Six or seven years ago, I got bitten by the family history bug. The symptoms include a burning desire to chart your pedigrees, burning desire to acquire all old family photos and documents, and burning desire to share all this with everyone else in the family.
For me, I’m lucky enough to be in a family where most of the grunt work has already been done. The pedigrees have been charted, the names put in place, the dates verified.
I’ve spent six or seven years working hard at what I consider to be the next step: going digital.
First, I bought a portable scanner and dragged it with my laptop to all my relatives’ houses across two states, asking them to take photos out of albums and frames so that I could copy them. Then I collected stories, whether from journal entries or personal histories or just talking to grandparents. All of that I synthesized into phase one of my personal digital quest: the digital album.
The beauty of the digital album is that anyone in the family can have a copy. You can flip through the pages on the computer or print it out and have your own history book on the coffee table.
As my cousin Melissa said, “Wow. You got the cry gift this year.” The grandparents shed tears when I handed them their albums for Christmas. Phase one = success.
Now I’m embarking on phase two: global accessibility.
I want family members I’ve never met to have access to these photos and stories, too. So I created a family history site, and this weekend I began the tedious project of uploading stories and photos. My great grandmother’s type-written personal history was five pages long, and it took me hours to retype it onto a webpage.
I’ve got hundreds of pages — many of them on legal-size paper — left to retype into digital format. For the album, I only included excerpts, maybe 1% of the written material I’d collected. Now it’s time to go all-out.
Don’t worry: I don’t actually plan on retyping them. Right now I’ve got Office Max scanning them into pdf format for me, and I’ve spent this morning trying to figure out the most feasible plan for converting pdf files to editable text. One option is $199 — to purchase OmniPage 16 software. We’ll see what else I can finagle.
The point is this: Stories are valuable. As I mentioned in my post called Identity Stories a few months ago, reading through all these hundreds of pages of history as I made the albums was an incredible experience for me. I loved finding out about the lives of my great and great-great grandparents. I loved learning what things I have in common with them. And I want other members of my family around the world to have the same chance. When they Google the names of our ancestors, I want them to find a gold mine.
I don’t think names and dates are enough. For me, it’s stories that make people come alive. And a few photos along the way help, too.
Maybe this is a stretch, but today is Martin Luther King Day, and part of that — part of any holiday like this — is remembering history and honoring the lives of those who shaped its course. If you get a chance, think about asking an older person in your family for a story: about meeting their true love, about what life was like, about whatever they want to tell you. It’s just a thought, and I can tell you that it’s made a big difference to me.
Stories really are valuable.