Digitising Family History
Many people heading into retirement find themselves keen to declutter. Getting rid of unwanted household items can be as simple as holding a garage sale, or doing a drop off at the local op shop. But those stacks of family albums and boxes of old film, negatives and VHS tapes are another story.
Whether you’re downsizing to a smaller home, moving into a retirement village, or just looking to get rid of some stuff, we’ve got the tips to help you convert your precious memories to digital format. Doing so will not only help you ditch the boxes and dust but will also protect your family history for future generations.
Photocopying is a quick, easy and cost effective option for documents you need to keep on hand but don’t need to be of high quality, like birth or marriage certificates. Most libraries have affordable black and white photocopying facilities and many local printing companies provide colour photocopying services for a small fee.
Scanning your physical photos and slides is by far the best option to keep their quality intact. If you're handy with computers, you can purchase a scanner anywhere in the range of $70 to $500 and do it yourself at home. This Choice Australia article looks at the different options of scanners available, and pros and cons of each depending on your job.
If you aren’t handy with a computer or you have a large number of photos, negatives or slides to digitise; using an image scanning service could be a cost-effective option, and will certainly save you time and effort. Again, many local printing companies provide image scanning services. Costs vary, so do your research.
Take photos on your camera or phone
If you have a bit of time on your hands, and a good quality camera or a newer model phone you can take shots of your physical photographs to store online. The quality won’t be as good as using a scanner, but if you don't want to print the photos again in future, this could provide an alternative. Use a microfiber cloth to gently clean away fingerprints and dust from both the photo and the lens of the camera, then snap away!
You can convert your old VHS tapes to digital video at home. To do so, you will need a VCR with video and audio output and an adapter to connect the VCR to your computer. Adapters can cost anywhere in the range of $20 to $200.
Many companies can convert VHS, Hi8 and Video 8 film to DVD or digital formats for a fee.
Tips for storing your digital files
Before you convert your physical documents and photos to digital files it’s worth thinking about how you want to file them on your computer or online. How do you remember things, what comes to mind first, the year the photo was taken, the particular event? You can then sort your photos before converting them, so they are more or less in the order you will be filing them later.
Once you have your converted files, you'll need to decide where to keep them. If you've done it yourself, the files will already be loaded to your computer, or if someone has done it for you, you might now have the files on USB or CD. Either way, it’s a good idea to back up the files on an external hard drive. This Choice Australia buying guide covers everything you need to know when purchasing a hard drive.
It’s also worth considering uploading your files online in case anything happens to your computer or hard drive. Photo storage sites like Flickr, Google Photos and Photobucket allow you to upload and store your photos on the cloud. Most good photo storage sites also have features to help users quickly edit, organise, search, share and print photos. They also have associated mobile phone apps so you can upload, access and view your photos on the go.
If you do go for online storage, it’s always a good idea to have your files backed up on an external hard drive, just in case.
Sharing your family history
Once your photos are online, it's very easy to share them with friends and family. If you are the custodian of your extended family history, websites like Ancestry.com.au, Find My Past, and My Heritage provide an excellent option for storing your family tree online for close family and distant relatives to find. The Shoebox app from Ancestry.com.au allows you to scan your photos with your phone, add details like names, dates and places, and automatically upload them to your online family tree.