The question “Where do we come from?” can be taken a lot of different ways. If you ask a cosmologist, they might use the Big Bang theory to answer. If you ask a theologian, they might say that God created man in his own likeness. If you ask a genealogist, they might say their ancestors are from Britain and Germany.

Robert Friedman, an astrophysicist turned digital preservationist, has a unique take on the answer because to him, genealogists are much like astrophysicists — they both look to the past, to what once was.

In an interview with the Deseret News, Friedman explained that preserving photographs now is important because they encapsulate and preserve the past in both fields.

When scientists study pictures of the universe, the light from far-off galaxies and stars takes so long to get to us, that by the time we see it, they could already be gone. Similarly, our own photos act as a personal time capsule because as soon as that family picture is taken, we’re looking at what once was.

Photos are powerful ways to store individual stories and specific moments, including “the context of what that person’s life was like, how they made choices, and how they rationalized the world they lived in,” Friedman said. It all contributes to the perspectives of those around them and those who came after them.

“If you just rely on the history books, you get a very simplified, black-and-white picture of things, no matter what side you’re on,” he said. “There’s a winning side and losing side, a right side and a wrong side — but that’s not how we experience life. Everyone lives in a gray area.”

That’s why keeping your photos organized is important. By saving the pictures you take today, you build a legacy of your life that can help younger generations understand context, empathize with others and learn lessons that they can utilize in their own lives — just like we can with our ancestors.

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How valuable are photographs?

It’s not uncommon to see people find meaning in being connected or reconnected with old family pictures from ancestors — and for some, it can be life-changing.

Kate Kelley, the founder of the Photo Angel project, has worked for three years scouring antique stores and thrift shops to help long-lost photos finally find their way home.

“They are the people who came before us, and we wouldn’t be who we are if it wasn’t for them,” Kelley told the Deseret News.

Just like how your relatives make up who you are, you are an important part of the story for the generations that come after you.

Although Kelley works more with tangible photos, she said that “properly archiving (digital photos) for future generations is just as important as the original hard copy version,” because photos are more than just a piece of the past.

“I tell people that if your house is burning, you save your family, you save the dog and then the photos come next,” she said.

Unlike most objects, pictures are usually irreplaceable because they can be worth a thousand words, teach a thousand lessons and hold a thousand memories.

Science Focus Magazine wrote that looking at photos “helps us remember more about the context and the events we chose to record.”

It creates a still frame that is easy to reference and serves as a reminder of the emotions and memories made in that particular moment.

A word of advice — think legacy, not library

Cathi Nelson and Peter Bennett, who are part of a company called The Photo Managers, suggest that a library requires a lot of upkeep and there’s no way that someone could remember the vast amount of content. It’s more manageable to keep a select few photos that tell the story of your life because it’s more likely those stories will stick, allowing future generations to remember them.

Here’s how to start organizing and building your photo legacy

Without further ado, here are three steps to break down the process of getting your pictures ready to save for your kids, their kids and so on.

It doesn’t have to be as complicated or as time-consuming as you might think. But it’s important that you start with a goal.

Mother and wife, Rachael Heuseveldt, has her hands full with juggling all of her kids' extracurricular activities. But she still makes picture archiving a priority as she makes a yearly “family yearbook” with all of their biggest memories of the year with a sentence or two of descriptions.

If it feels overwhelming to look at all the pictures that have piled up over the years, her advice is to file as you go, or “start where you’re at right now and start moving forward.”

Whenever there’s an event that happens during the week, put it in a file on your website of choice and label it with the event and the year. Then when that becomes manageable, move backward year by year.

Here are three easy steps that can be scaled any way you want — do it daily, weekly or yearly.

1. Gather and organize

This is probably the easiest part and depending on how many devices you have, might already be done.

Photos, both digital and print, should be gathered in one place. A lot of people find success in a cloud-based service where digitalized print photos and digital photos from devices can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

A word of caution — the amount of storage space for all of today’s digital pictures can make it easy to lose track of them and digital storage devices or even the cloud can fail us, so do your best to categorize the photos in separate folders.

Think about organizing them into folders based on event and year to keep it simple — sometimes trying to make a timeline is overwhelming.

Gathering all the photos into one place lets you start narrowing them down to keep the meaningful ones, which is step two.

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2. Sort out your favorites

With technology the way it is, we can take as many pictures of the same thing as we want without penalty. But chances are that you won’t need 10 pictures of the same thing passed along to future generations or even one photo of your bedroom.

Do yourself a favor and just save the ones that mean something to you.

Nelson has a system she calls the “ABCs” when it comes to organizing.

  • “A” photos are “album worthy,” and should represent the ones you love and cherish.
  • “B” photos are the secondary photos to your album-worthy ones. They are the “OK” ones that you could do without but aren’t quite ready to part with yet.
  • “C” photos are the throwaway photos that you don’t need. If the photos are blurry, scenery shots are one of multiple, you can safely delete them.
  • And finally, “S” photos are the photos that have a story and should be set aside.

A platform called Mylio is a great way to help organize, delete duplicates and sort photos chronologically as you go through the ABCs of photo sorting.

3. Save in multiple places — on and offline

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Websites like Permanent, a personal photo archival website, and FamilySearch are great places to start building your legacy, or those “A” and “S” picture categories. They will keep those pictures uploaded on their site safe and accessible forever.

While you’re still sorting, using an online platform like DropBox, Google Photos, or iCloud will allow you to move and group as needed. Just watch out for those subscription fees.

An external hard drive used only for pictures could be a good idea too.

A toolbox of resources to help you on your photo journey

  • — This is a place specified for a photo legacy and will be archived. Pay a one-time fee for each gigabyte of space.
  • — Free download, easy to use, and declutter and duplicate tools are available for easy organization.
  • — More often used for family history. Photos are available to others.
  • Frameo digital photo frame and app — This is a great way to share photos with family members, but is not a permanent solution to saving a legacy.
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Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Kate Kelley’s name.

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