How to Organize Your Family Photos to Research Your Family History

Family Tree Photos
Genealogical tree of family with photos, @ V_Nikitenko

If you’re starting to trace your family’s history don’t get overwhelmed. It’s doable if you have a strategy to organize your photos and research your genealogy.


Know Your Purpose for Family Research

Why do you want to research your family’s history and trace your genealogy?

Keep your answer firmly in mind so you can stay focused on your research task.

You may have children through a blended family, or adoption and foster care and you want to show them how you came to be—and how you chose them to be in your family.

You could be laser-focused and want information on a grandparent or great-grandparent.

A clear reason and having a goal in mind helps you navigate obstacles.

Black and white family portrait from 1935
My grandfather , 1st row, right, with his siblings and parents.

Researching Your Family Bolsters a Sense of Self

I’ve had fun looking back at pictures of my grandfather, like the one on the left. My children can enjoy seeing pics from yesteryear as well. The memories give my family a sense of belonging.






Personal enrichment and well-being are important reasons to investigate your family’s history as we see in this recent essay in the Wall Street Journal by Maud Newton:

The stories we tell ourselves about our ancestors have the power to shape us, in some ways nearly as much as our genetics do. Many of these stories are ones we know well, while others are sublimated—hard to identify, much less articulate, more pattern-based than conscious. They can expand our sense of possibility, but they can also confine us. How we imagine our ancestors, and ourselves in relation to them, can have a powerful effect on the way we live.

Capturing those stories and making them come alive is a challenge, but, as a photo coach, I offer my clients a system as their solution.

Let’s start with basic organization.


Start with the Photos that You Have and Know

Start with the present and work back in time.

It’s like the general advice that accountants and bookkeepers give to small business owners who need help figuring out their income and expenses. The small business owner brings in a shoebox full of receipts, dumps it on the desk and says, “Help me.”

The accountant will help them tally their general income and expense categories and then work backward to place receipts in the categories. It can be done a little at a time and eventually the shoebox  gets cleaned up and replaced by a system that meets their needs.

Melody and Jack inset with film reels
My dad and I in recent years with the prized film reels.

The same principle is true for your family’s photos and researching stories.

Here’s a fun way to get you to think and rate your readiness for family research. Read the following statements and see which ones apply to your situation:


My old family photos are scattered everywhere!                                                              Yes     No    Kinda-sorta

Action Step: Gather them into one central location where you can begin to safely organize them and identify them.


My older family photos are neatly arranged in traditional scrapbook albums.               Yes     No     Kinda-sorta

Yea! You have a good foundation for researching your family.

Action Step: You’ll want a plan for permanent and safe storage which I’ll touch on later in this post.


My older VHS videos and slide shows are super dusty and sitting on shelves.           Yes     No     Kinda-sorta

Action Step: We’ll make a plan to digitize and save those memories.


My teen or adult kids know the stories of their grandparents quite well.                      Yes     No    Kinda-sorta

Action Step: If your children don’t know or can’t remember where their grandparents were born or the struggles or successes they experienced then informing them is a good goal.


I’m a younger parent and want to build a family storybook for my children as they grow up.   

Action Step: Your children may be preoccupied with their preschool snack or elementary school homework, but you can create a family story that you—and they—add to in the years to come.


One Convenient Storage Solution

This is a truly permanent storage solution that is guaranteed to last a lifetime, plus well beyond 100 years: FOREVER®.

You’ll see how convenient it is to upload photos from your phone to the cloud-based storage system that’s designed so your data remains totally safe, guaranteed, regardless of what catastrophes strike.

Here’s a peek inside my space on FOREVER® with a photo taken on Easter Sunday. Can you find the Date Taken?

Black and white photo of children going to church Easter Sunday 1964
Me, Melody, with my siblings before church on Easter Sunday, 1964

FOREVER® lets you invest in the amount of storage that you need. You can add on if you need more at a later time.

You’re the owner of the space so don’t worry about data-mining or being subject to advertising that follows you on the internet.

It’s easy to digitize existing printed photos, slide shows, VHS tapes and other older media files so you can have one place to store your memories from decades past and the ones you’ll capture next month.


How to Write Your Family Story

Now that you have a central storage place for your most meaningful memories, it’s easy to write descriptions for all your files.

FOREVER® provides space for online albums that you can name according to the specific purpose like grandparents, your children by name, research archives, or other designation.

You can change and update the albums to improve your recordkeeping since it’s digital.

You can write brief descriptions or longer descriptions for each photo, video, or slide show.

Use the settings so you can choose to make the album private, or share with specific friends and family, or make it public. It’s up to you.


What about Future Research?

Now that you have a system in place, you can go back in time to research from generations past.

FOREVER® offers professional researchers to guide you in your efforts with either a one-hour consultation or a monthly research project to uncover your ancestors, document their lives, and share their stories with you.


I’m Here to Help

Adult daughter with her senior mother
Me and mom today

Contact me for questions about a system to organize printed photos and the ones on your phone.

Try FOREVER® for free—Click here for 2 GBs of storage so you can try it out.

Join friends online to not only write your family story but attend free short 15-minute training sessions —see the times and dates on my Events page.


How about a business of your own?

I’ve been a photo coach for 27 years and the need for more grows because we’re taking more photos and videos than ever.

I’ll be glad to share my business experience with you when I started as a young mother deciding to stay home with my children. Today, I work with a wonderful team of people and clients across the U.S.

You can also click here to read more about the opportunity.


Read more on permanent storage with my previous post

Save Your Family Photos from the Dangers of Outdated Technologies


Click here for the Wall Street Journal article:

Learning about ourselves from genealogy


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