Long gone are the days when most of us took a roll of film to be developed. No matter how many of us did so, film negatives are becoming a thing of the past. It can be hard, then, to decide what to do with them. You should always keep your photo negatives, of course. But is there more to do with them besides simply storing them? Here’s how you can turn your photo negatives into useful tools for family history.


Converting to digital is one of the best ways to preserve or create backups of your precious memories. Especially because, like photos, negatives will degrade over time.  For this reason alone, you should scan all of your photo negatives. Plus, photo negatives can create a higher-quality image, particularly with old photos. Scanning directly to your computer means you can get a better image than by printing alone.

You can do this with a regular scanner, or with a negative/slide scanner. These special scanners convert individual slides and negatives to digital images, saving you time and effort.

Once you’ve scanned your photos, invert the colors to get a high-quality image without any processing. Plus, this may reveal interesting sights in the background. In the old days, photo images may have been cropped to fit the paper. This means you could see an extra family member in a group shot, a family pet, or information about a location.

Re-Create and Discover Images

Hang onto photo negatives to re-create a damaged photo. Negatives often go untouched in storage, meaning they may have suffered less wear and tear than most photos. Because of this, you may also find photos your family hasn’t seen before. Maybe they weren’t good enough for display, but they still contain valuable family history information. Like we mentioned above, you might find more to an image that was cropped during printing. Or, you may discover family members in photos that no one else ever got to see.


When you’ve discovered all you can from your negatives, it’s time to keep them safe for future generations. Negatives are very delicate, and should be stored and handled carefully. Only handle your negatives when your hands are clean and dry. Even then, touch and hold them only by the edges. The oils in your hands can cause damage to the negatives and to the image.

You should also be careful of the materials used to store negatives. Certain kinds of plastic can be damaging to the film or to the images. Make sure you’re using film-safe materials before you purchase them or store your negatives.

How to store your photo negatives:

  •  Make sure your negatives are clean from dust and dirt before storage. Use canned air to blow away any debris.
  • Store clean negatives in sleeves made of polyethylene. This plastic will be safe to the film.
  • Store your negatives flat, such as in a binder or layered in a polypropylene box. Film can warp, and this can even cause the negatives to break.
  • Move the binder or the box to a cool, dark, and dry area where the temperature won’t change much. You should not store negatives in a garage or attic because of their changing temperatures.

Though it can become a long chore, scanning your negatives will be rewarding in the end. And not for you alone, but for future generations to come!