Archiving Your Information


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You need to learn about how to digitize and archive your precious photographs and documents to preserve them for posterity and share them with other family members.

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New technology can assist you and make it easier. This article provides tips and tools to help you get organized and archive your family treasures.

Archiving Your Family Photos,
Documents and Heirlooms

[small photo of ancestor from p.103 of 2nd edition]
You may want to digitize or scan your photographs and documents to preserve them for posterity and be able to readily share them with other family members. This converts them to a more permanent and usable format in today’s world. You can then add your valuable photos to your family history software program, a family Web page, family blog, or family online photo album you’ve created, or just e-mail the pictures to others.

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You should plan now to protect your photographs and documents; don't wait until a disaster happens to them.
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Using today’s technology you can readily archive all of your heirloom photos, slides, negatives, home movies, letters, journals, maps, newspaper articles, etc. But you need to have a computer, a scanner, and graphics software.

If you want to archive your family photographs, a good scanner and a graphics software program will allow you to scan your photos and save them on your hard drive or a disk. The scanner doesn’t have to be expensive. Most scanners today will scan at a minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher. The higher the dpi, the higher the resolution of your image, and also the more disk space it takes to store them on your computer.

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Graphic File Formats

Whether you're downloading a picture from the Internet or scanning in a family photograph, the graphic file format you use will determine how good or poor the final result is. In today's computer world there are many different graphic file formats to choose from. Each format has its own unique advantages, disadvantages, and quirks. Here’s a brief summary of the different key formats:

BMP - This is the native Microsoft Windows file format which means it will work with all Microsoft programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, etc.), but not necessarily other non-Microsoft applications. It’s effective for graphics, but not as effective for photographs.

JPG - or JPEG (pronounced “jay-peg”) stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group and is good for emailing photographs to friends, and for web page or blog use, because it’s one of the smallest. But JPG uses compression on every save which means that some quality is lost each time the file is saved, and it cannot be recovered. This is similar to copying a cassette tape to another cassette tape. The quality is degraded with each copy.

GIF - Graphics Interchange Format have historically been the best for use with line art. This includes clip art, logos, and drawings, but is limited to only 256 colors, which makes it poorly suited for photographic purposes. GIF also allows a transparent background which is important for creating logos and icons.

PNG - Portable Network Graphics is a bitmapped image format that employs lossless data compression. It was created to improve upon and replace GIF as an image-file format not requiring a patent license.

TIF - Tagged Image File Format is widely used for master copies of scanned data. As images are scanned in they are saved in tif format, then manipulated and saved in other formats, but are very large which means it takes up more space on your computer.

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You should consider saving your images in TIF format for archiving purposes, and then you may want to re-save them as a JPG file for e-mailing, Web pages, and other uses.
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Your graphics program will allow you to convert an image from a TIF format and save it as a JPG file.

Slides and Negatives

Slides and negatives are a little more complicated, and will require a scanner with a ‘slide adapter’ that allows you to scan slides, and a tool to scan negatives. Most scanners come with graphics software to help you obtain the sharpest images possible. You can review scanners (and other hardware and software) at www.itreviews.co.uk/hardware.

Depending on what you want and the quality of your photos, you may want to crop, add a caption, re-size, or adjust colors and contrast to improve the quality. If you have negatives, you may want to make a print of your photo. To do this, you will need a graphics software program and printer, although your flatbed scanner will allow you to do some editing of your photos. 

There are free and inexpensive programs such as:
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 - Picasa - http://picasa.google.com which is free from Google
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 - TuCows.com - www.tucows.com (currently hosts more than 40,000 software titles)
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- Download.com - www.download.com offers content in four major categories: Software (over 100,000 freeware, shareware, and try-first downloads), Music, Games, and Videos.

But if you want or need to manipulate and edit your photos even more, you may want to purchase better software, such as: 
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- PhotoShop Elements - www.adobe.com  $139.99 Free trial.
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- PhotoImpact X3 - www.corel.com  $49.99

Where Do I Store My Photos and Documents?

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You will need to decide where you want to permanently store your photos and documents.
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At first, you may simply want to save them to your “C” drive in assorted folders you create under My Pictures. Later, you may want to consider storing them also on a CD or DVD as a backup. There are many recordable CD-ROM and DVD drives, which allow you to record (or burn) data onto them.

You can also consider storing all your computer information with a secure online automatic backup company, such as:
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Mozy.com - www.mozy.com (2 GB free, $4.95/month unlimited capacity),
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Carbonite.com - www.carbonite.com ($49.95/year unlimited capacity).

