06 May 2012

Is It Worth It?

You have boxes. Everywhere. They over run the closets, office space, basements, attics, garages. Admit it: you have a historic photo problem.

So do I. My parents have decided to give me everything they had now, before they were too old to remember who everybody was. As much as I appreciate that, the storage capacity is, well, hitting capacity. We are over run with old photos. It's a treasure, a joy.

It's a pile of stuff I just cannot seem to get a grasp on.

This morning I was discussing with another collaborator the best ways to preserve those photos, to protect them, to separate them from glass and frames they've been in for 100 years or more. He asked the question, "is it worth it?" Is the photo itself worth the effort? Do you have another photo that would be easier to work with that is similar? Is there a way to get the information from the image without risking any damage?

I know with 100% certainty, without even looking, that I have duplicates upon duplicates of images. This thought is along the same lines; do I really need seventeen copies of the same photo?

They have historical value, yes. Are they doing anybody any good sitting in a box in my closet? No.

There are some reasonable management options here, for all of us to get our chaos under control.

  1. Go through all of your collection and gather the duplicates. Send them to like minded relatives around the country or the world, all labeled, of course, with a letter of introduction. It doesn't hurt to have them spread out; in fact, it helps protect them to ensure they will last through the ages (if your collection gets destroyed, they won't all get destroyed.)
  2. Scan, scan, scan. Or, take pictures. Whichever system you prefer, just make sure everything gets into a digital file. Remember though, you have to keep up with technology. CD's don't last forever. The cloud does have failures. Recopy everything to the newest latest and greatest. How many home videos were taken in the 80's and 90's that are sitting around on essentially useless VHS tapes? 
  3. Scale back. I recently found a photo of a section of grass. That was it. It was older, probably from the '30s, but it was some grass and a bit of sky. It looked like an error photo, equivalent to the "pocket dial" of today. Since it had absolutely zero worth to my research or to my family, it got tossed. Yep, I said it. I threw it away. It didn't have any writing on it, had no people or identifiable landmarks in the image. It was worthless. There is no shame in recognizing this waste and dealing with it.
  4. Go through what's left. Label it all, do as a complete job as possible: names, dates, locations. Some of my photos have full paragraphs with what I know about the circumstances surrounding the image. 
Now, stop and take a deep breath. 

Let's step back. You've dealt with the duplicates, gotten rid of the garbage, narrowed down your collection to what is, hopefully, a much more manageable size. Make sure that you have each photo attached to the appropriate person in your genealogy software program. I have been amazed at how many people seem to forget this. They think that they've already done it, or they get so excited about sharing the images they have discovered, or rediscovered, along the way, that they simply overlook this important step. Remember those like minded cousins around the globe? Now is the time to do a copy of your database and send that around, too. My parents have copies going back a decade in their safe deposit box. On the other side of the state. They are not the only ones. Overkill? Maybe. But if I lose everything in a house fire, I will not lose my research or my family history. 

Now you get to start looking for archival quality family albums, storage boxes and other safe storage options. 

It is a lot of work, I'm not going to ever say otherwise. But once you've done it, the rewards will be substantial, and as you gain more in your collection, it will be that much easier to keep up or to continue to identify those nagging duplicates. 

So keep on that pile, but remember to ask yourself: Is it worth it?