FINDING YOUR NIKKEI ROOTS: Preserve your treasures before it’s too late


Left to Right, Iku (Kawamoto) Maihara, Hamako (Maihara) Okazaki, Ted Naoyuki Okazaki, Yoko (Miyake) Okazaki, Ichimaru Okazaki, circa 1957, Tabara mura, Okayama ken, Japan, in front of the Okazaki ancestral home.
photo courtesy of Linda Harms Okazaki

April 18, 1906. San Francisco was struck by an earthquake, followed by a devastating fire, which left hundreds of thousands homeless, and which destroyed all of the public records at city hall.

Oct. 19, 1991. The Oakland firestorm incinerated nearly 3,000 single-family homes.

Nov. 8, 2018. The Camp Fire obliterated 95 percent of the town of Paradise, Calif., including the Paradise Genealogical Society.

Earthquakes. Fires. Tsunamis. Typhoons. Hurricanes. Floods. Disasters will happen.

Are you prepared?

October is Family History Month. It’s also Fire Prevention Month. As you update your emergency kits and plan evacuation routes, this is also a good time to think about your family papers, heirlooms, memorabilia and treasures.

Obviously, it’s important to have copies of your insurance, medical, and financial records if you need to evacuate in a hurry. But what about all of your family heirlooms? Where are your photos stored? What would you grab in a hurry? Have you digitized your most treasured photos? If not, how do you plan to preserve your photos, documents, and family treasures BEFORE an emergency? This is also a good time to consider archival preservation of these items.

Your first step is to get organized. Determine which photos and documents you want to preserve. You probably have hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs. Some are probably stored in those outdated “magnetic” albums which contribute to the degradation of the images. It’s important to get all of these preserved in an archivally safe manner.

Before you invest in appropriate albums and sleeves, think about digitizing those images. Do you have a collection of irreplaceable heirloom photos? Start with those. Plan to spend several hours getting your images digitized. Either invest in or borrow a high quality scanner. Consider a large flatbed device which can scan slides, negatives, documents and photos. Flatbed scanners won’t damage the photos and can be used with pictures which are mounted to cards or even frames that can’t be removed.

Once you are ready to begin scanning, set up your work space. A large dining table covered with a tablecloth or clean sheet is sufficient. Wash your hands to remove any oils and dry them well. Plan to handle each photo as little as possible. Always scan your most valuable photos as a TIFF. Later, you can send them to friends and family in a different format, such as a JPEG. Scan the entire photo, especially if there is information about the photographer. If there is anything on the back, scan that, too. Label each photo with the names of every person in the image, plus location and date, when known.

Simply digitizing the photos is not enough. The next steps are to back up your images to both an external hard drive and to the cloud. The external hard drive should then be stored away from your computer, perhaps in a safety deposit box. Be cautious of fire “proof” boxes, which may only be fire resistant, as was learned during the Oakland and Camp fires.

Once the photos have been scanned and labeled, you have to determine how you will store the originals. Place the photos in archival sleeves and boxes, and store in a cool, dry place. These archival materials can easily be found online. Simply Google archival photo supplies. Most can be ordered through or directly from the vendors.

Once your photos have been preserved, consider taking similar steps with your heirlooms. Do you have a treasured kimono? A lacquered tray? Hina dolls? Consider photographing these family memorabilia, labeling them in a similar manner as the photographs, then preserving them in archival storage boxes.

Maureen Taylor, aka The Photo Detective, is widely recognized as the leading authority on photo preservation and photo identification. In addition to her book, Preserving Your Family Photographs, her free advice can be found on Facebook or on her blog.

Denise Levenick, aka The Family Curator, offers advice on archiving photos and family keepsakes. Her blog can be found at

The bottom line? Don’t delay. You never know when a disaster might strike. Preserve your family treasures now, so they can continue to be passed down through the generations.

For further information:

Huber, Leslie Albrecht. Simple Steps to Preserve Your Precious Family Memories. 2017.

Levenick, Denise May. How to Archive Family Keepsakes. Cincinnati, OH: Family Tree Books, 2012.

Levenick, Denise May. How to Archive Family Photos. Cincinnati, OH: Family Tree Books, 2015.

National Archives, The Center for Legislative Archives: “The San Francisco Earthquake, 1906.”

Taylor, Maureen A. Preserving Your Family Photographs. Picture Perfect Press, 2010.

Linda Harms Okazaki is a professional genealogist who is past president of the California Genealogical Society. She specializes in Japanese American records. If you have a genealogical question which might be answered in this column, send an e-mail to The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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