[photo of flash drive]
Transporting Data

Flash Drives (jump drives, thumb drives, USB flash drives, flash memory) have become wildly popular in the last few years and for good reasons. A USB flash drive is a memory data storage device with a USB (universal serial bus) interface to connect directly with your PC computer or laptop. They are removable and rewritable, smaller than a tube of lipstick and easily fit into your pocket or purse. Storage capacities typically range from 64 MB (megabyte) to 64 GB (gigabyte), allow 1 million write or erase cycles, and have 10-year data retention. They are cheap, rugged, very convenient, and are now the standard for transporting your data from one computer to another or temporary storage of information that you are transporting.

Nothing actually moves in a flash drive. It consists of a small printed circuit board protected inside a plastic, metal, or rubberized case, and is robust enough for carrying in your pocket or on a key chain with no additional protection. They provide a lot of capability and allow you to find and retrieve information almost instantly. They are the convenient equivalent of thousands of floppy disks, hundreds of CDs, or even dozens of DVD disks. You can easily store your entire address book (with thousands of names, addresses, and e-mail addresses), calendar, thousands of photos, etc. You can purchase a 32 MB for as little as $3.99, or up to a 64 GB for about $60.

Home Movies

[photo: mother & son]
Your family's home movies add another dimension to your family history archives. You may want to consider having your home movies converted to DVD which is less fragile, more permanent, and easier to watch and share. But you will probably need a professional who has the equipment to convert them. Different types of home movies include: Recent VHS video tapes, and movies on reels of film – 8mm, Super 8, or 16mm. No one makes film movies any longer, and the projector accessories are only available through specialty camera stores. A basic service will convent them into DVD files, but some may offer editing or restoration as well. Call your local camera stores to inquire.

[photo of old 8mm film]
VHS movies are usually priced by the minute to convert them, whereas reels of film are usually priced by the foot. Another option to consider is to refilm an old movie yourself. If you have the proper equipment, play your old home movies, and while they are playing record it with your digital video recorder. The quality is usually reasonable and you can then burn DVDs with the digital files. A DVD is not a permanent solution either, but it will last much longer than VHS or film.

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Check out this Library of Congress site for advice on the care, handling and storage of your valuable photos, videos, books, CDs, tapes, newspapers, and other historical items.
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Caring for Your Photos - www.loc.gov/preserv/careothr.html

Keeping Up
With Technology

Technology is a wonderful thing. It’s essential to everything around us today, even those things that aren’t considered technological. You deal with technology daily in your home, office, all forms of travel, security systems, air conditioning, computers, networks, software, phone systems, and much, much more. A wise man said:

[photo howard w hunter]
“The role of technology in [genealogy] work has been accelerated by the Lord himself, who has had a guiding hand in its developments and will continue to do so.” (Howard W. Hunter, Fireside, Nov. 13, 1994)

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Technology has enabled us to trace our own family roots and stories today that wouldn’t have been possible a short time ago. And it’s fun and much easier today because of technology.

[photo of old floppy disk]
Keep in mind that computer storage media changes over time. Remember the 5.25" computer diskettes we used just a few years ago, and the magnetic tape reels 20 years ago? Remember when CD drives cost hundreds of dollars and were slow as molasses? When media changes, we can no longer read the data. No doubt the flash drives, CD-ROMs, DVDs, Blu-Ray (the next-generation optical disc format that is considered cutting-edge today), and flash drives we use to digitally store our data today will also become obsolete in the future. We will probably need to transfer our photographs and data to newer storage media in the future to keep pace as technology changes.

It turns out that technological innovations take a while to seep into the collective consciousness and become widely accepted, and that gives us a chance to properly digest them. Don’t get frustrated about not keeping up. We’re all in the same boat, so let’s all paddle together. Relax, don’t get discouraged, and be confident in the pursuit of slow and steady progress in your family history journey.

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Portable Scanners

In computing, a scanner is a device that optically scans images of any kind – printed text, charts, maps, photographs, handwriting, an object, etc. – and converts it to a digital image. A scanner is a good alternative to using a photocopier and can help capture data for your family history research. Scanners come in portable hand-held, feed-in, and flatbed (which produces the highest quality) and. A portable scanner can save the digital images of up to 50 letter-size documents at once.

The scanned result is a non-compressed digital image, which can be can either be downloaded to a printer, transferred to a computer's memory (hard disk) for further processing and storage, or attached to an e-mail message. Pictures are normally stored in image formats such as uncompressed Bitmap, losslessly compressed TIFF and PNG (allows the exact original data to be reconstructed from the compressed data), and lossily compressed JPEG (allows an approximation of the original data to be reconstructed, in exchange for better compression rates). Documents are best stored in TIFF or PDF format; JPEG is good for pictures, but particularly unsuitable for text. PDF (Portable Document Format) files have become a generally accepted standard for electronic document distribution and they can be viewed by anyone with free Adobe® Acrobat Reader software (go to www.adobe.com).

