Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

Photo & Media Archiving – Where Do You Start?

Flickr photo: timothynice

It’s been a little over a month since my last blog post where I shared how I was heading out to Los Angeles to help my parents in their transition to an assisted living facility. I’m happy to report that they are settled in and making the adjustment to their new lifestyle. They have their moments of “how did we get here?” but for the most part, they appreciate the regular and delicious meals, the nurse who makes sure they each take their medication on time each day, the plethora of activities available and the ease of transportation provided to them. Their apartment is small but works well for this stage of their life. Getting all their stuff into this apartment? Not so easy.

I have spent the past 5 or so years doing quite a bit of family archiving. I have scanned close to 5000 photographs and created a digital archive of family photos. I have transferred hours of old 8mm movies and organized them onto DVDs that separated time periods and events into different chapters with text information about the date, location and people in each scene that was shot. (See my blog article about converting 8mm film and why I prefer to create a context when going through the process of transferring old film to digital or DVD.) I had also spent a lot of time helping my dad create digital archives for his professional photographs while organizing them for his website, I ‘thought’ that I had a handle on much of the memorabilia. Boy was I wrong!

As we began the physical process of the move, I had a moving company, Gregory Williams of Moving By Design (whom I can’t rave enough about) coordinate with me. Gregory is one of a select group of movers that specializes in moving senior citizens. Check out this website of the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Moving is hard enough at any age, but when you are moving two seniors, there is a lot more involved, and these specially trained and empathetic move managers are worth every penny for the comprehensive services they provide!

Gregory helped my parents focus on what they needed in their new place and organize what was going to go over. After all of that was moved, my siblings and I came through afterwards, sorting what was left behind for storage, donation to charity or dumpster. As an example of the kind of stuff we were dealing with; my dad had saved several issues of Life Magazine from significant events over the past 50 years. Unfortunately, instead of putting them into archival sleeves and a specialty storage box, they were stored in a cardboard box and were now yellowed and brittle from acid buildup. They had no archival value so I gave the whole box to a charity and let them figure out what to do with them. I suspect they ended up in a dumpster.

What I was not prepared for was all the boxes that Gregory moved over to their apartment. Gregory and his crew set up the apartment, hanging all their artwork on the walls, putting their clothes away in closets and dresser drawers, and basically making it look comfortable and familiar. What I did after that, was to go through all the remaining boxes to sort and put away into closets and cabinets. What I didn’t realize until this point was that my parents had saved every single report card, letter, newspaper and magazine article, greeting card and other memorabilia from not only each other and all three children, but from other family members. And, none of them were organized in any coherent way. I did get my dad to sit for several sessions and sort through some of this with a giant garbage can in the foreground. He was pretty good about letting go of old theatre Playbills and birthday cards from people he didn’t remember anymore but it was an overwhelming process given that he had just moved and was dealing with the whole existential dilemma of now living in an institutional setting.

So I went off on a shopping expedition to Target where I bought several Sterlite polypropylene (PP) containers. Mylar is probably best for long-term storage of a valuable collection but Polypropylene is strong, non-yellowing and less expensive than mylar. I began to sort through the media creating piles for photographs, communications such as letters and cards, slides, PR for magazine and newspaper clipping, press photos, etc. and then a miscellaneous box. The slides were overwhelming. Finding one big box of slides, I thought I’d just take them home with me and scan them here. But then as I dug into further boxes, the slide pile kept growing and growing, with many loose slides laying at the bottom of envelopes and other boxes. I finally put all those into one larger Sterlite and bought my dad a Pana-Vue slide viewer. My hope is that he will begin to sort through these slides, culling the best ones and throwing away duplicates and garbage shots, and provide me with a finished box one quarter of the size to scan. We’ll see how that goes :).

Because I was dealing with a limited time frame, what I managed to get done was to get all of this sorted, put into the appropriate boxes, label the boxes and put them away in the closet. Now, when I return for visits, we can slowly start going through some of the boxes and further refine their storage and make additional decisions about what we’ll do with these items that will not be affected by the overwhelm and stress of the move.

I am pretty excited about knowing now exactly what exists and assured that it’s out of acid producing cardboard boxes and into something that will be more archival in the short term.

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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