The doorbell rings and you answer it only to find a big box left on your doorstep by a UPS worker. You retrieve the box and set it aside as you are on your way to work for the day, but take a moment to glance at the return address and note it is a distant relative from another part of the country.
By the time you return home late in the evening, you have forgotten about the box and are busily taking care of your family’s needs. Finally you can sit down and you remember the box delivered earlier in the day. As you view the contents you see a variety of artifacts that spans a few lifetimes, and wonder how you will be able to assimilate them into your own families’ genealogy and family history as there are items closely connected with your family. The box contained the following items which you have grouped by media types:
Photographic Media – Group A
- 2 old shoeboxes full of snapshot booklets in various conditions
- 3 scrapbooks of photos, some identified and others not
- 15 tintype photos of military people
- A box of faded Polaroid photos
Photographic Film Media –Group B
- 4 Envelopes full of negative strips of different sizes
- 6 Carousels of slides along with some loose ones
Magnetic Recording Media-Group C
- A box of reel-to-reel tapes, some large and some small
- A box of small cassette tapes
- About 15 VHS tapes marked “for book”
Printed & Handwritten Media-Group D
- 2 scrapbooks with newspaper clippings
- A written biography on the family
- Some onion-skinned, typed family histories
- A family Bible with genealogical data inside
- A couple of handwritten diaries
Computer Media-Group E
- Some 5 ¼ and 3 ½ floppy disks labeled “family history / paf-gedcom”
As you survey the items in the box you notice an envelope at the very bottom addressed to you stating that the contents belonged to your great aunt on your father’s side and was recently discovered in her attic while her family was cleaning and preparing the home for sale. It is known throughout the family that you are working on family history, and it was decided to send these artifacts to you.
Of course you stare at them and wonder how to tackle such a big project that has just appeared out of nowhere. Where do you begin? How do you go about organizing and assimilating these items into your online family history presence?
The whole process should be tackled over a period of time so you do not get discouraged. Looking through the current articles written in TechTips, one finds a couple of articles on how to handle Groups A & B. These articles are entitled Taking Pictures of Photos, Microfilm, Slides and Film and How to Preserve Photographs, Documents and Databases. Each has great ideas and ways to digitize each of these items.
Group C, Magnetic Recording Media, can be approached by addressing each item individually. Reel-to-reel tapes usually contain video, however sometimes they are just audio recordings like the cassette tapes. The VHS tapes would of course be video. For these types of media it may be wise to seek out a company in your own area that handles media conversion. Type the search terms “digitizing reel to reel + your location” in your browser’s search engine. This should provide you a list of those companies in your area that handle this type of digitizing. Of course, prices will vary, and staying local allows for less chance of loss in the mail of irreplaceable memories.
Group D, Printed & Handwritten Media, can be tackled very similarly to handling the photos. There is a good follow-up article for this also in TechTips entitled Preserving Your Family History Records Digitally. While time consuming, the end result will be well worth the efforts put in. Additionally, there are software programs that can help to organize all this new digital information. A few of them are:
- Passage Express available online at http://www.passageexpress.com
- Family History Products online at http://www.familyhistoryproducts.com
- Heritage Collector online at http://heritagecollector.com
Each of these programs has step-by-step videos to help, as well as providing online assistance either by phone or email.
Group E, Computer Media, is the last section in the above list. While you may not be aware of individuals who have access to this older technology, there are USB “A” drives still available for purchase for both a 3 ½ and a 5 ¼ floppy. Their cost is minimal. However, you may not wish to purchase something you think you may only need one time. These types of items are available at companies like NewEgg at http://newegg.com, and/or TigerDirect at http://www.tigerdirect.com.
An alternative is to get assistance with the data from a local business once again. The label states they are PAF Gedcom files, however, you do not know what version they are in, which is critical in transferring the data. Check with your local family history center first for assistance. If you are at the Family History Library in Salt Lake the information can be upgraded to the latest PAF version and transferred to a USB drive for you to be able to access. The important fact is you should not wait to have this data transferred, as services like these will not be available forever. There will come a time when the data will become inaccessible.
It is hoped that others can contribute their own experiences and solutions to a growing problem of preserving the past regardless of the format it is in. It is not too late to start digitizing at this time. However, there will be a time when it will be too late. Don’t be the one to prevent your descendants from the opportunity to learn about their ancestors through their personal artifacts left to you in hopes of preserving them for generations to come.