The family home before it burned to the ground

In 1997 a home that had been in my family for 56 years burned down. My great-grandfather purchased the home in 1941 and my grandmother was raised there. Even after my great-grandfather moved out of the house, it remained in the family, a safe haven for my mother and her siblings when they needed a place to stay. Family treasures filled the top floor of the house; an old Victrola, military medals, numerous old photo albums filled with tin types, and nearly every memento from my grandmother’s childhood.

The culprit was the wood burning stove and chimney and what started as a small chimney fire, quickly grew out of control and engulfed the house in flames.

After the fire, my family sifted through the remains, pulling half-burned heirlooms from the ashes, and photographs that crumbled in their hands. Nothing is more sickening than a half-burned photograph. It is as if someone tore it in half and gave it back to you. Worse, the unburned faces on the remaining half of the photo are distorted in their hazy grayness, nearly impossible to make out.

Photo damaged by 1997 fire.

It isn’t practical for everyone that has a precious family photo or heirloom to rush out and buy a fire safe box or storage unit, but there are steps you can take. The single most important thing you can do to prevent photos and documents from perishing is to digitize your collection. Store your images online where others in your family can get access to them, or, make multiple digital copies of the images and distribute them to members of your family. The more people who have the images, the greater the chance that they’ll survive for many years to come.

I store my family photographs online both at Ancestry.com and at Elephantdrive.com. Elephant Drive allows you to store large files, Ancestry limits the size of photographs to 15 MB. Whatever method you choose, storing photographs digitally, and outside of your home, is the best way to mitigate the risk of losing priceless memories to a tragic fire, flood or other natural disaster.