Photographs are documents in their visual form. They are more appealing then dry written text. This is why it is said a picture is worth a thousand words. It captures a great expression and the surrounding ambiance. If you are presently the nominated collector in the family and have been passed on hoards of old photographs, then it will not only give you an asset to hold on to but it will also mean that you have to take proper care. You can order for archival printing at home anytime. But that is a shortcut. If you are a DIY person than you would definitely like to try your hand at it first. There are many minute and often overlooked things that go into the preservation of ageing photographs.
Our ancestors were blessed with a great power, the power of remembering things for years and decades. They did not have the gadgets and gizmos then, so their retention span needed to be longer. In the present generation of sophistication we have lost that power of mind. Our retention span for any memory is much short lived (though there are many exceptions). The first thing that you would want to do when overlooking the photographs that have been passed on to you is to organize them. Organize them according to their year of taking and may be even mention the special event. This is a good idea, but one that can even prove fatal for your photographs.
If you use the modern day ball point or even certain standards of ink pen then there is a high chance that your writing would prove fatal to the photographs. The fact is that ink of these pens contains chemicals. As you might have known, chemicals are never friendly for the photo prints. The chemical reacts with the pigments used in photo production leading to their deterioration. In case of the conventional ink pens, if the ink is not dried before storing then it will make the photo moist and the print will fade quicker than expected. Ink when not dried leads to photos sticking together in the stacks and it can be mighty hard (if not impossible) to separate them then.
If you at all have to write and mark the photographs you should use lead pencil with soft point. Write softly on the photograph so that there is no embossing. To avoid the embossing you should write keeping the photograph on a hard surface. Also make sure to write along the edges. In this way, even if there is any embossing it happens along the edges and does not affect the overall appeal of the photograph. It would be a better option if you do not write on the photograph at all and jot down the important information on an acid free paper and place it by the side.
Archival printing at home is of course a good cure for the already damaged prints.