What is Genealogy
Tid Bits
Tips and Gotcha's
Top ten myths
Top ten reasons to do it
Just for Fun
Getting Started
An exercise using a pedigree
Paperwork organization
Preserving your records
Labeling your records
Maps and geography
Old style dates
Old style handwriting
Tombstone reading
Calculating relationships
Family reunions
PC Software
Genealogical Programs
Genealogical Numbering Systems
Family Group Sheet form
GEDCOM format
Descendancy report
Ahnentafel report
Recap and Statistics
The data pyramid
Source Documents
Record types
Vital and primary records
Manuscript archives
Censuses and the soundex
Actual examples
Where to Look
Where to do your research
Kansas City area research
U.S. GenWeb
Recent immigrants
Ellis Island
African American
Native American
Hispanic American
Recommended web sites
Certified professionals
Genealogical publishers/sellers
Recommended books
Publishing your family history
Forms to use
Dewey Decimal system
Homework assignment

Preserving Photographs

Make-up, Handling and Storage

Structure of Photographs

A typical photograph consists of three different parts:
  • support -- made from any of glass, plastic film, paper, or resin-coated paper
  • binder -- usually made of gelatin but can consist of albumen or collodion, it holds the final image material or image-forming substance to the support
  • final image material -- made of silver, color dyes, or pigment particles that are usually suspended in the emulsion or binder layer. Many different final image materials and binders have been used over the years. Today, however, almost all black-and-white photographs are composed of silver suspended in gelatin.


  1839-c1860  daguerreotypes
  1839-c1860  salted paper prints
  1851-1890  glass plate negatives (general)
  1851-1885  collodion wet plate glass negatives
  1880-1920  gelatin dry plate glass negatives
  1889-1951  nitrate negatives (introduced by Kodak who ceased production in 1951. Dates of production outside the United States vary.)
  1850-c1900  albumen prints
  1885-1905  gelatin and collodion printed-out photographic prints
  1880-1900  black-and-white gelatin developed-out photographic prints
  1934  acetate negatives introduced for sheet film
  1935  chromogenic color film and transparencies (introduced by Kodak, Kodachrome was the first process)
  1948  instant black-and-white process (introduced by Polaroid. Sepia first, then black-and-white in 1950)
  1960  polyester film introduced
  1963  instant color print process (introduced by Polaroid, Polacolor was the first process. SX 70 was introduced in 1972, Polacolor 2 in 1975)


Four principal factors contribute to photographic deterioration:
  • presence of residual photographic processing chemicals or the use of exhausted processing chemicals
  • poor storage enclosures and shelving conditions
  • rough/inappropriate handling can cause unnecessary wear and tear
  • poor environmental storage conditions can cause shrinkage, cracking and/or curling
    • air pollution -- less is best
    • bright untra violet light -- less is best
    • fluctuating/high/low relative humidity -- 30% to 50% is ideal
    • fluctuating/high/low temperature -- 65 F to 70 F is ideal


When handling photographs or negatives, be sure to follow these guidelines:
  • hands are clean and dry
  • wear lint-free cotton gloves
  • avoid touching the surface
  • if a photograph must be transported, use some type of sturdy support under it to prevent bending
  • avoid marking on the photograph, especially with any types of inks or other chemicals
  • avoid using adhesives


When storing photographs or negatives, follow these guidelines:
  • never use enclosures made from unprocessed woodpulp paper, glassine, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • avoid products made from colored papers -- they often contain unstable dyes or inks that can cause damage
  • storage/enclosure material should meet/exceed the ANSI standard specifications IT9.2-1991 (including the Photographic Activity Test (PAT))
  • purchase storage/enclosure materials from a reputable supplier
  • for storage, it is best to provide several layers of protection, such as:
    • place photographs/negatives in appropriate sleeves or envelopes
    • place into folders
    • place into boxes

For Additional Information


Taylor, Maureen, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs: How to Identify, Interpret, and Preserve Your Family's Visual Heritage, 2000, Betterway Publications, Cincinnati, ISBN 1558705279, $14

Taylor, Maureen, Preserving Your Family Photographs: How to Organize, Present, & Restore Precious Family Images, 2003, Betterway Publications, Cincinnati, ISBN 1558705805, $14

Web Sites

For photograph preservation, click here [photo preservation]
For photograph restoration, click here [photo restoration]
For determining dates of photographs, click here [determine photo dates]
For determining dates of photographs (more), click here [determine photo dates (more)]
For comprehensive information about photographs, click here [comprehensive photo info]

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Copyright © 2004- by Larry Wilson, all rights reserved