Tuesday 23 May 2017

You Can’t Keep Everything

There have been many articles and blog posts about preserving memorabilia. I try to read as many as I can find because I have a great deal of “stuff” I’d like to keep and pass along to others who might be interested in having it.

I wrote a while back about preserving pictures in photo albums for future generations by scanning the books and putting the images online (Digitizing Memories). That way, no matter where family members live they will be able to access them and copy them if they wish.

Like all family historians, I have collected birth, marriage and death certificates, wills, census records and other personal documents. I still have all our children’s report cards and many school artwork projects. The school material has also been scanned and is online where our kids and their kids can read them. Many documents were obtained in digital format and are stored on my computer (and saved in the cloud) rather than in hard copy in binders. Bit by bit I am weeding out the paper copies and discarding them – except for the original records handed down from previous generations.

My goal is to lighten the load for future generations by keeping only physical memorabilia – like the cream can and pitch fork that belonged to my grandfather – and official records that were actually owned and used by family members. My children may not have the room (or the interest) to store the material, so I will likely contact an archives office to see if they might be interested in having the documents, antiques and other memorabilia.

I read a recent blog post by Melissa Barker on Geneabloggers of interest (The Archive Lade: Preserving Old Negatives). She described how to preserve the original films. Many of us have these, either in envelopes attached to photo albums or in protective archival sleeves. I still have hundreds of negatives and slides that go back to my school days.
Some of my old negatives
I also have a box of negatives and several loose ones in photo storage sheets for pictures my parents took as far back as the 1920s. My Dad developed most of his own photos, so many of the negatives were still in rolls, tucked away together in boxes.
Some of my Dad's old negatives
The problem, as I found out when I went to have some of them printed again, is that there is no place left that does photofinishing using negatives. They have all gone to digital reproduction. What they will do is scan the negatives and then make prints or give you digital images for you to store. That sounds ok until they give you the price which can be several dollars per picture. For most of us that is totally unrealistic and means the negatives will continue to languish in the boxes they have been in for decades.

I keep all this stuff because, “You never know when you or someone else might want them!” They are still around mostly because they are part of our memories and history and I have a hard time throwing things away.

As much as it pains me, though, negatives and slides are not much good any more unless they can be digitally preserved. And then they really wouldn’t be the actual originals anyway. If the prints from those negatives are properly mounted in albums for people to look at the pages could then be scanned. Then at least you have and can see the documentation of those memories.

My wife keeps telling me, “You can’t keep everything.” That is true but it will likely be someone else who gets rid of it after I’m gone.

Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.