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Will your family history survive in the growing digital world?
By Peter Curran
For most of us, photos albums put together by our grandparents and parents are how we learned about our family’s history. I remember the black photo pages with black & white photos mounted with photo corners. Additionally, the pages might have contained the date or people’s names written in white ink or the date was printed on the corner of each photo by the developer.
It was fun to see myself and what we were like growing up. My older sisters would help me identify people that I didn’t recognize. I could never remember names and stories that people told.
So maybe that is what got me interested in journaling about random happenings during college. Today I still journal about holidays and things related to my sons. Now, working at a scrapbook paper company, I started four scrapbooks that track my sons from birth through graduation approaching in a couple of years. Journaling and scrapbooking make me feel more comfortable that I’m doing something to keep my history going.
Digital photo convenience
The photos in those scrapbooks are mostly from my digital camera. I’ve been taking digital photos since 2005. I was slow to convert since I really didn’t understand the technology – now I can’t image not having my digital camera or my smartphone to take pictures and view them instantly.
I love the instant snapshot, the point and click ease of the camera, then the simple download to my hard drive.
Many consumers say all of their photos are on their computer’s hard drive, which scares historians and preservationist. They believe that a whole generation of family histories could be lost in the new digital era because few consumers actually print and save their photos. No hard copies, no labels, no captions or journaling means that stories aren’t being recorded.
Beyond hard drive storage, many millions of people are uploading their digital pictures to Facebook, in posts and photo albums. In 2014, Facebook is expected to contain 100 billion photos. On New Year’s weekend of 2011, 750 million photos were uploaded in three days. This year Facebook with be introducing Timeline, where all of your posts and photo albums will be organized in a chronological fashion automatically by year.
I suspect millions of Facebook users will love the ability to organize photos and status updates by year. Yet I haven’t read anything to date, that states how long that history will stay on Facebook and if it will go away when I die?
Steps to document and save your family history.
So I have these steps to help you save and document you family history.
- Take stock of where your digital photos are stored. Are they backed-up?
- Back-up photos on an external hard drive, CD, media card or in the Cloud.
- Select favorite photos and place them in a “Favorites” folder by year.
- Select a “photo storage” type – i.e. album, scrapbook, pocket pages, photo box, etc.
- Print your favorite photos out.
- Get to work on putting them somewhere “safe.” (avoid light, humidity and extreme temperatures)
- Label photos or groups of photos:
- Who’s in the photo?
- Where are they?
- What is the date?
- And, if you can try to write a caption or paragraph (not on the back of the photo) to tell a short story.
- Share the stories with family and friends.
By suggesting you need to write a caption of paragraph you may think, “I’m not into scrapbooking.” Telling a story on a simple label will give generations after you a sense of “what was going on”. I personally have a big box of photos and some photo albums from a high school trip to Spain without ANY labels. You can imagine, I don’t recall many of the details.
It may sound old fashioned or time consuming to keep printed photos in our fast-paced, digital world. Yet, those photos and stories may inspire a young person to align their life with the family history, or set their sights on new directions they’d like to see the family legacy grow.