Good family history requires documentation

An entire wall at the Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center Museum near Stevenson, Washington, features family photos of residents of the area. The grand building on the Columbia River is filled with historical information about the residents through time.

Why include family photos along side artifacts of the area’s Native Americans, historical images of Mount St. Helens, interesting tidbits about the Oregon Trail and facts about the historic visit by explorers Lewis and Clark?

Because “regular” people are part of the fabric of history, too.

labeled family photo

I fell in love with this image of the Bevans-Moore family from 1936. Why? I appreciated the symmetry of the composition, I suppose, with the kids and grandkids surrounding the matriarch. But I really loved the smiles. Sometimes historic photos lack personality, but this one has tons. After reading about the sorrows on the Oregon Trail and the calamity of Mount St. Helens’ eruption in 1980 (compelling, sure, but not exactly uplifting), the Bevans and Moores made me smile. It reminded me of why people live in Stevenson, Washington.

What can the “regular” family historian learn from this photo?

Labeling matters.

If it had not been labeled with name, date and location, it probably would not have been added to the interpretive center’s collection.

So if you aspire to add a photograph of your family to the local historical society’s archives, take the time to label your photos with basic information.

How? First of all, if it’s a digital image, print it out. Someone might display your digital image in some high-tech museum, but I wouldn’t count on it. Use a No. 2 pencil or photo-safe pencil on the back (so you don’t indent the photo), or write the details in the margin on the front with a photo-safe pen. Or preserve the photo in a photo sleeve, and write the details on the sleeve.

Now, someday when a museum curator runs across your photo, your family can be a part of documented history, too.

The end of paper

If Facebook is good for anything (and this could be argued either way), it’s good for reminding a blogger of her previous brilliance. Today I was reminded of this piece in my “memories on this day,” penned three years ago, and I thought it might be appropriate here. Enjoy.

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The end of paper is coming, and even the dinosaurs have to admit it.

I was a denier for a long time. My argument was that as long as we have hands and eyes, we’ll have paper. The tactile appeal would overwhelm the power of the computer, I maintained adamantly.

Then came along the iPad. No longer do I have to sit in front of my computer. I can bring my iPad anywhere and read it in any position. Tablets are getting slimmer, and it won’t be long until they’re as light and versatile as, well, as a piece of paper.

For an interview earlier this week, my potential client requested I bring my portfolio.

“Portfolio”? Huh? I haven’t had a portfolio for 20 years. I pulled all the news stories I wrote while working at my college newspaper out of the binder I used to get my first and second jobs and then refilled the binder with printouts of blog posts and e-newsletters I’ve created. I put a paper version of my resume (how positively ancient) in the front.

I used to write in my diary. Now I write blog posts. Memos are now emails. Love notes have been replaced by text messages. Insurance forms are PDFs. Cookbooks have been replaced by Google. Even dollar bills and checks are so yesterday, unceremoniously replaced by plastic.

On NPR’s Science Friday [recently], Verge reporter Ellis Hamburger predicted monthly bank and credit card statements someday will be replaced with something else that is not so much “monthly” or “statement” as it is “instant” and “app.”

It’s weird, frankly, to be a paperphile in this strange new world.

I literally have made my living in paper. I used to work for newspapers. Now I read my newspaper on my iPad. I once worked for a scrapbooking company. Now no one prints out their photos anymore. I write books (and I love my bookshelves of paperbacks). But now I write ebooks, too.

I’m still making my living on paper: Among other feats of wonder, I organize people’s old printed photographs in boxes. But I do this so people can scan those photos to save and share them digitally.

I think writers and editors will be around for the foreseeable future. But I’m not sure. Facebook, for one example, does a pretty good job of culling all the news of interest to me and presenting it on my personalized Newsfeed.

What will I do with all my manila folders? My shelves of photo albums? My backache from lugging books everywhere I go?

What a brave, new world.

It’s free, it’s fun, it’s filtered!

Today I’m thankful for photo filters. A smartphone with a photo filter app makes me look like an amazing photographer.

My latest obsession: Prisma.

This app, available for FREE! (another thing to be thankful for) on both Droid and Apple phones, transforms your photos into works of art using styles of famous artists. Here’s a look.

First, the original image, unfiltered.

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My husband bought me an autumn bouquet of flowers at Costco (because he’s thoughtful and cost conscious like that). Honestly, it’s beautiful in all its naked glory. But check it out when it’s filtered with Prisma:

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Tokyo

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Gothic

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Surf

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Illegal Beauty

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Thota Vaikuntam

The Prisma filter automatically converts your photo to a square and gives you the option to upload directly to Facebook and Instagram. Or you can email the image to yourself in a variety of sizes. If you want to get really clever, you can split the image to see the before and after together — half and half in one image.

