Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What do I do with all my records?

One of the most challenging aspects of family history research is what to do with all of the stuff, papers, photographs and artifacts (heirlooms) we seem to accumulate. The companion question is how do I share my documents, photos, recordings, and so forth, with my family and other researchers. Popular genealogical publications run periodic articles on the subject and almost every seminar or conference has a class or two or even more on organization. From time to time, I will suggest some more current solutions to the problem. Technological changes have had the greatest impact on the area of storage and reproduction of all of this stuff. I will discuss the newest tools available to preserve and disseminate all of our collections of information. Please feel free to submit comments or ask questions.

The categories of items we accumulate likely fall into one of the following categories:
  • Books and manuscripts
  • Letters and journals
  • Photographs or slides including paintings and other art work
  • Original documents i.e. birth certificates, marriage certificates etc.
  • Physical objects from furniture to jewelry and everything in between
  • Voice recordings in a variety of formats including tape, cassette and digital
  • Movies including old film formats and digital
I will start out with some suggestions for photographs and slides.

Most of us have a collection of photographs either in the form of slides or physical prints. The size and format of these objects can vary considerably, from small 1/2 frame slides to huge poster size (or larger) paintings or prints. Fortunately all of these formats can be digitized in high quality and stored in a variety of storage media and then made available to our family and other interested people.

Advances in technology have made it relatively simple to digitize photographic media. Flat photos of less than standard 8.5 x 11 inch format are best scanned by a flat bed scanner. Most of the scanners sold today attach to a computer by means of a USB cable. Almost all newer computers have at least one USB port. Higher priced scanners often offer an additional faster FireWire (IEEE 1394) cable port. Your computer may or may not have a FireWire port, so you may wish to identify the types of ports your computer has before purchasing a scanner. Scanner vary in price from less than $50 to more than $5000 depending on resolution, speed and paper handling capabilities. A good scanner for photographs can be purchased for under $100. The most popular brands of scanners are Epson and Canon.

The software provided with the scanner lets you scan an image and save it to your computer's hard drive. You may wish to invest in one or more external hard drives if you plan on doing a lot of scanning. Scanned images can take up a lot of storage space on your computer's hard drive and you may run out of space. Even more important, once you spend some time scanning your images, you don't want to lose them and you will need an external hard drive to backup your images. It is best to scan all your images into one folder, with subfolders for organization, so that you can backup the folder by dragging a copy onto your external drive.

Once you have the images scanned into your computer, you will need to label and organize them. To do this organization, you can use any number of photo organizing software programs. One of the best is Picasa3. This program is free from Google. See

More later

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