Life Expectancy at Age 65
Down with the Crud

Elder Crowd Sourcing: Family Photos

In the comments on Monday's post about writing one's obituary, Celeste who blogs at Celeste Bergin, asked about another concern the story raised for her:

”When the elder is without offspring and they have tons of family photos, what should they do (in a pre-planning way) with the photos? Any ideas?”

Nope. Not a single one.

I am in the same position as Celeste without children nor nieces or nephews. My brother and I are the end of the family line and there is no one I can think of who would be interested in having the ancestral photos.

Plus, everyone knows that anything published on the interwebs lives in some corner of it forever and I've posted the best of the images (well, the ones about which I had something to say) in my photo biography for any future curiosity seekers.

But it seems to me that unless a person without children is notable to his or her community – that is, someone whose parents or grandparents, or him- or herself, is likely to be mentioned in histories of the city or town - there is little reason to hold on to family photos.

So why are those boxes and ancient, crumbling albums stored away on a closet shelf in my home? Twice in the past seven years I have moved long distances and in packing up the house each time, I asked myself if I should keep them.

Both times I had no answer so I stuffed them in a carton and here they continue to sit without an audience.

Have you ever been to a yard sale and found a photo album or two for sale for a dollar or so? It is always sad. You ask yourself what happened? Was there (like me) no more family? Did everyone die? Or does the latest generation just not care?

Many years ago when the web was new and all, someone whose name I have forgotten bought a set of family albums at such a sale sale. Not having any idea of names or relationships, the purchaser created a website where he or she posted a photo each day making up a story over time about all the people.

I recall that it was quite popular and I followed along, too, while feeling more than a little wistful about those children running through summer lawn sprinklers and their 1950s' parents, all with made-up names.

Since none of this helps with Celeste's question, I've decided to let us try a bit of crowd sourcing and see what solutions you TGB readers can come up with.

When, as during the packing to move and now while writing this, I get tired, with no useful result, of thinking about it, my inclination is to dump them. Who could possibly care.

But maybe some of you see it differently. Let us know.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: On Turning a Page


I'm in the same position -- end of the line for my branch of the family. I also have a huge trove of family pictures going back into the 19th century.

In order to be able to give myself permission to get rid of most of them, I'm gradually digitizing the lot. I'll send a CD to some younger, remote cousins and probably put a lot online. Eventually, they'll be history. Some are already. :-)

Keep 'em forever. Someone's going to have to go through your stuff when you die, and with any luck they'll be at least curious enough to look at your pictures and other things that document your life. At worst, your memories will die with you. If you pitch them it will be like intentionally dis-remembering whole parts of your life. That would be sadder than having the albums wind up at a garage sale.

A major question for me, too, who is in the same position. My best non-solution for now is to dedicate a day per XYZ months and to pare, pare, pare down the collection. Then, repeat XYZ months later. It's a system that helped me sort and part with things collected, saved, used, not used over a lifetime before moving to another continent, last spring. Nothing terrifyingly dramatic but rather a slow, steady paring or weaning. A bit of both I suppose. As for the photos (and other stuff) remaining, maybe I will have parted with it before I depart. Downsizing has its advantages though gradual, in stages, is easiest for me if given the option. A sobering topic, and glad it's the subject of today's post.

An only (adopted) child who never married, have shared family photos with cousins.
Scenes of interest were whisked away and with last parent lasting until age 90, what remains has no value to anyone.
Being a postcard specialist for several decades the folks who sell at shows relay the fact that the majority of these holdings have no value.
Remainders were shredded. No mystery, unspectacular pix will greet anyone who is tasked with clearing out my holdings once the end has arrived.

I'm always curious when I read an article - especially of a historic nature - illustrated with anonymous faded sepia photographs of individuals or family groups from long ago.

No one really wants to know that you snapped that picture of Great-Aunt Tilly behind the house you lived in when you were married to your first wife (husband).

But I think the pictures have historical merit in the aggregate; a peek into how people dressed, held themselves, how they spent their leisure; none of it is without value.

