How to support digitising family memories for easy retrieval?
January 19, 2015 12:33 AM   Subscribe

I have come into possession of 15 boxes of family history. These include dozens of journals, letters, pictures and other memorabilia. I have started transcribing the journals, but I realize that just word files is not the best way to capture the content and I'm looking for suggestions (software, cloud service, etc.) for how to best get this content into a usable digital format.

I would like to be able to create memory objects (journal entry, letter, picture, scan) and attach attach associated tags (location, author, recipient, owner, subject, category) to each object.

It's worth noting that many of the papers (there were writers involved) contain simply jotted notes rather than formal journal entries. This is why I want to be able to link things by subject if I cannot figure out the author from the handwriting, for instance.

The idea would be that people could then access them based on what they're looking for-- so you could find a journal entry under "Mary's journals" or under "the hurricane of 1933" or "dead chickens" as the case may be. It should be published online in some way-- probably in a protected way, so it can be accessed by far-flung family members.

I've been considering using a blogging platform of some kind, but they seem very chronologically oriented, and that isn't really a sensible way to arrange this material. Or am I being too limited in how I'm thinking about it? I'm a person, not a business, so although I'm willing to pay for a service or software I don't have a corporate budget.

Any ideas or experience with a similar project gratefully received.
posted by frumiousb to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Evernote? You can tag, create different notebooks and it has text recognition for scanned documents. You can try for free and upgrade if required.
posted by KateViolet at 3:52 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you looking to put the items you archive into a format that can be read in a hundred years time? Because if you are, you're going to need to go basic: normal popular file formats, and some kind of index that can link all the files together. You'd then use that index to get the data into whatever popular interface of the day is.

Evernote might work well for today, but it's going to be around for less time than the family memories in their current form on paper.

I'd go for i) keep it as paper, ii) also scan it, and file it in directories. Simple but future-proof (and fire-proof, if you back up).
posted by devnull at 4:37 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: is one way you could do this. It's free, and aimed at libraries and small museums etc. who want to share exhibitions on the web. It may be a little complex for what you're looking for but would allow you to upload, tag and write searchable descriptions of your items. You can also export everything as excel spreadsheets so you have a useable offline database.

I would recommend that you read up a little on managing and metadata for digital museum collections before beginning to scan your documents. This will help you choose the most suitable file formats and file naming conventions.
posted by sizeable beetle at 4:43 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think has the ability to tag scanned documents in the manner you described, and by uploading them there you would make them available to other people researching your family tree.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:34 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm keen to follow this thread, because I have also been compiling a family archive.

I also have journals, photos, postcards, letters, etc.

It seems we have at least two issues: saving items for posterity, and having the ability to share items with family.

What I have found is that almost none of my family have an interest in accessing the archives. They just want to know that someone has them, for safekeeping.

I am scanning everything, and transcribing journals and letters.

I have quite a lot in a Dropbox folder, which I can share with family members. I'm just starting to explore tagging in Dropbox. I think that would make items searchable.

Right now, I find that older relatives don't have the tech skills to use Dropbox, and younger relatives aren't yet interested in family history.

But I have 4 generations of relatives who've joined and follow the Facebook family group page I created. That gives them just the right access to just the right amount of info, and the savvy can save the photis for themselves.

I post photos of letters or journal pages with my transcription, on the date of the entry. For example, "on this day in family history..."

And I run "series" - telling, over a number of posts, stories about ancestors who took part in historical events.

The best aspect is that elders will chime in and id people in old photos. Even photos from the late 1800s, because they remember their parents telling them who was in the photo.

I'm always struggling to be more organized and thinking about how to index items and store them for the future. I'll be interested to hear other people's suggestions.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:20 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Coming from someone who digitizes historical documents for money, the very first thing I'd do would to first sort through the collection and determine a set of keywords and names that you'll use consistently.
In that list make it clear that "Uncle Bob" is the same dude as "Robert Jones."

If they are mostly text documents, you can use Adobe or one of the cheaper versions to run OCR on the scanned PDFs. If they are handwritten, you can create a transcription doc that lives with the pdf. You can also enter a ton of information in the pre-existing metadata fields for the PDFs. I'd also make a habit of naming your files consistently with the date and maybe the type of thing as the file name. Like 19420125_letter or 19190506_birthcert.

The Library of Congress has a good bit of information about personal archives. Also check with your local count or city historical society and see if they have any classes or resources to share.
Whatever you do, do it consistently and make some sort of notes about why you did it that way. It'll help the next kind hearted soul who follows up on the task.
posted by teleri025 at 5:39 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

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