I can imagine creating some very cool personal images to use on gifts for the holidays — cups, mousepads, framed images and the like.

I love it so much, I used Prisma’s Mosaic app (my favorite, I must confess) to create a new profile image for me on Facebook:

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Happy Thanksgiving from me to you!

What’s right and what may be wrong with high-speed photo scanning

Is a high-speed scanner right for your photos?

If you have a large collection of photos that you’d like to digitize either to better enjoy them (i.e., by creating photo books) or back them up, high-speed scanning is probably your most affordable option since it requires the least amount of human intervention with the right photos.

Right photos?

There are right photos and wrong photos when it comes to high-speed scanning.

A high-speed scanner draws photos into it with rollers to scan one at a time in quick succession. It’s called bulk scanning, and this is handy when the photos are the same size and thickness.

When the photos are oddly sized, unevenly cropped or of varying thicknesses, bulk scanning gets tricky. Your photos may have to be hand-fed into the scanner and even then they may damaged by the rollers. This could mean disaster if your photos are delicate and precious. In this situation, flat-bed scanners may be a better choice.

If you’re shopping around for a scanner or a scanning service to digitize your photos and your photos are more weird than uniform, ask about how the scanner or service handles them.

I have found the Flip-Pal mobile scanner to be a useful and affordable option. It is a small flat-bed to scan images — one at a time — at 300 dots per inch or 600 dpi in sizes up to 5-by-7 inches. Oddly cropped? Thin? Thick? Two-by-2 right after 5-by-7? No problem. If your photo is bigger than 5-by-7, you can use the included software to knit together scans of parts of the large photo. Handy and safe for your photos.

How to best preserve the headlines about recent historic events

It’s been kind of an historic week around Clickago Storywerks. First, the Cubs won the World Series. I can still hardly believe I can say that. And then Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. That feels similarly strange coming out of my mouth.

To fans of the Cleveland Indians and Hillary Clinton, I offer my condolences. But this post is not about baseball or politics (or Apple pie or Chevrolet for that matter). It’s about preserving memorabilia.

Now — not 10 years from now — is the perfect time to take steps toward preserving those valuable newspaper pages, jerseys, campaign buttons and, yes, photos of these historic campaigns, be they baseball or otherwise.

The Chicago Tribune printed something on the lines of two and half times its normal circulation the day the Cubs won the World Series. The newspaper didn’t do this because people wanted to know the score. They did this because you can’t put a Facebook post in a box to remember history forever. But you can save a front page. For human beings with hands and eyes, the newspaper is a tactile chronicle of defining historic events.

Unfortunately, newspaper is designed to be cheap and recyclable so it’s not long for this world if you don’t take steps to store it properly. Heat and light are enemies of all kinds of paper, news or otherwise. Proper storage means:

  • Cool and dry. Basements, garages and attics are probably not the best choices.
  • Acid-free environment.
  • Dark and free of dust or other contaminants (think: bugs). So whatever it is, it needs a cover.
LegacyBox

Legacy & Memorabilia Box

Need a lead? How about this box? The Memorabilia box, for $55 available from any member of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, is an ideal home for your important artifacts. Measuring 16 inches wide, 13.5 inches long and six inches deep, it’s a beautiful, archival box made of acid free, lignin-free materials to keep odd size, bulky memorabilia and documents safe. Plenty of room for the newspaper, event tickets and your World Series T-shirt (or your Trump hat or Clinton-esque pantsuit).

envelope

accordion envelope

The box comes with two large envelopes also made of archival materials to save newspaper clips or categorize documents and large photos.

Even properly stored, your newspaper will probably last 50 years or less. The acids in the paper will yellow it even with proper storage. So if the news is important enough to keep for your great-grandchildren’s grandchildren, you might want to digitize it or take a picture. But hey, while you’re at it, why not take a picture of you holding the newspaper — and then post it on Facebook. Best of both worlds!

3 places to find raw material for life story and 3 sources of inspiration

When one thinks of one’s entire life and ponders writing a memoir, the sheer volume of experiences might cause writer’s block. Where to begin?

The didactically chronological will begin with birth, but that’s the long way around. Even writing about a few life changing events can provide yourself and others with insight on living this life. I encourage inexperienced writers to begin there, with a few important moments imbued with great emotion rather than a boring date-by-date list.

Here are three sources of raw material for your life stories that will help get you started and three books to inspire you:

  1. Peruse your old diaries. I’m writing a memoir based on the year I turned 15 and learned to kiss. Entries like this one inspired whole scenes in my work-in-progress book: “Scott (of all people) said I have nice fingernails. Freak my mind away! (That’s Amy’s saying.) We were in science doing some stupid mountains. Wow! Now I have a whole list of guys I like.” As an adult, I can admire and/or lament my simplistic langauge while massaging the content for actual emotion.

