Over the years, families can accrue thousands of print and video memories. Whether you are looking at your own photos during legacy planning or reviewing the memories of a loved one, you might be wondering what to do with all of this history. At Memory Fortress, we frequently receive pictures, slides, and other old media that are several decades old and paint a picture of a former time. 

After we digitize these photos, you don’t have to keep the hard copies – so what should you do with them? One option is to reach out to local, state, and even national historical societies to see if they are interested in the images. Use these steps to donate photos to historical societies and learn why doing so can make a big impact in your community.

5 Reasons to Donate Photos to Historical Societies

It takes extra time to organize, contextualize, and donate your photos, but the efforts can be worth it if you want to support your local community. Here are a few reasons to donate photos to historical societies as you clear out your memories

  • Help document the past: history isn’t just elections, wars, and natural disasters. People create history every day with their fashion choices, music, technology, and even food. Your family photos can document the past few decades. 
  • Provide unique perspectives: consider how your family history is different from others in the area. Maybe your family has lived in the town for several generations or has a different religious upbringing than most people. You can make sure your story is represented. 
  • Contribute to your community: you can make the work of local historians easier by providing information about your town or neighborhood. Even a few photos can significantly impact documentation. 
  • Do something good with your memories: most photos just sit in closets or drawers as they age. You have an opportunity to help others and make a difference through your donation. 
  • Build your family legacy: tell the stories of your loved ones by donating images of their memories to your communities. From your grandfather’s service in the war to your mother’s experience as a woman in a male-dominated workforce, these legacies mean something.     

Even if the historical society doesn’t immediately need your memories, they might use the photos and videos in the future to tell the story of your neighborhood, town, or state. 

Start By Sorting Through Your Memories 

The first step if you want to donate photos to historical societies is to sort through the images that you have. Not all museums and historic groups can accept boxes upon boxes of photo prints – especially if some are blurry or the subject is blocked. 

Review your photos and organize them in a manner that makes sense to you. This could mean creating a timeline of your memories from the earliest photos until today or grouping images and videos by the events that occurred. 

Whenever you see a photo that your local historical society might be interested in, make a note. You could write down a description of the image on a piece of paper or write “HS” on the back (or some other moniker) so you know to donate that image. 

Even if you decide you don’t want to donate your photos, this is an essential step in the photo digitization process.

Digitize Your Images and Videos

The next step if you want to donate photos to historical societies in your area is to digitize the content. First, this will allow you to submit the content to multiple groups, museums, and archivists. Next, digitizing your memories will also protect them for future generations. You can share the memories with your family members so they can appreciate the photos and videos even after they are donated. 

Reach out to Memory Fortress to start your order. The more photos you need to scan, the less your project will cost on a per-photo basis. You can save several hours of hard work by sending your media to our team instead of trying to manually digitize your memories.

After we digitize your photos, we will ship the hard copies back to you. From there, it’s up to you whether you donate the photo prints to your local historical society after you digitize them. Some people prefer to keep the originals while others want to declutter by getting old media out of the house.

Start Local When Donating Your Photos

Once you have an organized collection of memories that are digitized, you can reach out to historical societies to see if they are interested in your media. Go local in your search. The people who are most likely to be interested in your photos and videos will maintain historic records on a neighborhood, town, or county level near you. 

Historians look at multiple aspects of documents and content when curating them. They might be interested in a picture of your house in 1970 because it reflected the building trends of the time or highlighted what a neighborhood looked like. A historian might be interested in wedding photos outside of a church because it shows what that building and street looked like at the time. (Weddings and formal events are also popular with historians because they reflect the fashion choices of the era.) 

After you reach out to your local communities, you can contact your state and federal archivists. Some states have dedicated websites to donate photos to historical societies and they carefully curate documents and photos to preserve the regional history. 

You can decide how extensive you want this project to be. Some people simply drop off photos at their local museums while others work with archivists from across the country – especially if they have family memories from different states.

Collaborate with the Curators You Donate To 

If you choose to donate photos to historical societies, know that it might not be as easy as dropping your clothes off at Goodwill. Some communities will want to meet with you to review the photos and contextualize them. 

For example, if you have a photo of your daughter on their first day of kindergarten (back in 1991) the historic society might want to know about the year, the school they went to, and even the feelings you and your daughter felt at the time. These photos could eventually become displays and your contextualization helps viewers understand what they are looking at.  

Stories can be just as powerful as photos or videos. If you aren’t sure whether you want to work directly with the historical society, consider drafting captions or a paragraph of context with each piece you donate. This will help the local historians understand the significance of the images.

Let Us Help You Make a Mark on Your Community

One person’s memories might not make a big difference, but if countless Americans across the country donate photos to historical societies, we can paint a clear picture of life in the 20th century. History is all around us and is worth documenting and preserving. 

Start your order with Memory Fortress today so you can create historic documents to be preserved in local and national archives.