The problem is, how and where to save them, and do you want to spend the time; it's rather like holding a wake for your past, with a tear here, or a smiile there at the resurgeance of memories.

Some of them may be of historic value in terms of place, dress, activity, and/or person. You can throw away a good amount, but you should be careful to keep the best and perhaps contact the city library or museum to see if they would be interested. You might also check if distant relatives would like a few.

Certainly if you have photos of ancestors who have descendants down another line, the photos of the ancestors may be intense interest to some of those descendents.

Don't toss them yet--you may still decide to write a memoir--remember my books were written in my 60's and 70's.

As somebody who's not only in the same boat you are, but who has another dozen boxes of slides from my parents to go through...Nobody, not even your kids who love you dearly, wants your blurry pictures of scenery. I'm trying to enjoy my own pix while I'm alive; they really don't have meaning to anybody else.
I always feel bad when I see those old pictures in "antique" stores. I'm hanging on to detritus from other single, kidless aunts and uncles because I don't want their stuff...engraved golf end up like abandoned orphans. My intention is to have the name removed before I toss them, a project that's pretty low on the priority list.
It feels like you're burying the same people over and over again. Painful.

I've shredded about half of my photos, including some amazingly awful, blurry things. My two sons said they'd like to have the rest so I'm transferring them to acid free albums and making notes on the back. My slides of my original family, some from my Dad, have gone to my two younger sisters. Poor girls, they will have to figure out what to do with them. I guess if I had no family I just save the most sentimental ones and shred the rest. It's hard to realize no would want those pictures of my older family. Pictures from the 2000's on are mostly digital and on disc.

As a librarian, I think they have historical and genealogical value, especially if the names of the subjects are known. Local libraries as well as the Library of Congress might be interested in the people as well as the backgrounds in the photographs. Street and neighborhood scenes may have particular value to some researchers. I found several interesting sites by searching the term "genealogical photographs". Libraries and archives may be interested in your photographs. I'll give this some more thought, but this is my quick response.

Since my sister and I cleared out our father's house last year we are all in favour of digitizing and downsizing, photos and everything else. Even with a large number of descendants there were a lot of photos that no one was interested in keeping. Doing a bit at a time works best for me, and in our city we have a reuse it centre that accepts photos without identifiable faces, a great place to recycle those scenery shots.

Wow, thanks to all of you! Good ideas. I'm pretty much in the same boat. I did take an album to a family reunion and was surprised at the number of requests for copies from folks I didn't even know.

A search of genealogy sites often reveals remote branches of the family tree. Relevant photos could be uploaded.

We are all related. So your photos seem valuable to me.
I have a lot of family....and we have experienced some tragic losses of precious photos in my extended family. So I say, self publish a little book of your photos and donate the booklet to the archives of some university you particularly like. I love looking at old photos of people I do not know. I don't know why, maybe because it allows me to conjecture and "compare". However, in spite of all my family connections, just recently I have become nonchalant about photos. There are tons of photos everywhere now, even in "the cloud" and we can actually delete nothing. Is that why I have become nonchalant? Or is it because I have reached an age where I am feeling more spiritually connected to EVERYBODY and so actually need no pictures? I don't know. But I do know, getting old is quite the trip!

I'm soft-hearted but not sentimental, so I pared down (why did everyone always take 3 pictures of the same thing???)to one manageable box with the photos in similar stages of chronology. I have a son, and as he ages he may have more interest, but if he chooses to toss them, it won't bother me at all.

Still, there are some marvelous ideas posted here!

I work with the Nevada County (CA) Historical Society. The director of the Searls' Library is delighted whenever anyone brings in old family photographs from the area and happily scans the photographs and returns them along with a CD of the digitized shots. Identified people and shots of Nevada City, Grass Valley, old mines, etc. are particularly appreciated. There are similar places wherever you have lived. Share!

The pictures I have of family and friends still reside in boxes and envelopes. Some are ancient; some are merely 'old.' I still look at them with fondness.

