Building a Home Archive

I am lucky enough to be trusted with a few collections of old family photos and documents, partially because I have shamelessly asked for them. It is my dream to have the family history I collect safely stored and digitized so that all my family members can have copies and that that they can be passed down in the future.

For a short period of time, I worked in the archives at UWSP. It was a learning experience I will cherish forever. It also sparked my passion for seeking out and preserving family photos and documents. While I was there, I examined and wrote descriptions for our county historical society’s small collections. It gave me a chance to see how archives are organized and documents stored. A lot goes into preserving the old photos and bits of history that we sometimes take for granted. Images and newspapers aren’t really made to last!

After leaving, I have been continuously working to better my own home archiving process and knowledge. Like all things, it’s a work in progress.  My dream would be to have an entire small room dedicated to a library and archives, but you know… a 1000 sq ft house doesn’t really have a lot of extra space. The spare room is my best choice. Fortunately,  one of its closets is a pretty good location. It’s free of light, stays even in humidity and temp. But, I do have to use it to store my sewing machine and all of my extra tack (a ton of spare bits and bridles).  I’ve been working on it for awhile to get it set up for a home archive.

I picked up a lot of knowledge from the university archives but I’ve also spent a lot time searching the internet and found some great resources for home/family archivists. My favorite blog is The Family Curator. Lisa’s advice on creating archives, storing photos, and million other things related to family history makes her blog my go to choice when I need advice or ideas for my own archival process.

I also rely heavily on articles published through museums small and large (like the National Archives), conservators, and archival companies like Gaylord Archival. I follow a variety of groups on Facebook too, and try to save articles that will help me. Every collection is a bit different, so do some searching around to find a method that works for yours.

Here is what my current archive situation looks like:

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As you can see, it needs some work. The bankers boxes aren’t archival, but they are clean and simple (I also got them on clearance). Most are pretty organized, but now I hope to go through and properly label everything. Currently, I have collections from my grandma, a great aunt, my mother, and a small mix from my Dad. I need to add a shelf and get a few more small boxes. These metal shelves came from Target. There are also some hooks that need to be added so I can hang my extra bridles a little easier.

I know it’s a weird mix of stuff to have in a closet, but I keep my leather nice and clean. The cool, dark, and dry closet keeps any mildew that the bridles are prone to from getting going.

Family History Gallery: Triumph and Defeat

Many moons ago, I promised my next post would show the results of my family history gallery. I had to give up that dream and post a few things before. That family history gallery has been a beast.

The two major problems for me:

  1. deciding where to hang things
  2. execution

I’ve played with layouts, all sorts of great ideas of artifacts to include, and looked through dozens of photos. It has been overwhelming. Sometimes, you just need to put a nail in the wall and go with it.  I’ve ran into other problems too.

Some of my chosen photos from digital sources caused a huge set back. When I tried to get prints made, I received alerts that the resolution was too low for the sizes (even though most were no bigger than 4×6). So, I had to rethink some of those photos and decide how and when I would tackle the task of bringing out the archives and scanning them.

The task of bringing out the archives has been a hassle forever. My large closet in the spare room is host to not only my family archives, but my sewing stuff, signs, and all of my extra horse tack. With no proper shelving, every time I need something, I have to take out half the closet.  Not to mention, when we do have a guest, extra things get stacked in there too.

That problem is in the process of being solved.  You can read about my home archives makeover, here (I’ll link it when I’ve finished my post!)

So far, I’ve hung most of the frames, but need to fill in a few small gaps. Next I will be choosing the images, maps, etc. that I want to highlight in my gallery right now. Next, I will be able to figure out what images I can put into what frames and have them printed. Here is the current status:

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I have frames up, next will be filling in gaps, and picking out the photos I want to use!

I wonder how long this next step will take me? At least I’m making progress…

Creating a Family History Gallery

Now, that the spare room is relatively complete, it’s time to start my family history gallery. It’s harder than I thought. Deciding what to include has been the most overwhelming part. Fortunately, I have access to many family photos through digital copies shared by other family members and many originals in my own collection. I recognize that some may not have this luxury. But a family history gallery doesn’t have to be just family trees and ancestor photos. It can be so much more!

Here is a list of ideas that I am using as inspiration for what to put on my wall:

  • genealogy fan chart
  • ancestor Photos
  • photos or paintings of ancestral homes or lands
  • maps (there are so many amazing historic maps available online)
  • documents like marriage certificates, land patents, ship manifests…anything visually interesting
  • artifacts, like medals, jewelry, gloves, small items owned by the family
  • items that represent heritage (in my case things like Danish hearts, Swedish Dala horses etc.)
  • pressed flowers from heritage sites (this one is particularly exciting to me)
  • painted or printed sayings meaningful to the family
  • framed family recipes

I have been slowly gathering each item I want to put on my gallery wall. Before going on the wall, everything will be laid out on floor or bed to get an idea of how I want to look on the wall. One thing I have to decide is if there will be a few ‘extra’ pieces beyond family history items. I have a handful of garden/natural curiosity items I may add as well. I guess It will come down to space and what looks good!

