bad example. I am certain that the day after I die, my children will have a gigantic weenie roast and use photos for fuel. You’re all invited. BYOM (Bring your own mustard).

The value of photographs to people compiling family history is so obvious it hardly needs mentioning. But someone did mention it long ago when he or she said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And the mere fact that any child born today has a minute-by-minute photo record at least until he or she is 6 months old doesn’t lessen the value.

And since I am so obviously of no help, let’s turn to the experts for advice on how to maximize your use of photos in your pursuit of family history. Christopher McAfee, head conservator of rare books and manuscripts at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library, passed along these thoughts:

“Photos make a story more interesting, but don’t overburden the viewer with too many photos. And don’t use too many that are similar,” he advised. Of course, you want to record special events such as baptisms, ordinations, weddings, birthdays, births — you name it. But pick a limited number of the best of the many to attach to an individual’s profile on Pass up the out-of-focus or poor quality photos.

Your photos, whether you are making them a part of a digitized addition to the site or not, should always be identified, McAfee said. The information should include a date and location and the full names of those in the picture, preferably as soon as the photo is taken.

“Aunt Mabel” won’t cut it 20 years from now when a new generation may be referencing the pictures. If the photo was given to you, record the date and from whom it was obtained and the circumstances, if that information is relevant.

Original photos should be preserved, whatever use you make of them, according to the National Archives website at

Low temperature and low relative humidity are the most cogent factors when considering long-term storage, according to the National Archives site. Lower temperatures, ideally below 75 degrees, slow the rate of chemical decay and also discourage insects. Relative humidity below 65 percent prevents mold and also keeps the insects from becoming active.

Acetate negatives, color negatives, prints and slides do well in cold storage. You can learn how to prepare items for cold storage by visiting the Cold Storage information on the National Park Service’s website at

Reduce the risk of damage from water, insects and rodents by storing items away from damp basements, garages and hot attics. Examine potential storage spots for leak and flood risk. Pay attention to the proximity of pipes, windows or possible roof leaks.

When you are handling photos, have clean hands and wear cotton gloves. Keep the work area clean and free from food and drinks. Don’t use paper clips to mark or organize prints. Also, avoid rubber bands, self-adhesive tape and/or glue. Photo stores can advise on containers that are made of materials that optimize the life of your photos.

There now. Say “cheese” and get on with it.

Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who has recently been called to serve as a family history missionary.

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