My solution: I have made arrangements to give them to a younger artist who will incorporate some of them into her art pieces.

The others? Well, she can dispose of them because I can't. (Heh Heh - problem solved, for me anyhow)

So one more possible source for our pictorial history: Art classes at varying levels of education might well be a repository for a trove of old photos.

Also having no family to pass photos etc. to with the exception of my nephew, I have made an album for him with family photos noting who everyone is and the year. I also have tossed my life long habit of journals, only important to me and quite frankly would not want others to read. My Father's great photo collection of our home town and its changes thru the years was glady accepted by historical society. It all has become clutter now and less is more for me these days. While I can I want to be the one who decides what stays and what is tossed...I'm not that ego driven to think that some one or entity would be interested.

My feeling is that any old picture is a special moment in time and would probably mean a lot to someone one day. It too breaks my heart to see albums in stores. I think who did this? Who would want to just through away evidence of people's though they didn't mean much. Well....they did one time. I've put a lot of my old pictures on line at It is part of my genealogy routine. I'm 70 now and slowing down and memory is not the same. I have connected..with many family members...on line. I can only pray I did my part connecting people/families. ((hugs)) Tricia

I have a different problem.
I seemed to be the receiver
of all my mother's picture
Weary of looking at the boxes of them and my children tell
me they have no place for them....

I have a digital photo frame and my son downloaded hundreds of old photos into it. When I turn it on, they cycle through it in random order: every minute or so, one picture fades and another takes its place. A snapshot of my father from 1910 is replaced by one of my grandson taken when he was eight, which is in turn replaced by one of my wedding pictures, and so on. While I eat lunch, I let the photos cycle. I love the way they toss me from decade to decade, reminding me of times and people I’ve almost forgotten and then moving on again.

We have a lot of photos from our mother--boxes full and many albums. We're not sure how interested the next generation will be. I hesitate to digitize--I've seen programs and files become obsolete and unopenable in just a few years while paper seems to last better. Our local historical society has no interest unless the photos show town events or buildings. We're planning to weed, pass on what we can to other family members, clear out bad photos and unidentifyable subjects--some were our parents' friends and see what we have left.

I've been researching my family history, so was delighted to receive, digitally, family photos from my Aunt's grand-daughter. They are priceless.
Go back a generation and find your cousins. Try the free week on One or more may be into genealogy and love to get old photos.

My mother left a bunch of photos which I've been scanning. She had them pre-organized in envelopes, too! Some of these will go to my genealogy site and some to family via DVD.

There are places you can get a box of photos digitized for a fee.

It's interesting that today's topic is what to do with old photos. Yesterday I spent most of the day sorting through old slides and making piles to give to the appropriate people. It will probably take weeks to go through all of thousands of slides and throw away the bad pictures and give away most of the rest.

I am scanning the best ones to put on disks for family and friends. The entire project will no doubt take months of my time and it's a tough job but someone has to do it.

I was amazed at how many I threw away and wondered why I had saved them. But I would never throw away the good ones because I can remember photos I saw when I was young of my great grandfathers who fought in the Civil War and of other beloved family members and I have no idea what happened to them. They got lost somehow and I don't want that loss to happen to my children.

I guess I am off subject because you want to know what to do with photos when you don't have anyone left who might want them. I advise you to sort through, throw away the bad ones and put the others on disks to look at. Someday you might have time to reminisce and a video of your past will be most welcome.

Hi all, I agree with Marc. They do have historical value. Perhaps your Alma mater would like them, Perhaps your local historical society could use them. Don't throw them away. Maybe there is an art department or art student who could use them too.

I haven't kept a whole lot of family photos over the years, but I sincerely doubt that those I kept would have any historical significance. I plan to dispose of most of them while I'm still able. I've never been a big photo-person and I have neither the time nor patience to sort them all out and put them in albums (and for what--a garage sale?). Also, I couldn't begin to figure out by/of whom and where some of them were taken.

