The Archive Lady: Archiving Photo Negatives, Should I or Shouldn’t I?

The Archive Lady tackles your most complicated personal and home archiving questions! This week at Abundant Genealogy, Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, helps us decide whether or not we should keep photograph negatives even if we've digitized and scanned the images or the negatives.

The Archive Lady: Archiving Photo Negatives, Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Steve from Texas asks: “I am currently sorting photos from the 1950’s up to the 1980’s. They are in the envelopes they came in when developed. I am having a dilemma about if I should also keep the negatives. Most places won’t take them anymore to develop new ones. With scanners and cell phones it is easy to duplicate them now. My question is do you recommend keeping the negatives or destroying them? If I would keep them, which is the best way to store them?

Steve from Texas asks: “I am currently sorting photos from the 1950’s up to the 1980’s. They are in the envelopes they came in when developed. I am having a dilemma about if I should also keep the negatives. Most places won’t take them anymore to develop new ones. With scanners and cell phones it is easy to duplicate them now. My question is do you recommend keeping the negatives or destroying them? If I would keep them, which is the best way to store them?

Steve asks a great question about photo negatives. As an archivist, I get this question all the time. Preserving negatives is an issue that all genealogists should be thinking about since they are actually a very important part of records preservation.

A negative is the first generation version or primary source of the printed photo image. The actual printed photo image is the second generation version or secondary source. As genealogists we always want to access and use primary sources in our genealogy research and this even includes photographs.

I always recommend that negatives be retained and archived along with printed photographs. Negatives could be useful if something happens to the photographs themselves. If you have the negatives, a new print can be made from the preserved negatives and it will produce a sharper, better image than a photograph made from a digital scan.

Digitizing Negatives

The first action needed is to digitize your negatives. Many of the latest flatbed scanners will accommodate film and slide scanning with the use of a special film adapter. In the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we use an Epson flatbed scanner that will scan and digitize negatives and slides. There is also a new scanner out for film and that is the JumbL All-in-One Film and Slide Scanner. While this can be a time consuming task, you will be glad you took the time and effort to digitize your negatives. Be sure to save your digitized images on a back-up hard drive and it’s also recommend they be saved in a cloud storage system.

JumbL All-In-One Film Scanner

JumbL All-In-One Film Scanner

Preserving Negatives

Now let’s talk about how to preserve and archive the actual negatives. Many of the online archival stores (see list below) have archival materials available for archiving negatives. Using the proper materials to archive and preserve your negatives will insure they will last for generations to come.

First and foremost, use gloves when handling film negatives. Just like when handling photograph prints, gloves are a must when handling negatives. The dirt and oils on your hands can transfer to the negatives and cause damage. You can use white cotton gloves or nitrile gloves, just as long as you use gloves.

White Gloves, Amazon.com

White Gloves, Amazon.com

Purchase negative sleeves or negative pages from an archival store. These are archive safe and are shaped perfectly for any size negative. These are clear, plastic sleeves that guard against dirt, dust and scratches.

Example of an archival sleeve for film negatives from Gaylord Archival

Example of an archival sleeve for film negatives from Gaylord Archival

Place the sleeves filled with the negatives in special storage binders that can also be purchased through the archival stores. They are 3-ring binders that will accommodate the sleeves filled with negatives.

So, if you have original negatives, be sure to follow these recommendations so they are archived and preserved.

Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival tissue paper and boxes can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars and Quick Guides

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Scrapbooks: A Genealogist’s Gold Mine Legacy QuickGuide

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

©2018, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.

About the Author

Melissa Barker
Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.

2 Comments on "The Archive Lady: Archiving Photo Negatives, Should I or Shouldn’t I?"

  1. Greenhill39 | 10 March 2018 at 10:01 am |

    Do you know of any dedicated 2.25″ film and/or 2.75″ slide scanners? It seems like the Flat bed scanners that can handle medium format negatives and slides would be vary slow to matte and position a large number of slides. I would like to find a scanner that had a 2.75″ slide holder. Normal 35 mm film has 2″ slides.

    Thank-you

    Thank-you

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