Tips on Archiving Family History

I am often asked about tips on archiving family history from the assortment of things passed down from generation to generation. Specifically, I am asked about photos and recorded items: old photos, audio tapes, cassette recordings of many sizes, video tapes, etc.. I recently read a great article that answers many of the questions I get.  Bertram Lyons, an archivist at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., authored the following article in the New York Times http://tinyurl.com/ow4qczc. Bertram (pictured below) gives the best explanation I’ve read about what to look for in finding professional to help you archive your family history media treasures.Bertram Lyons

If you ever thought that the old photos and recordings that are shoved in a box somewhere will last forever, think again. Please take the time to find them and digitize them soon! At LifeStories Alive http://www.lifestoriesalive.com, we are continually faced with clients who remember “that great photo” of their ancestor from their childhood that is no longer usable due to neglect. It’s not that expensive to safe a priceless heirloom. Do it now!

Sharing Stories – A Simple “How-To” Approach

A few weeks ago I was invited to sit in on a group of guys who meet at a local coffee shop every Saturday morning around 10:00 AM. I did not know of anyone in the group except the gentleman who invited me. I was hesitant to accept the invitation, not only because I didn’t know anyone else, but it was a group I didn’t have much in common with – mature (or older)  lawyers, judges & State politicians! In retrospect, I’m glad I accepted the invitation.

This morning was my third visit with the group. As I sat and listened (which I do a lot of), I smiled in amazement at how great the stories were that were being shared. Most were funny, but some were touching and heartfelt. I then wondered what a tragedy it would be if some of these priceless gems were never to be shared again … lost one day, as each of these storytellers passes on.

The solution to sharing stories so they are never lost is found in the way they are captured. The good news is that it’s easy to do so. Here are a few easy “how-to” approaches:

1. Audio recording – Technology has made this easy and inexpensive. There are many recorders on the market. Here is one that will record up to 144 hours and is easy to use: http://shop1.frys.com/product/5282437?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG . Just turn the devise on, set in on a table in the middle of the group and make sure your conversation is not more than 144 hours! Note: You should always ask permission to record a conversation. Some people have negative feelings about being recorded.  

2. Journaling/Taking Notes – Sometimes you just can’t beat the old-fashioned way of doing things. Bring a pen and paper and take notes as people talk. Don’t worry if you didn’t major in journalism. Just write down what you’d like to remember as it’s being said. You can always refine it when you have time later on.

3. Videotaping – One of my favorite stories from the LifeStories I’ve recorded is the one from a 77 year old gentleman who mentioned that for many years, before each Thanksgiving dinner, he would set up a tripod and his video camera at the corner of the table and simply turn it on before the meal began. Imagine if you had a library of your family’s past Thanksgiving dinners over the past 20 years. What a treasure!

Like the audio recording I mentioned above, technology has made video recording easy and inexpensive as well. Here’s an example: http://shop1.frys.com/product/5371168?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG

An amazing fact about videotaping is that soon after the conversation begins, most people get so much “into” the conversation, they forget that there’s a camera there recording everything. That makes capturing the stories even more priceless. Genuine conversations and stories are always the best kind.

4. Professional Personal Historians – When quality really matters and you want to make sure you “get it done right” the first time, hiring a professional is the way to go. The most common reason people do this is if they feel they only have one shot at the event or getting as much of the whole story in one sitting. That is what I do for families on a regular basis: http://www.lifestoriesalive.com/  . What you are left with when done professionally is truly an heirloom that can be shared proudly for generations to come.

The main point to remember is that if you don’t capture the stories in a way that can be shared with others, you might lose them forever.