March 25, 2015

Your Family Memories May Be at Risk: Which Solution is Right for You?

archiving family photos
A few months ago, my family was digging through the family video tapes. My cousin was getting married and we thought it would be fun to find some footage of her as a little girl.

We put a tape in. The pictures shook a little bit, which was normal with home tapes but the picture became very staticy and eventually engulfed in lines.  Same with the next tape. As it turns out, the lifespan of a home recorded VHS tape is only 10-25 years.

Luckily, not all of the family tapes had been affected but it was enough of a warning sign to try to get them converted to another medium. (You'd think that someone who spends a great deal of time stabilizing and conserving things from the past that I would have foreseen this. I knew it would happen eventually I just thought we had more time, somehow.)   

Electronic media storage devices have been an awesome advancement as they have allowed us to store massive amounts of data in small spaces and tend to have a long shelf life under good conditions. Digital photos are now vastly more poplar than prints or film photos. But just like everything in the world, digital storage devices also deteriorate through the years and have problems.

Digital photos and electronic media has become so popular that even new couples to get their wedding photos on a CD or USB drive with all of the intentions of printing photos from them later. Which rarely happens as their friends have already seen the photos so there is nothing pressing them to print them. Unfortunately USBs and CDs are "temporary" storage solutions only meant to store items short term until the couples can find a different solution which many times doesn't happen until years after the fact when it is too late. 

I urge people to reevaluate their family memories ASAP. Below is a breakdown of the possible types of storage commonly available today and the issues associated with each type to assist anyone looking to protect their family files:

Electronic Media Storage: USB drives/ Hard Drives

Issues :

- Number of times file are added and deleted severely affects longevity.
- Exposure to hot and cold temperatures.
- Everyday drops and bumps.
- USBs are frequently lost due to their size.
- Software and hardware malfunctions.
- Popular file types change over time so in the future you may not be able to open the files.
- Popular hardware changes so you may not have the physical equipment to open the file in the future. Have you tried opening a file on a floppy disk recently?
-Lifespan: 2-5 Years

External floppy Disk Reader
Remember this?
Cloud Storage: Sites like Facebook, Flickr, even Blogger, as well as sites dedicated to storage like Dropbox and GoogleDrive. 


- Issues with privacy/hacks.
- If a company goes out of business, what happens to your files?
- If something happens to you, does your family know how to access the files?
-Lifespan: ???

CD-Rs and DVD-Rs: 


- While professionally made CDs and DVDs can last decades, homemade ones deteriorate in as little as 5 years.
- Can be scratched or cracked easily.
- Heat (such as being left in a hot car) can speed up the deterioration process.
-Lifespan: 2-5 Years  

Issues with Photographs:

-Can be damaged by fire, water, etc. (There are far more people who have lost photos, videos and documents due to hardware failure than people who have lost these things due to natural disasters such as fires or floods.)
-Can take up a lot of space. 
-Not all negatives, films, papers and ink created equal. Low end items will show color shifting earlier.
-Fade when exposed to sunlight.  (Always display a copy and keep the original packed away.)
-Lifespan:  65-100+ Years

Regardless of what media you choose, it is smart to have a copy of all important documents at a different location. Water and Fireproof boxes are a smart investment for irreplaceable documents. Not only will they protect your files from fire and water damage but it helps to have your documents all in one place in the case of an emergency. Also remember that no method is perfect, so reevaluate your documents and storage systems every few years.

For more information on proper storage of photographs and documents check out this page: Care for Antiques.   


  1. Hmmm, our VHS player isn't in commission anymore - but, we should try to preserve the ones we have.

    Yeah, some of the mixed music CDs I made 10-13 years ago... some are fading. :(

  2. The CDs I listened to in high school have almost all been destroyed. Many of them started peeling. The best thing is to back things up before they hit that point where they can't be transferred.

  3. The solution? Translate your data into Binary...then carve it into stone tablets.

  4. Interesting post. I would like to use the chart you included in an article I'm writing for my society newsletter. Would that be okay? I would certainly link back to your blog.


Tell me what you think!

Copyright © 2008-2020 Stephanie Ann Farra. All rights reserved.

All materials posted on this site are subject to copyrights owned by Stephanie Ann Farra. Any reproduction, retransmissions, or republication of all or part of any document found on this site is expressly prohibited, unless the author has explicitly granted its prior written consent to so reproduce, retransmit, or republish the material. All other rights reserved.