Start Saving Those Family Photos & Stories–Now–One at a Time!

October 30, 2015  - by 

So, you’ve been researching and documenting your family history for a few years now and have a long list of places to visit and facts to track down.  Where should you start? What are the most important things that you should do first?

For me, the two most urgent items that you should act on – now – are: scanning all of your old family photos; and finding & writing down your family stories.

Why? Because these are in your control.

Global services like GenealogyBank and FamilySearch are putting millions of original records online. They are there ready for you 24/7 as you have time to do the research.

What is not online – and not preserved – are your old family photos and stories.

Family Photos

Your old family photos are unique to you. You might have the only surviving copy of that photo – and only you can identify the people in the image, provide the context, and tell why they are important to your family’s history.

Genealogy Tip: Organize yourself and decide to scan and upload a few photos every day. Maybe it’s three per day – maybe you can do more. You decide, and go to work.

Family Stories

You know the stories: start now to write them down.

Here’s a tip: pace yourself. Write down one story at a time.

I was talking with my brother over the weekend and he mentioned the time when we were both stationed in the Navy on the USS Albert T. Harris in the 1960s. As we talked the memories came back. After we spoke I took a moment to grab a photo of that ship from Wikipedia and write up a brief story of our memories of that experience while they were fresh in my mind – just a few paragraphs.

Kemp 2

Looking at the old photo of the ship brought back memories of being on board and the experiences we had. I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia that the ship was decommissioned in 1968 and destroyed in 1969.

Now I had one more story written down.

I didn’t try to write the entire story of everyone in the family all at once. But I am finding that by writing one piece of the story at a time, I am painlessly pulling together a more complete family history.

Over months of now and again writing up each story, I am in fact pulling together what will become our family history.

There are family stories that I don’t know – but I am finding those in the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Time and time again I’ve found a piece here and a piece there to pull together our family history over the past 300 years.

Kemp 3

What details are in the obituaries of my relatives; in their wedding announcements? Newspapers covered every day of their lives: the milestone dates they celebrated and all of the days in between.

I have learned so much about the family – and used each newspaper clipping to generate the “story” that goes with it. Carefully sift through the newspapers and find the articles about your family.

By using the old newspaper articles and old family photos to trigger your memories, you can pace yourself and write up your family’s stories – one episode at a time.

Start now and soon you’ll be surprised at just how complete and interesting your family history is.


Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom is an internationally known librarian and archivist. He is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history. An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for over 50 years.

Tom previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, D.C.) and as Library Director of both the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Photo Source #1 :
Photo Source #2: USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447). Source: Wikipedia.
Photo Source #3: Thomas J. Kemp

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    1. Joy – look at Paul Nauta’s post on 21 May 2014 “What to Do with Those Old Family Photos, Letters, and Documents”.


      He walks you through the steps from putting the photos/documents online – attaching them to the people in the photo on their pages in the FamilySearch family tree.

      You can also do this on your tree in or similar online sites.

      It’s a great day for genealogy!


  1. Dear Mr. Kemp, I have been scanning pictures, funeral programs, & any other info I can find on my family & put it in family search. My question to you is is it better to scan stories and information and put those in or type in the information? Especially the stories. Do we limit the stories on each individual? How many should we input in for each individual if we have several? Thank you for your ideas and help since I’m new at this.

    1. Great question Karren –
      Go for it. Put in EVERY story. Yes, you might have quite a few stories, photos etc. for a some people – and for others you might have only one or two items to share. The critical point is that YOU have these stories/photos – share them online and insure that they are preserved. If they aren’t online – they could easily be lost.

      Scan or type in your stories? Do both. I’d suggest that you choose based on the time you have to get the stories preserved online. Scanning should save you time – but consider that also typing in the story simultaneously embeds those words as search terms on the open web.

      Genealogists will find these stories because we know to look at family history sites like FamilySearch. Added bonus: because you also typed in the story – every word will be searchable on Google, Bing etc. That story can now also be found by non-genealogists who are searching for the persons, places, events described in the stories you put online.

      Using all formats gives wings to your stories to be ‘found’. Put them all out there.

      One of our families most important breakthrough came when a cousin (we previously had never heard of) in Liverpool, England read a copy of our family history I put online on the non-genealogy site He found that document because it was “typed” – every-word searchable on Google. He contacted me and the family has shared more stories, photos etc. He might never have gone to a ‘genealogy’ site – but he did give Google a try.

      Bottom Line: Preserve the stories/photos – all of them. Adding a ‘typed’ text description/copy of the stories expands the access points created on the Internet.

      Go for it Karren. Tom

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