Selecting what photos I want to use has been the hardest part, but I’ve started a folder on my desktop. Getting photos printed off these days is pretty inexpensive, so even if I don’t use them in my gallery, I won’t have spent a lot. I think it’s important to remember, that gallery images can change too! You don’t have to find an image and have it on the wall forever. I plan on using standard sized frames for photos I don’t plan to keep up long-term.

Above is the room, future gallery wall, and the beginning layout of the gallery. I will need to get some more frames, and get the pictures printed. I will be sure to post the gallery when it’s finished (someday)!

There are some really important things to remember when displaying and storing family photos, artifacts, and heirlooms. Working in the archives really showed me the importance of taking care of precious items. I may write a whole post on it, sharing some of my favorite resources.

Two of the best pieces of advice, if you can’t use a duplicate as a display:

  1. Keep items/photos/documents out direct sunlight and fluctuating temps
  2. Use archival or museum quality framing materials

I didn’t expect this to take me so long to put together becuase I have a lot of things too add, but it is really hard to choose what to include! It is a fun process though, I have gotten to revisit parts of the family tree I have’t looked at in a long time.

 

 

Grandma’s Scraps: The Task of Digitizing Hundreds of Family Photos

It has been a while since I’ve posted. Frankly, I just haven’t felt like sharing. During my trip to Omaha my sister reminded me the family has been waiting to see more of my grandmother’s scrapbooks. I’ve had them for a number of years and they’ve become a long-term project.

When I returned home, I brought out the big tote and began to carefully unpack it. The albums and photos are fragile, uncooperative, and there are tons of them. They aren’t the kind of thing you leave sitting out either. After sessions of sorting they always need careful repacking.

The collection came to me while both my grandparents (Ed and Virginia Petersen) were still alive. There had been a massive leak in a basement storage room and in the haste to get things out the scrapbooks, and bundles of photos wound up in a trash bag, in a separate, basement room. While home for a visit (I think it was Christmas), I found them and loved every moment of discovering my family history. I had never seen photos of my great-grandparents, my young grandparents, or even photos of my mom and her siblings as wee ones. They were glorious. When I asked Grandma about them, she said she planned to throw them all out! Some had water damage, but most were OK. I did not hesitate to ask if I could keep them. She said yes.

Little did I know… It has taken me many, many hours to sort the pages, trying to put them back in order, returning escaped photos to their homes, and separating the three albums.

It was during this last session of sorting, that I finally felt I was ready to start digitizing.

Friday, August 3rd, I received news that my Uncle Steve had unexpectedly passed away. It was a shock. He was the middle child of Grandma and Grandpa Petersen. My mother is the oldest and my Aunt Kate the youngest. It was shocking to say the least. Though I had not been close to my uncle since I was much younger, my sisters were both close to him.  I assumed I would soon be sharing all the old photos with him and the rest of the Petersens.

Digitizing the photos took on a new importance. The time frame covered in those photos includes my uncle’s childhood. I did not expect to be sharing those in a time of mourning. I am glad I could.

The digitization of the photos has begun. It is a daunting task trying to figure out how to get a good image. I no longer have a scanner, which wouldn’t have helped anyway as it was so slow and too small for the pages.

My current method involves using my Nikon Coolmax camera, a bench, and the bright, soft light of an east-facing window. Because I’m using natural light, there is only few hours a day the light is bright enough without being glaring.

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I take a photo of each page. I want to share the sense of flipping through the scrapbook without having to have the pages flipped through all the time. It would also take me way too long to each picture individually.

DSCN2871Next, I upload the pages to Amazon Prime Photo. I looked through numerous options for photo-sharing. I didn’t want to pay monthly fees and needed a lot of space. I am already an Amazon Prime member, so Prime Photo seemed like a good place to start. You can add contributors to the “family vault” making it a place to share a lot of family photos, The amount of photos you can add is unlimited. There are also editing, sharing, and print ordering options. It is not without its short-comings. Prime photos is a bit awkward when it comes to uploading in order and there are only two options for reordering your photos. My camera’s settings are messed up for date/time, which I didn’t think would be an issue. It has been. All of the pain-staking time I have spent to put the pages in order is lost in translation between uploading and creating Prime albums.

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There are definitely faults to this method, but it is a start. Most of the images have turned out clear without glare. Someday, they may need to be redone and put online again (hopefully in proper order). For now, they are sharable and family members will be able to ask point out specific photos they want higher resolutions of. I can then get a close up of that photo and send it to them for printing.

Photos are such a great way to learn about family history, and stay connected to loved ones no longer here. Make sure to take good care of those old photos. They are finicky and fragile. In a post somewhere down the line…I will share some articles that have helped my strategy for preservation and some of my own tips.