A few months ago, I lost my mother after a short battle with a nasty illness.
The aftermath has had me clearing out my childhood home – a house that has seen three generations of my family. It has been a very long and emotional process to dig through all of the papers, the items and the photographs. This has filled almost all of my spare time, my evenings and my weekends. As a result, DAB has been placed in the backseat for a while.
One thing that has struck me is, all of the lost opportunities. As I look through the many thousands of photographs that have been found. I discovered several boxes containing packets of photos, most have not been viewed for decades. Some are of my grandmother’s teen years, showing her going on picnics with friends and young love. Some are my mother’s baby photos – precious memories. But so many of them are of people I do not know! And I know that if I had found them sooner and showed them to my mum, she could’ve named every single person in those photos.
But that opportunity has now passed.
As a budding Genealogist, I have been working on the family tree for a long time now. I used to sit with mum and tell her of my latest discovery, my latest addition to the tree or any changes I had made. But so many questions have been left unanswered. New discoveries cannot be verified or discounted by mum’s memories.
A few discoveries were unexpected, and were incredibly unexpected. An entire folder of precious documents, spanning four or five generations. Birth Certificates, Sacrament Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Death Certificates, Wills, Probate Documents and even a few small drafts of family trees. These are all amazing, and will be not only treasured and preserved, but also added into the family tree. But plenty of these documents are for people I do not recognise. I am almost certain that mum could’ve shed some light on many, if not all of these documents.
But that opportunity has now passed.
So many opportunities to discover the answers to all of these questions were missed, and now, can never be answered.
Of course, as an archivist, I have been scanning, restoring and archiving the photographs, cataloguing everything to ensure that everything can be preserved for future generations. The original documents and photographs will of course be preserved and archived, using archival-safe materials and containers.
The importance of documenting and archiving those precious memories has always been important to me, but has only really become apparent in recent months. All of those tasks that we all keep putting off and saying “I’ll get to it later” or even “I have heaps of time, it can wait!” eventually hit a wall. Whilst we may personally have plenty of time, the people that could possibly assist and answer the mysteries, may not have that time.
This can also be the case when digitising photographs.
You may possess a treasure trove of documents, photographs, physical items and any number of other trinkets and treasures. But a single tragic event such as a flood, fire, burglary or rodents can quickly put an end to this collection. A burst pipe in the ceiling could render decades of photographs and memories nothing more than a curled brick of paper in a box at the back of a cupboard. Faulty wiring might start a small (or god forbid, a large) house fire. Anything stored in the attic would be smoke damaged. If it were a big fire, the fire brigade would likely hose the entire house down, rendering your photographs and documents ruined. Do not get me started on rodents and their inherent like for the taste of paper and photographs.
Once these are all digitised, you could rest easy knowing that, even if the original photographs and documents are damaged or lost, the digital copy – whilst not a direct replacement for the real thing – could still be referenced and viewed. It can also settle arguments with siblings or family members regarding who will get the family photo albums.
Of course, there are still many, many parts of this monumental job to do.
• Digitising ~2000+ Slides and sorting them into relevant topics (A few of the slide storage boxes managed to fall open as I lifted them from the shelf, with hundreds of slides falling to the floor, messing up their order forever).
• Digitising ~12 reel-to-reel tapes I have found, unlabelled of course. My mother was a musician when she was younger, and these are possibly the only sample of her playing piano. I never heard her play in my lifetime, so these tapes are irreplaceable.
• Sorting and cataloguing all of the physical photos, slides and documents into suitable archival storage options.
• Using metadata searching, create collections for family members, showing their family members in our home snapshots.
• My favourite – Choosing some of the best images from the entire collection and printing the restored copies to be placed into dry mount albums to be viewed by family members (without worrying about the originals being damaged or exposed to UV light etc).
So you see, this job is humungous. But, it doesn’t have to be. Slowly working through the task and turning a big task in to several smaller tasks makes it far less daunting. I know I cannot possibly get this all done in a few weeks. Or even months. This has already been going for ~18 months, and will not end for at least another year.
I look forward to being able to share these images with close family, and to rest easy, knowing that my family’s precious memories are safe for future generations as well.