Boxes of Photos: Where To Even Start? 📦

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Boxes of Photos: Where to Even Start?

In a major disaster medical personnel must use a method called triage to determine who should be treated first and in what order. So let’s find out exactly what triage means and how we can apply that to our boxes of photos.

Here’s a dictionary definition for medical triage:

Medical Triage

“A process for sorting injured people into groups based on their need for or likely benefit from immediate medical treatment. Triage is used in hospital emergency rooms, on battlefields, and at disaster sites when limited medical resources must be allocated.” —

Let’s look at some key phrases in this definition starting with: Disaster Sites.

Our boxes of photos often look like a disaster area with boxes piled here and there and maybe even other boxes and junk piled in front of them or on top of them, because you know how it is: Whatever was used last is usually in the front of the pile. So if we haven’t worked on our boxes of photos for awhile, they’re usually behind or under other stuff—stacked up against a garage wall or in the spare bedroom.

Boxes of Photos

Another key word in the triage definition is LIMITED, and for most of us there ARE limited resources.

Maybe it’s just YOU working on the boxes of photos and if you don’t have a lot of time or energy it can be overwhelming to even think about tackling that pile of boxes. But choosing ONE box and working with that one is much more manageable.

So which box should that be? Let’s see how the triage principle can help us decide.

Start With Older Relatives Or Yourself

In a disaster triage is based on a person’s need or likely benefit from immediate treatment.

Some of our boxes fit that criteria very well. For example, if you have an elderly relative or parent you might want to start with THEIR box of photos so you can get the family history from them before it’s too late. It’s hugely helpful to know the stories and the dates and who the people are. If you wait until your family member or relative is gone you’ll be greatly handicapped trying to deal with the photos.


One of my biggest regrets with family history is that I waited too long and lost three parents before interviewing them about their lives. Of course, that wasn’t intentional. It never is. We just can’t foresee when someone will suddenly pass on or get a stroke or get dementia. That’s what happened to 3 of our parents. So if you have an elderly parent or relative don’t delay, and if you’re one of the oldest living relatives be sure to document YOUR stories for your family. That’s more important than scanning the photos or making photo albums or scrapbooks or doing genealogical research. All of that can be done by anyone else, but you’re the best person to tell YOUR story of growing up, how you met your spouse, and about your own family growing up.

Let’s look at two other triage possibilities that don’t work for a medical disaster but they do work for boxes of photos.

Special Events

The first is a Special Event coming up like a graduation or a 50th wedding anniversary that motivates you to create a book as a gift—maybe a birth through high school book for the graduate or a 50 Years Of Marriage overview.

50th Wedding Anniversary

Motivation is IMPORTANT so when it comes, jump on it. Just  get it done—gather the photos and make a photo album or online book or scrapbook. It’ll make YOU feel great and it’ll be a BIG hit at the party, believe me.

The 3rd triage criteria is for anyone who just can’t seem to get started. Pick out the box with the easiest, most enjoyable group of photos—something you would really love to work on or you’re passionate about, and do THAT! 

Maybe you went on a cruise like my husband Charlie and I did to Alaska and you want to create a coffee table book about it. 

Alaska Cruise

Whatever Motivates You The Most To “Just Get Started”

Or maybe it’s about a volunteer service you’re passionate about. For example, Charlie is a chaplain in Civil Air Patrol, which is the volunteer auxiliary of the United States Air Force, that does search and rescue, disaster relief, homeland security, and has a cadet program for American youth. So that’s his passion.

Civil Air Patrol Chaplaincy

Do YOU have a hobby you’re passionate about? If so, THAT could be your starting point.

Hobby You're Passionate About

Here’s the key: If YOU enjoy it and it motivates you to start working on your family photos, then it’s worth starting there.
Motivation IV
Because, let’s face it, anyone who simply ignores the boxes of family photos and stories IS the person with the most need for an infusion of vision and motivation to get started!

So those are my three triage rules for which box to work on first:

  • Start with older relatives or yourself.
  • Create a photo book for a special event. OR
  • Work on whatever motivates you the most to just get started. And hopefully you’ll continue and tackle other family history topics as well!

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