2. Copy and paste your Facebook posts. My mother recently went to Guatemala for a mission trip. She keep me, my sister and her friends apprised of her progress building a school with posts on Facebook. Every day was a little story with gems like this, “We saw a smoking volcano near our highway today. It was very warm and we hope it is cooler in the place we will work (higher altitude). We waded in the Pacific Ocean today, which was very warm here.” When she returned home, she used her posts inspire photo captions in her scrapbooks.

3. Take advantage of an online prompt provider. There are many, but one I like comes from WordPress (where I host this blog). Every day, I get a one-word prompt in my email In Box. Today’s word is pensive, for example. Imagine all the vignettes pensive might inspire. When was the last time you were pensive? What life changing events made you pensive? When should you have adopted a more pensive attitude before taking a big leap? What are you pensive about right now? These ideas from the Daily Post are meant for blog writers, but they work just as well for budding memorists.

 

And here are three books to inspire writers of all sorts, but especially writers of life story:

  1. Writing Down the BonesWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg was first published in 1986, but I recently picked it up and I’m loving it. She combines the concepts of Zen meditation and writing to get writers past the terror of the blank page. With suggestions like “What autumn was it that the moon entered your life?,” “When was it that you picked blueberries at their quintessential moment?” and “How long did you wait for your first bike?,” you’ll be off and running on stories from your life. The book is written in such as way so you can read it straight through, or simply turn to any chapter for inspiration.
  2. Skills FINAL EBook Cover after Proof NOOKSkills for Personal Historians: 102 Savvy Ideas to Boost Your Expertise by personal historian and blogger Dan Curtis includes chapters on “The 50 Best Life Story Questions” “The 50 Best Questions to Ask Your Mother” and “Powerful Ways to Recall Forgotten Memories.” Written for professional personal historians, this book might also inspire you to write other people’s life stories. Like Goldberg’s book, you can read this one straight through or readers can pick and choose where to dive in.

 

3. Eating An ElephantAuthor Patricia Charpentier provides encouraging words and clear examples in Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time to walk you through writing your life story. I took an insightful editing class from Charpentier and enjoyed her style. She even mixes in a little Cajun French and offers insight into South Louisiana culture in her examples in her book.

The right box for storing printed photos is designed for storing photos

 

As a photo organizer, I’ve seen a lot of containers for keeping loose photos. Frames (frames are designed for displaying one photo, not for storing several). Cardboard boxes (cardboard is useful for Amazon and UPS, not most photographers). Plastic containers of every shape, size and design.

The worst container I’ve ever seen was a laundry hamper. Laundry hampers are designed for dirty clothes, not photos. Even if the material of the hamper was photo safe, which is certainly possible, the size alone was damaging the photos because none of them could lie flat. The photos were a jumbled mess inside — folded, curling, bent and torn.

Not good.

Here’s what happens to photos stored in container meant for other things:

curled photos

Curled photos can be fixed, but it isn’t quick or easy. Better to store them flat in the first place. And a cover can go a long way to prevented fading; eliminate light and you eliminate a lot of discoloration.

There are a lot of boxes in the world for storing printed photographs, and a family historian can get overwhelmed if you don’t know what to look for.

flat photo storage

Even if your photos aren’t labeled as those here, they’d be better off lined up in this box than one that’s not made for photographs.

The first thing to look for in a good photo storage box is one actually designed for photos. You can spend a lot or a little, but if you get a box made for photos, you’ve covered the most important elements. To begin with, a properly sized box will help you keep the photos flat. Also, they’ll be easier to get at when you want to enjoy them or scan them or share them (remember that laundry hamper? Think about how hard it was to get to the photos on the bottom — impossible!).

Second thing to consider: Material. When it comes to boxes for storing your photos, look for acid-free material or photo-safe plastic containers. Avoid recycled materials. Choose opaque when possible, rather than clear, because opaque materials keep out light.

Third: Choose a container with a cover. Covers keep out light, air pollution and dust.

And finally, when it comes to storing your photos, where you put the box matters. Avoid moisture and high temperatures, both of which hasten photo aging. So consider the environment and climate in which they will be stored; find a cool, dry place in your home, such as an upstairs closet.

 

LegacyBox

The Legacy Box

My favorite box is the Legacy Box (inside pictured above), available through most reputable photo organizers (including me). It’s big (stores up to 2,300 photos), beautiful, made with acid-free and lignin-free materials, and designed to keep photos flat and easy to label and see.