When preserving family history most often we turn to personal stories and genealogy to bring past generations to life. When people then look for photos and records to help illustrate that history, most people have more questions than answers.
- What is a family archive?
- Why is having a family archive important?
- What needs to be in it?
- What is important to save?
- How much time would it take to properly create an archive?
- How big should it be?
- What do I have to do to preserve it in my home?
- What kind of expense are we talking about?
- What do I do with it after I’ve got it all organized?
- How do I share it with family?
- What happens to this archive after I die? How do I pass it on to future generations?
The answer to these questions could fill a book.
By way of example, at Documented Legacy, we took on a large multigenerational family archive project about six years ago that included more than 30 large plastic bins and cardboard boxes that had been unorganized and improperly stored from an archival perspective. These boxes had been stored in an attic, basement, and wet storage room that had a cockroach infestation. More than 400 hours were spent sorting through every piece of paper and photograph to organize the history between professional papers and family records. Old photographs were conserved and everything was rehoused into manageable boxes that are suitable for a private home.
The biggest threats to this archive were heat and humidity and typical household pests, like paper-munching silver fish. There is a lot of paper. Nearly forty years of improper housing has caused additional damage. Those 32 boxes were downsized to 17 boxes plus some custom-made archival boxes to store panoramic military photos dating back 100 years.
The family is ready to begin the digitization process, so that everything can be shared with extended family through three current generations. This process will take time. Throughout the summer we will answer the questions above about the process as we work through the digitization.
The beauty of creating a family archive at home is that once you make a plan for what you want to preserve, you can do it in bits and pieces of time.
To begin the process, start with a notebook. List the items you have in your family – not necessarily in your home – that could help illustrate your family history or life stories. Add to the list, items or records you’d like to research or borrow.