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Digitizing Family Memories

We at Photo Scan USA think a lot about family stuff, so I'd like to present some information about using modern technology to archive the past. Over the years, we all collect various bits of family and personal mementos. Some are given places of honor, like diplomas and a few special photos, but most get stuffed into albums and shoeboxes. We try to keep up with the labeling and sorting, and some of you are very conscientious about that, but even so, there's just too much stuff to keep it all immediately accessible.

Nowadays, in 2021, the situation is changing, generally for the better. Many photos and videos now originate in digital form and are saved on a hard drive. They still have to be labeled and sorted, and accessibility is still a concern, but it's easier to find a file on a hard drive than a photo in a shoebox in the basement (or was that the attic?). It's still the case, though, that most existing records were created before digital cameras and recorders became available. We have mountains of photos, videotapes, audio cassettes and other materials, and we place real value on it all. The photo of Suzie at age 3 is just as important as the one at age 10; heck, all seven cajillion photos of Suzie are important. When we think about what we'd want to save in the case of a natural disaster, family photos are always high on the list.

It's possible to digitize all that stuff! A picture of your diploma is not as meaningful as the original, but many things are just as meaningful, and more accessible in digital form.

Still photos (scanning and filing photographic prints)

Audio (digitizing cassette tapes)

Video (digitizing VHS and camcorder tapes)

If you have thought about this at all, it has occurred to you that the task will be daunting. Let's say you have printed 100 photos per year since age 15, and you're now 45. That's 3000 prints. If you can scan and file and label one photographic print per minute, how long will it take? Sure, that's a couple days, but you can't sit at your scanner for two days straight. Realistically, you can't finish one per minute (even if you never go to the bathroom). And what about the cassette tapes from your high school band? And the camcorder tapes?

I'm not trying to scare you, and in fact, the tasks are not difficult (just tedious). But a hundred years from now, who will know that the geeky kid on the right in that photo in the shoebox is you? More than likely, the person looking at the photo will be a blood relative, and he or she will actually want to know. Did you spend the time to make it possible? Do you argue over the faces in photos during your family reunions? A generation from now, there will be no arguments, because no one will have a clue, unless you bite the bullet and start archiving.

On these pages are my experiences in archiving life's recordings. These pages are not intended to be a deep technical reference, but instead, a checklist with tips for computerized tasks. I'll help you to decide what you want to do, so if you need equipment, you can go to the store and ask intelligent questions.