Quick and easy digital genealogy.
May 9, 2010 8:39 AM   Subscribe

How should I organize my family heritage digitally? Quick and easy methods needed.

My family has inherited most of my ancestor's "important" family items, such as photos, diaries, birth certificates, old papers, mementos. This has mostly happened because we have the biggest house and when an ancestor dies the boxes end up in our basement. Frankly, a lot of it is an organizational disaster. Suitcases filled with unlabelled photos, bread bags filled with old letters and cards. I have been buying good-quality archival boxes from demco as a starting point to at least get the stuff stored in a way that doesn't damage it. (These are the boxes university archivists buy ... a librarian friend clued me in. They are great.) But I am a working professional without a lot of time to dedicate to the project. Now we have a 17 year old cousin that will be hired by our family to digitize and organize whatever he can. So the question is how should he do it?

We want to burn DVDs of whatever we can and give copies to relatives at Christmas, preferably in a format that looks nice. But we are also aware that this is a process, and that it will never be 100% done and perfect. We obviously don't have a team of archivists that can work for years on this project, so we have to do the job the "best that we can" rather than the "best possible way."

Do you recommend any specific software for making a kind of "portfolio" of family heritage in an easy way? Maybe something that will output our heritage in a digital format that will not die when the software is nonfunctional with the next operating system? (I am thinking HTML might be good. Or something simple like labelled folders.) What steps give the best results with the least effort? What digital formats should we use? Are there companies that can digitize family history documents like diaries for us if we pay them? Any suggestions would be most appreciated.
posted by mortaddams to Society & Culture (3 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't gotten very far along in my own project but I'm using a wiki. I used JAMWiki. My plan was to save it all as "flat" HTML when I'm done by using something like HTTrack, for burning to DVD et cetera.

Most of my content thus far has been text though - I've just made a page with biographical details and a couple of images for each member of the family; I haven't gotten into scanning lots of photos yet. My vague thoughts have been to use Coppermine Photo Gallery for that, which is reputedly the best free / open source web photo gallery software.

There's also the Linux Genealogy Live CD, which lets you play around with some of the more sophisticated open source genealogy software that's available. (Even if you've got Windows.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:18 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sort of the family archivist.

I've been taking apart all of the old picture albums and digitizing them, as well as moving the pictures to a better storage medium as I scan them, i.e. archival photo albums. As I take them apart, each photo is attached to a piece of acid free paper (usually a couple/few to a page) using picture corners, no adhesives or anything, and then put in a plastic sleeve. The pages then go in a photo album (by Recollections, I think) that stores the pictures flat. For images that have two sides, I've got clear plastic pages that I'm trimming down to the same size as the paper and those then get sleeved and put in an album. When each album is completed, I'm putting a piece of heavy paper between the pages to keep the picture corners from biting into the pictures stacked above or below them.

I have an HP scanner that's pretty fast and I've been using Vuescan) as a good application with the kind of control over the process I want (and the ability to use either my PC or my Mac). Vuescan has very, very good color control. Vuescan also has excellent color negative scanning capability and can store scans in RAW format, which leaves the uncorrected image data intact.

The digital photos are currently stored in an uncompressed color TIFF format at 300 DPI. I'm using vuescan's built in tagging at the moment but I'm looking at a different solution for tagging and storing metadata locally, specifically using the EXIF data. The key is that I want the metadata to persist with the images.

I am tagging each image with its source album, the subjects names if I know them, a placename if I know it, and a date range based on the subjects. The files are organized into family folders named by the household surnames - i.e. my maternal grandparents folder is named Donley-Gaffney where Donley is my grandfather's surname and Gaffney is my grandmother's maiden name. Pictures of women before marriage are kept in their father/mother folder until marriage.

For genealogy software (which I am using to relate the images to their subjects and because this all started with genealogy) I'm currently using "The next generation" or TNG genealogy software, which is a mySQL/PHP based tool that works well with gedcom software and is easily customized.

Vuescan can create multiple outputs at the same time you scan, so it creates a JPG file to use for images in TNG/on the website.

I also have a number of objects that I want to digitize and at the moment I'm planning to take digital pictures of them and store them in archival boxes by family. I haven't reached that stage yet.

I plan to do some minor integration between Coppermine and TNG to manage web galleries when I've completed the digitizing process.
posted by disclaimer at 11:51 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


"...I have an HP scanner that's pretty fast and I've been using Vuescan) as a good application"

Should read "I have an HP scanner that's pretty fast. I've been using Vuescan..."
posted by disclaimer at 11:52 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

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