I believe that when you're gone, you're gone, and the less junk you leave behind, the better. Many families these days are multi-blended, each with its own segment of history. Unless there's someone who's involved in genealogy or interested in preserving the family history in photos, no one else is going to want them so I hope to save everyone the trouble.

Old pictures? Pictures of your latest trip, children, pets? I love to look at them. Just yesterday I searched for Darlene's HodgePodge and came up with scads of pictures of her! And
trips, scenery and German Shepherd dogs (my favorite)all were so entertaining. Thank you Darlene! For Heaven's sake save them--someone like me will enjoy them and send you blessings...

Some good ideas in the post. I take the most relevant and place them on appropriate pages in my genealogy research project.

Often I read a request (either a restaurant, city, and libraries) that are looking for historic photos. Actually anything in the photo is historic: streets, buildings, politicians, people's dress, etc.

How about donating them to an elementary school art projects.

Finally, there is a local college that has a weekly photo exhibit. There are times when the photos are representations of the 'good ole days!"

Just thinking . . .

Obviously not a genealogist, to whom old photos are worth more than their weight in gold. Cousins threw away the *only existing photos* of my grandmother and my great-grandfather because "*their* kids didn't want them".

My grandmother died when my mother was a child and I have no idea what she looked like.

Last year, through a query dropped 10 years ago onto a Belgian genealogical site we were contacted by the husband of my husband's 2nd cousin.

They had 100-year-old photos of people whose identity they did not know, but *we* did.

We had pictures tantalizing marked "Little Dominque and Tante Jean" who turned out to be the 2nd cousin's mother aged seven and her great-grand-grandmother, my husband's grandmother's sister.

We had information that allowed them to find a 90 year-old mutual lost cousin, who was then motivated to seek out his only surviving sister. They had been estranged for 50 years, and were reunited at her bedside only hours before her death.

You may be the last of *your* line and childless, but there may be cousins you've never even heard of looking for a photo of an old auntie you are ready to throw away.

If nothing else upload your photos to a non-profit searchable photo archive.

What a timely post! I have been thinking the same thing myself this week. My wife and I are in the same situation, celebrating our 40th anniversary in a couple of weeks but never did have children.

What got me to thinking about htis is that my wife and I got a coupon for Costco to transfer the old 35mm slides on to DVDs. We went through boxes and boxes and sorted them and took them over to be transferred. But what for?

Now we started transferring digital photos to be inventoried on Picasa, a free service by Google. So what happens when we die and the photos are still there. Will they be there forever? And who will see them - no one since we set it to private. Very interesting we are both thinking about this at the same time. is much like (mentioned twice in the comments) or deadfred; a place you can post old photos and memorialize your ancestors. You should particularly not destroy old cabinet photos of ancestors who may have other descendents besides your line.

Lots of good ideas here about what to do with photos. However, as one of 5 children, mother of 1, and grandmother of 2, I'm not contemplating getting rid of any photos. I do need to go through the ones I have, however, and make sure names, places, and dates are noted.

Thanks, Ronni, for posting the query..I love all the suggestions. Since I am the last of my line I have my Uncle's photos and some of his WWII things....not to mention my own very well documented life. Sigh!! One of my internet friends works at a nursing home. She posted the most touching story about how she got called into her superior's office and thought she was in trouble...but it turned out that one of the 'residents' had passed away and had left her all his photos from his military career (two big boxes). She was very touched...but I'm privy to the fact that she will not have offspring either. She said eventually she will find a museum in the man's home town and send them the photos. I guess I will do the same thing as it pertains to my Uncle's treasures....and then do the paring down thing for my photos too. I hadn't considered journals...oh no, I have years of those too! Thanks again for posting the question. Lots of wonderful ideas. :)

I'm late to this post but I wanted to tell you about my experience. At a garage sale several decades ago I ran across some very old tintypes. While looking through them, one in particular struck me. I purchased it and still carry it in my billfold these many years later. I have always have wondered who the couple were and why they were having a portrait taken. Maybe when I hit the end of the road, I will meet them. Or maybe they are people I knew in a previous life. At any rate, that tintype that was discarded by someone is special for me.

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