We Are a People of Stories: Wisdom on Saving Your Photos

Left to right: APPO Members Danielle Studer, Signe Pagel, Kristen Goodman, and Cathi Nelson.

We are just finishing up the filming of our second television episode of Family Pictures USA with our incredible host Thomas Allen Harris! We’ve enjoyed working with WGCU Public Media in Southwest Florida and have been meeting so many amazing families with incredibly diverse, rich stories and beautiful photographs to match! Check out our coverage in the Florida Weekly for a sneak peak on what’s in store.

During one of our photo-sharing events at the Heights Center in Fort Myers, Florida, we had the privilege of meeting Cathi Nelson, founder of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO) as well as APPO members Signe Pagel, Danielle Studer and Kristen Goodman. APPO serves as an association that helps small businesses help others to save and organize their photographs. APPO helps to relive and preserve your best memorieswhich is exactly the passion that we hold here at Family Pictures USA!

We were thrilled to have them help in assisting many of the families and individuals and describing the various processes and importance of organizing, preserving and sharing family photographs. Signe, one of APPO’s photo organizers and founder of In-Focus Photo Solutions & Photography, recounts her first-hand experience working alongside Family Pictures USA in Florida, and shares some photo wisdom tidbits on how to preserve your precious memories!

We Are a People of Stories

Today, I had the privilege of spending the day with people who feel as passionate about preserving and sharing family photos as I do. The production team of Family Pictures USA was in Fort Myers to interview and videotape local individuals about their family stories for a three-part series which will be broadcast on the PBS network next summer.  Our local PBS affiliate, WGCU Public Media, provided a venue and staff to assist in leading the guests from one element of production to the next.  The producers invited Cathi Nelson, the founder of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO) to attend today’s event, knowing that Cathi, APPO, and its members are passionate about preserving photos and helping families tell their stories through photos. Danielle Studer, Kristen Goodman, and I were there as APPO members in SW Florida to provide information to guests who seek tips about organizing, preserving, and sharing their photos.

Thomas Allen Harris with APPO Team Members. Photo courtesy of Anna Bejerano.

Twenty-five individuals or couples arrived for their appointments carrying photo albums, stacks of loose photos, framed family heritage prints, and memorabilia.  The event journey for each of them today would last approximately two hours as they moved to stations for make-up application, photography, document scanning, interview and videotaping, etc.  So, what did they do while waiting for their turn to be interviewed? Naturally, they told stories and shared their photos with the other guests and with those of us who were there to aid in the production of the event.

Photo Scanning Stations at our Fort Myers, Florida Event. Photo courtesy of Signe Pagel.

Here is some photo wisdom that was reinforced for us today as we watched and interacted with the guests and the Family Pictures USA production team. While today’s guests were using photos prints to tell their stories, most of this photo wisdom pertains to digital images as well.  Use this list to identify areas where you can strengthen your own family’s story and photo legacy.

  • Photos should be organized and accessible. Some of today’s guests had arranged their photo prints in albums so they could easily view them.  We could only wonder how many of the other guests spent hours searching through drawers and boxes to find the photos they needed.  An effective structure of organization is the foundation of photo management. 
  • Photos need protection from aging. We saw many photos that had turned yellow or had faded significantly.  Photo prints should be preserved in acid-free and lignin-free albums or photo archive boxes.

Walter Peterson brought an extensive family photograph and old camera collection. Photo courtesy of Anna Bejerano.

  • Scan photo prints so they can be added to your digital library.  The production team scanned each of the guest’s pictures so the resulting digital images could be used in the broadcast version of the show, and they gave the guests a flash drive containing their images.  When you scan your prints, they can be combined with the rest of your digital library and backed up for long-term safety.
  • Store details about the photo’s subject along with the print. Yesterday’s guests knew their family history and the details about the photos they chose for their interview because they, or their ancestors, took the time to record those details.  Be sure you’ve written key information on the back of your most important photos (with a photo safe pen/pencil) so you don’t leave your descendants guessing.

    Joanne Iwinski-Miller shared her family photographs with us. Photo courtesy by Anna Bejerano.


  • Use a professional resource to guide you through your photo frustration.  Many of today’s guests admitted they had “lots and lots” of photos at home in various stages of disarray.

Cathi Nelson (APPO founder) presented each of them with an autographed copy of her book, “Photo Organizing Made Easy. . . Going From Overwhelmed to Overjoyed.”  If you are the do-it-yourself type, this book would be a valuable tool.

If you aren’t the DIY type, a professional photo organizer would be your best resource to make sense out of your photo clutter.




  • Photos should be enjoyed and shared with others.  We were delighted to observe the expressions on the faces of yesterday’s guests as they shared their photos with others and recalled memories of their loved ones.  The sense of belonging, family pride, heritage and love was so evident as they told their stories.  And, isn’t that one of the primary reasons we take photos – to bring to the forefront of our memory, as time goes by, people, emotions, events, and relationships that have meaning to us?  Take the time to “walk down memory lane” with your photos as often as possible.  Better yet, make it a family experience!

Signe Pagel sat down with participant Liz Schelper to look over her family photographs! Photo courtesy of Signe Pagel.

Many came with full photo albums of family memories. Photo courtesy of Signe Pagel.

We are excited to see how APPO and Family Pictures USA can work together to communicate the importance of family storytelling through pictures. The Family Pictures USA team will be in at least three other U.S. cities soon to interview more people about their family stories for the series that will air on PBS stations next summer. Our APPO representatives will be available in those cities as well.

If you would like information about how to apply for an appointment in one of the upcoming cities, or information about the television series, please visit  https://familypicturesusa.com/ or on Facebook: Family Pictures USA.  If you would like information on how to get in touch with a local professional photo organizer, go to www.APPO.org.

Left to right: Cathi Nelson, Kristen Goodman, Thomas Allen Harris, Signe Pagel, and Danielle Studer.

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