Protect and Preserve

February 24, 2009 at 09:38 | Posted in genealogy | Leave a comment
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I previously wrote about organizing all those notes, Pedigree sheets, surname databases. Today I want to discuss how to preserve and protect those precious photographs. My sister inherited many wonderful antiques and ephemera from her mother-in-law. Wonderful trunks full of family journals, old calendars, cards, letters. All fantastically organized and labeled. Then there were boxes of old family photographs, most labeled with names and dates. Then there were the boxes of super old (more than 100 years old) photographs completely unlabeled, undated. Too wonderful and poignant to toss but no clue to who, what, when, or where. We figure she inherited and did not have the heart to toss either. But that is the unusual – or is it? What will your children say to you in about twenty or thirty years? Mom, dad, who are these people? What were you, they doing? Where was this taken? Will you be there to answer or will they have inherited shoe boxes of photographs of the unknown? When they open those shoe boxes, what will those photos even look like? Will they be stuck together like glue and tear as they attempt to separate them? Or will ink and colors be so faded that the faces are rendered unidentifiable? We live in Florida – land of rain, , lightening strikes, brush fires, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. The time to think about protecting and preserving is sooner rather than later! One horrible occurrence could wipe out years of family memories and years of family research. Start by taking some tips from contingency planners and insurance companies. Be prepared ahead of time instead of thinking it will never happen to you. Instead assume it will!

First — keep copies of everything possible. Scan and burn to CDs. Then pass a copy of that CD to an entrusted friend or family member who lives elsewhere. Do a sort of round robin exchange – everyone can find space for a few CDs for someone else. If your cousin holds for you, you return the favor and hold for her. This is even better if you do not live next door to each other! Some folks even go so far as to rent a safe deposit box for safe keeping of the really old special family certificates such as foreign birth and marriage certificates. You have to decide how valuable those are to you and if your budget can handle the expense. Some banks used to offer one free with an account.

Second – back up any of your information on your computer to an external hard drive. I make special folders for the photographs and back them up to the external hard drive along with any family files. Computers do crash and it is not easy to reclaim lost data when that happens.

Third – use a watertight container to store your photographs and other papers. When the roof falls in allowing in rain, or the flood waters rise, this may save those precious photographs.

Fourth – take those digital photographs of the family keepsakes and heirlooms. Maybe it isn’t even a priceless (financially) object – I have an old hat of my dad’s. He’s been gone 25 years but that old straw hat is seen in many photographs and it is priceless to me! Label and caption the photograph. That way at least everyone else will know what it is!

Fifth – don’t forget cassette and video tapes. Burn them to DVDs – not that difficult or expensive to do at home now via SDS cables and a little time. Again remember that CDs and DVDs also degrade, break, or scratch. Make extra copies to share.

Lastly – There are commercial web sites that one can pay to back up computer files  to and store photographs. Using the commercial genealogy sites is an option but remember that the information you post there can bring privacy and copyright issues into play. Research who owns those files you post if you want to be sole owner. Remember too that some family members may not want their information posted on the Internet – so a family tree specifying Living as a name is not really helpful to recreating that destroyed or lost tree! Be especially careful posting information and photographs of children.

I have been spending a lot of my spare time scanning all of our family photo albums. Each photo is scanned, touched up if needed (old color inks faded) and then labeled with names, dates, locations, occasions. Maybe a funny or accurate caption is added when appropriate. These are grouped into manageable file folders. All my wedding folders are into one folder, honeymoon to another, baby’s first year to another, etc.  I tried to take time to label many of the actual photographs also. Never use ink on them but soft pencil on the back to at least give names. If you really want to be industrious, you can print out a scan and label that. Those are a great solution for the family group shots to know who was whom!

If you feel overwhelmed, start with family groups shots, especially the old ones. Then pick one or two favorites from each holiday to save and protect. The reality is that it is not likely all of your children will want all those scenery photo shots from all the family vacations anyway. Trees are nice – but how many tree photos do they want? They will be taking their own someday too! Do this in small bites and you will not be so overwhelmed. And as you take new photos, make it a habit to label them instead of going back later! Your children will thank you someday!

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