Digital Cameras

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Due to increasing resolution and new features (such as anti-shake), digital cameras have become an attractive alternative to scanners. You can copy more information quicker than scanning or by hand, and easily manage a large number of files (rather than a large amount of paper). It’s fast, portable, and you can digitize thick books without damaging the book spine. Some disadvantages may include distortion, reflections, shadows, and low contrast. Here are some tips for using your digital camera.

Move in and focus. It is important to use a macro (close-up) setting so that the page or paragraph-sized information will fill the page. You don't need to record the page margins; you want an image of the information on the page. Lay the book on the desk and stand above it, getting your camera shooting as perpendicular to the book as possible. Don't forget to physically turn the camera to a vertical view as most pages are taller than they are wide and you can get closer that way.

Always copy the title page and the publication information. Make sure that the page number can be read, even if that means you must take a separate shot of just the page number. Check your image. Always immediately review your shots. Sometimes you might find that the camera didn't focus properly or that you copied only part of the information you wanted. You can erase and immediately shoot a better image. Try to hold the camera steady, squeezing the shutter button, trying not to jerk the camera.

You may want to consider some photo editing software. Many photos will need to be taken at an angle to avoid reflections or with different camera rotations to match the subject. Pretty much any software can handle the rotation, but other software can remove the distortions caused by strange camera angles as well as apply many types of correction to bring out hard to read images. Check out side-by-side comparisons review at http://photo-editing-software-review.toptenreviews.com.

Once captured as digital images by your scanner or camera, printed documents such as wills, biographies, and obituaries can be converted from image files into text files by downloading the images to your PC. You can then copy it into your family history software program to add to your family web site, blog, or other information.

[photo of old phonograph]
Of course, with a digital camera you can also take pictures of memorabilia and heirlooms, i.e. Grandpa's old rocking chair, grandma’s treasured family photos from the wall or that special piece of china that she always used for Sunday dinners, the family Bible inscriptions that are in your Aunt’s safekeeping especially if she won't let those treasured family keepsakes out of her sight. Then get the story of the memorabilia or heirloom from those that remember.

Handheld Computers

[photo: palm pda]
A handheld computer or PDA (personal digital assistant) is a small computer that can fit in your shirt pocket or purse, and is a very useful device today. It was originally used to maintain and manage personal information like To Do Lists, calendars, and contacts. However, like everything else, the computing power has increased dramatically and now PDAs can be used like portable PCs to run word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and you can also browse the web if it has wireless capabilities. Smartphones, such as Apple iPhone and Blackberry phones, are popular devices because they combine the functionality of PDAs and phones to handle phone calls, e-mail and mobile-office functions.

This means that now with genealogy software programs for handheld computers you can conveniently take your family history with you when you travel. You no longer have to carry a bunch of three-ring binders or even a laptop PC with you to the library or Family History Center. A large, complete family history database can be carried in your pocket or a purse, and can save you time and increase your efficiency.

Sometime in the future, even census enumerators will use handheld computers to collect data. The handhelds will replace the millions of costly paper forms and maps that enumerators must carry when going door to door to visit people who did not mail in their census forms.

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Handheld Software

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Pocket Genealogist - www.northernhillssoftware.com $$$
Genealogy software for Windows mobile-based devices, including the PocketPC, Smartphones, and Handheld PC. Supports most data types including events, facts, notes, sources, repositories, addresses, to do lists, latitude/longitude, DNA, multimedia (images) and LDS ordinances. Basic version $20, Advanced $35.

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My Roots - www.tapperware.com/MyRoots $$$
A full-featured shareware genealogy program for Palm OS handhelds, can display ancestor and descendant trees for any person. It also offers searching, sorting, filtering, and many other features. It lets you take your genealogy data with you wherever you go. Since handheld computers can fit in your shirt pocket or purse, they are much more convenient than a laptop or a 3-ring binder. With My Roots, you can stay organized and work more efficiently whether you're at a courthouse, library, or family reunion. A free conversion utility, for PC or Mac, lets you import data from or export data to standard GED files. Free trial version available. $24.95

[photo PAF]
PAF (Personal Ancestral File) - www.familysearch.org  Free
Works only on Palm OS handhelds and only allows you to view the data on your Palm, not enter new data.

 

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