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Digitize Before It Dies
Procrastination is rarely our friend. As the hilarious Judy Tenuta famously said, “My mother always told me I wouldn’t amount to anything because I procrastinate. I said, ‘Just wait.’” Well, Mom probably wasn’t talking about digitizing the old family films, but if she knew how fast they would deteriorate, maybe she would have.

Digitization has been an option for only about 20 years. In fact, it was only about 10 years ago that you could finally transfer any form of media into a high quality digital copy. However, the concept of copying an item to a new form of media to breathe new life into an old memory has been around since the dawn of industrialization. Even back then, the ravages of time and the danger of flood or fire was pretty obvious and kicked people into action.

Still, modern digitization is a solution at a whole different level. Going digital is not just a reliable copy. Digital copies are simple to share, easy to manage and are a low or no cost solution to the age old problem of preserving our legacy and history for future generations. In fact, if you want your kids to have a copy of your old photo, movies and documents, a digital copy is the only way that will preserve them through their lifetime.

Here is a brief outline of how most people go from boxes of old family memories to a clean and organized digital copy, properly preserved for future generations.

  1. Identify each collection you have
  2. Sort your old old media
  3. Roughly organize each category
  4. Create a high quality digital copy
  5. Make backup files on archival media
  6. Integrate the scanned items with your new digital photos
  7. Make copies for the kids, relatives and the people you love

Let’s get into a little more detail of each of these steps:

Identify each collection you have
This is important. If you have your parent’s photo collection or a great aunt’s collection, keep them separate. Avoid physically integrating them with your family’s collection. The reason is that they will usually be a different era, so they will sort themselves chronologically quite nicely. Most importantly, you will eventually be sharing them with people who might not have any interest in your kid’s soccer videos. Don’t worry. Once digital, combining everything is easy. Just don’t do it early!

Sort your old old media by category
A category is a type of media. You want to group the physical items into the relevant types. Top contenders are; photos, slides, videos, film (8mm and 16mm), negatives, audio, documents and other. I will usually use a plastic bin for each type of media. This makes sorting go quickly. Each of the different types of media gets inventoried and digitized in a unique way on different equipment, so separation is a must. You will quickly note how doing this actually creates a pretty easy-to-follow chronology at the same time. Still, do not mix Mom’s videotapes with your videotapes. Keeping them separate is key to a well-organized digital collection later.

Roughly organize each category
Now that you have each type of media in its own bin, you can sort each bin into rough date order, based upon what you know from a quick look. Videos and film are either titled or not. If they are titled, there is often a date or some other identifying information (Joan’s Third Birthday) that will tell you the approximate year. Slide carousels and trays are often dated and many slides have dates imprinted on the slide mount. Photo albums usually cover a specific date range or event. My experience is that even the most random collection can be put into rough date order in 3-6 hours. Here is a piece of advice: Don’t insist upon perfection. You will likely go crazy trying and you will never get it right. Be happy just getting things into the right decade. You can fine tune the organization later, once everything is digital.

Create a high quality digital copy
If you are very techy and you have a lot of time on your hands, you can do some or all of the digitizing yourself. Just keep in mind that most high quality digital copies require a reasonably powerful computer and scanning equipment with a cost of $300 to $10,000 for each type of media. Most “do it yourselfers” usually send out much or all of their work, preserving their time and skills for organizing, sharing, narrating and restoring the digital copies. If you do choose a digital lab to do the scanning work for you, make sure the photos are scanned at a minimum of 600DPI and your film is scanned at 1080p or better. You want to reach a minimum quality level or you might find it has to be redone. Even now, after 9 years in business, almost 10% of our work is re-scanning items that had been done previously but simply do not match the demands of these new big screen high-def televisions.

Make backup files on archival media
Once the scanning work is done, we highly recommend that you make archival DVDs of every digital file. This is very inexpensive insurance to protect a significant investment in time and money. These high-quality, 75 year life DVDs can be bought for under $1 each and can protect up to 4000 photos on each disc. Then, take that set of discs and put it in a safety deposit box or other off-site location. You will probably never need it, but the horror stories are plenty and this is just too easy to do properly.

Integrate the scanned items with your new digital photos
Google Photos and Apple Photos dominate the photo organizing world with over 1 Billion users on each platform. Sure, Amazon, Dropbox and other players have respectable products, but only Google and Apple fully integrate with your smartphone and the new photos you are taking every day. Whatever program you choose, or even if you just use Windows Explorer, integrating and dating your old photos can be done in a series of 2-3 hour sessions after you learn a few techniques. By the way, we offer in-home and remote access photo organizing services to get you a clear head start on your digital organization. Do it right, and you will have your entire family photo collection, even going back into the 1800’s, in date order and accessible on your phone!

Make copies for the kids, relatives and the people you love
Once all of the photos and movies are together in one place and the basic organization work is done, you can make copies of your entire photo collection, old and new. Share with your kids and surprise them for the holidays or a special event. Make cool slideshows or have us help you make an exciting family history book. The options are endless and you can finally have fun with your photos again!

If we can help you in any way; advice, direction, storytelling, scanning, restoration, please call upon one of our talented team members. We are all here to help you protect, preserve and share your family history and legacy in a way that warms hearts and gives lessons and guidance to future generations.

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