Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolution - Preserve Your Family History - Week One

Ready for a New Year’s Resolution you can stick with?  One that’s fun and easy?  A resolution that does not involve counting calories or hitting the gym?
Don’t get me wrong, eating healthy and living healthy are good things.  We should all strive to be the best we can be in all areas and aspects of our lives.  And as a genealogist, the longer my family lives, the more I can pick their brains and learn more of my family’s history!
But this year I would like to challenge you to resolve to gather and record your family’s history.  And to help you, I will provide a task each week via Twitter and Facebook and then discuss the nuts-and-bolts of it here on my blog.  (Do yourself a favor and subscribe to the blog, follow my Twitter page, and “Like” my Facebook page so you can get all the details and all the fun!)
Being a no-time-like-the-present kind of gal, I have already gotten you started.
Didn’t get the Tweet or notice the FB post?  Fear not, I’ll tell you all about it.
This week your task is easy – gather up all of your family photos.
Get busy collecting.  Okay, we’re done.
Or maybe not.
On the surface it sounds easy.  Just go find those photos.
But where are they?
And do you really mean ALL of them?  Even the ones with nothing written on them?  Even the ones that look silly or are crinkled?  Black and white?  Polaroids?
And what do I do with them once I find them all?
Let’s start with that last question and work our way up the list.
What to do with them is easy.  Find something clean and dry to keep them in.  A shoe box works well.  Or two or three, depending on how many photos you have. 
A large plastic container, Tupperware, Rubbermaid, Container Store, it doesn’t matter who makes it, just be 100% certain that it is clean (no Christmas cookie residue!) and dry.  Lid, too.
Some of you will see this as an excuse to dash off to the store to buy some cool new containers, and that’s fine.  Others of you will just use whatever you have at home.  It doesn’t really matter what you use, just as long as it is large enough to hold your photos without damaging them (and it’s clean and dry – do I sound like a broken record?  Trust me, this is important.  If your photos become cemented together with sugar, or water and mold or mildew invades your photos, you will find yourself racing against time to copy and save them.)
So now you have your containers.  I’ll just be generic and call them “boxes” and you can fill in with whatever you chose.
Which photos do you include?
In a nutshell, all of them.
The ugly shots of you with braces.
The people you can’t name.
The old houses and cars that seem so random.
The big family groups.
The Polaroids, the black and whites, the sepia-toned, and if you are fortunate enough to have them, the glass plates and the tin-types.
Save them all.
If you find any that are fragile, or falling to pieces, or broken, then you want to save them individually in an envelope and then the envelope in a file folder.  Ideally you want to use acid-free paper for these, and if you are heading out to the store to buy containers, then you might as well go buy some acid free paper.  I can often find acid-free scrapbook paper on packages that are pretty cost-effective.  But beware – just because it is scrapbook paper doesn’t mean it is acid-free.  So read the verbiage to see if it’s acid-free.
Once you have your acid-free paper, you want to make little file folders out of each piece of paper and put your old damaged photos in the folders.  The idea is that the photo doesn’t touch any other paper than acid-free paper.  If the photo is small, cut the paper in half and use the other half for another small photo.  Your paper should be plenty big enough for any photo you have (some scrapbook paper is 8.5x11, but others is 12x12).
And if you find any that are damp or mildewed, you want to separate them from the rest of your photos.  A separate envelope or file folder is a good place to keep them or a piece of acid-free paper folded into a folder.  Be sure to label what is in the folder, and keep it with the rest of your pictures.
And now the truly tough question:  where do you find the photos?
Since I’m not at your house I have no idea where you keep them, but here are some places I would check:
In the closets (bedroom, hall, entryway, check them all!) – any boxes, lumpy piles of paper, or anywhere else that I find papers.  Go through them all and look for photos.  (hint:  note what you are seeing as you look for photos – you may find that you need those things later in your research, so if you see old documents or letters, you might want to put them on top or stick a sticky note on the box to remind you what is in there.
In the dressers (yes, even in the kids’, but ask before you innocently go digging through them to avoid an angry confrontation and accusations of invasion of privacy) - again, look for boxes, stacks of papers, and envelopes.  Find some old envelopes with negatives and no photos?  Put ‘em in the box.
Offices – check out the desks, filing cabinets, closets, drawers, cubbyholes, and any place that you or someone else might have stashed something in a desperate effort to clean up before Mom or the company arrived.  And see above before you start in on the kids’ desks, and maybe your spouse’s office, depending on your family’s version of “privacy”!  This might take a while longer since offices have so many places to stash things.  But don’t overlook any place that could hold a photograph.
Attic and Basement – it goes without saying that these are great places to find photos.   Time-consuming, but well worth it.  Even if the box is labeled “Nate’s Legos” or “Kids’ Books” pop it open and take a peek.  Photos are so small and easily slipped into a box as a quick storage place, and a nothing works so well for a bookmark as a photo. 
If you haven’t done so already, when you tackle these two places you might want to consider getting your kids to help out.  If you can’t interest them in the hunt on its own merits consider bribery.  You know what works for your kids.  But then attempt to hook them on the whole process by telling them stories about the photos you find.  Especially embarrassing ones about you – a teen’s favorite kind of story!
        Then look at other places in your home:  dry sinks, tea carts, buffets, china hutches, bed-side tables, end tables with drawers, ditto for coffee tables, that junk drawer in your kitchen, magazine racks, and book cases.  Don’t forget photo albums, scrapbooks, or the pictures on your wall!  (you don’t have to take those apart, or take the pictures off the wall, just make a note to remind yourself that those things exist)  Depending on where you open your mail, and how often you clean your car, you might want to check there and the garage, too.
        Once you have completely and thoroughly checked the whole house, put all the photos in those boxes, close the lids to keep out the dust, and then put the boxes somewhere that you can easily get to.  You are going to work on them again next week.
        There, all done for the week.  I bet you found a lot of photos:  some you had forgotten about, some that made you laugh; some that brought up sweet memories.  And, no doubt, some that you have no clue where you got them, who they are, or why you have them.
        No worries, we’ll talk about them all next week.
        Congratulate yourself on a job well-done. 
        Now go wash the cobwebs out of your hair.

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