Genealogists wear many hats — researcher, writer, preservationist, archivist. We always want more time to track down our elusive ancestors, but if you inherited family photos, documents, or keepsakes, there’s no time like the present to safely preserve your treasures for the next generation.
Here is a list of family history tips to help you save the past and move your genealogy work forward to the future:
- Select Safe Storage
Get those old photos out of flimsy shoeboxes and into acid-free archival storage boxes, also known as Hollinger Boxes. These heavy-weight boxes are designed to resist slight temperature fluctuations and moisture, and protect the contents from dust, pests, and light.
Look for true archival boxes like those sold to the Library of Congress and university archives. Typically manufactured in the United States to rigorous standards, archival storage containers may be made of acid-free “board,” paper, or plastic. Avoid any kind of recycled product because the content and quality is unknown. Purchase plastic enclosures and containers that have passed the Photographic Activity Test (PAT), a lab test measuring photo stability within a plastic enclosure. If you’ve ever encountered faded and damaged photos in an old “magnetic” type photo album, you’ve seen evidence of poor quality plastic and paper storage. Check out recommended safe archival products at TheFamilyCurator.com.
- Digitize Research and Heirlooms
Investigate your options for digitizing family photos, papers, and keepsakes, and then scan or photograph depending on the item. Use your smartphone for quick images, but you’ll have more options for editing and restoration with high-quality archival scans of heirloom photographs or documents.
Use a consistent file naming scheme and organizing system like the four-part filename described in “EASY Digital Filenaming to Organize Genealogy Files.”
- Backup Your Files
Protect your family legacy with multiple digital copies. Don’t throw away the original; think of that old black and white photo as another “backup” copy. Use an easy-to-remember habit such as “Backup 3-2-1,” three copies, two different media, one copy offsite. Three copies could include the original digital file on your computer, and two more copies. Use different storage media such as an external hard drive, cloud service, DVD backup, or another server. Insure the survival of your digital files by keeping one copy offsite, away from your home where natural and man-made disasters could damage or destroy your files. With the low cost of digital storage, cloud services are an excellent choice for offsite file storage.
- Share Your History
Make this year, the year you bring your family history out of the binders and file folders to share the people and their stories with your family and friends. Find new and exciting ways to enjoy old pictures and stories by following genealogy blogs, Facebook groups, Pinterest boards, and Instagram accounts. What’s old is new again, and lifestyle magazines have caught on to “vintage” and “family history” decorating and craft trends. Look beyond a numbered genealogy for ways to share your family history.
- Discover Keepsakes through Cousin Connections
Are you a family historian without many family keepsakes? Before assuming that your ancestors just “didn’t keep things,” reach out to cousin connections to ask about old photographs, family records, or a family Bible. Newfound cousins through DNA testing might hold the answer to your brick-wall problems. Many times, family collections are passed down to the eldest, or youngest, or sometimes a distant relation. With name changes through marriage, it can be difficult to track those wayward heirlooms.
Are you one of the millions of genealogists who sent off a DNA sample, but aren’t quite sure what to do next? New resources and expert guidebooks like Blaine Bettinger’s Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy can help you make sense of this exciting new genealogy tool. Think about DNA as one more genealogical data source to investigate.
Remember the first time you looked at a census report? All those rows and columns may have seemed overwhelming, but with training and practice, the census can yield valuable clues to family lives. Enroll in a course, view webinars, or study a book on the basics of genetic genealogy to build your skills and connect with newfound cousins. Go beyond adding names to your family tree. Reach out to ask about family heirlooms too.