Family History Keepsake Book

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

In an earlier post I described how much I learned from the research I compiled for a family history. The original project was completed in 2008. It was “published” in-house using my desktop photo printer and presented to each of my siblings in a three-ring binder.  Recently, I revisited the project. I included some newly found information, polished up the photo retouch/restoration and published it through Shutterfly.com.  This little video shows the final preview on Shutterfly.com captioned with some of the work involved in creating a Family History Keepsake Book.

Inspirations: Generous People and the New Media

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

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Perhaps it’s a reflection of my life experience, but I never cease to be amazed at the opportunities of the new media.  Just think of how the shopping experience has changed since the explosion of the internet.  Successful retailers add value to their products by engaging, entertaining and educating customers.  One of my favorites is Adorama  (where I buy most of my equipment). Another great find is Creative Live, an interactive, free, live broadcast for creative professionals.  Recently, I was particularly inspired by the multi-talented, award-winning photographer Sue Bryce. Generous and authentic, Sue turned me on to a simple method of sharing some of my work. I had no idea how simple it is to create a QuickTime video of desktop work! Incorporating the one hour photo retouch demo into  iMovie, I was able to compress it into 10 minutes.  Amazing!  You can see the full 10 minute video here:

Preserving Old Photographs

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

What archivists say about the preservation of photographs

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  1. Avoid dampness. It causes photos to stick together and promotes mold growth.
  2. Give them a good home.  Above ground interior closets maintain fairly constant temperatures throughout the year and make a good choice for storage.
  3. Copy them now. Color dyes used in photographs printed before the mid-1980s irreversibly decay with time–and fade dramatically when displayed. When stored in boxes or albums they might last only 20 years.  For older photos that we hope to keep for future generations, the National Archives recommends they be copied now and printed onto the more stable color photograph papers.
  4. The National Archives website provides a lot of information about caring for family archives.  

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Retouching faded or scarred photographs is particularly challenging and time consuming, but worth it for a cherished family heirloom.  Watch a time lapse video of my retouching here.

The good news is that since the mid-1980s and especially since 1990, major photographic manufacturers have developed more stable dyes.  These photo prints are not likely to fade over a lifetime–and if properly stored, will last perhaps 100 years.

Life Lessons: Documenting Family History

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

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The process of restoring old photos is time-consuming and requires an artist’s eye and hand.  But it’s well worth the effort when you’re holding onto the surviving images of a cherished loved ones.  This is my father as he looked when he met my mother.  He was 12 years old.

Isn’t it ironic that the older we get the more interested we are in history?

At least that’s the way it is for me.  No doubt typical in my adolescence, I found the subject a boring mish-mash of names, dates and places, which seemed to prove that people just keep doing the same things over and over.  Greed. Repression. Famine. War.  Escape. Exploration. Followed by more of the same.  Greed. Repression. Famine. War.   Who cares?  Nobody seems to learn anything from it, so why should I?

Little did I know that my youthful nescience was proving philosopher George Santayana’s observation, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I didn’t have any idea who George Santayana was.  I recently learned the sentence following that quote in Santayana’s 1906 volume Reason in Science reads: “In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children…”  That was me, all right!

My father cared about history.  For him, it was a fascinating story of the human family.  He saw the slow progress of humanity as an unfolding of wisdom. And he understood that the key to success in any era is simple:

Be kind.

It’s no wonder, then, that my foray into documenting family history began with our Dad.  Since I did not begin the process of sorting through the photos and papers until after Mom had also passed, I relied on memory, oral tradition and some original documents like military records, their first mortgage and some family photos going back two generations.

Since I have eight siblings, I wanted to prepare something that could be easily duplicated.  Duplicating the photos and scanning the documents was the obvious first step.  The challenge in dealing with old materials is complicated by the lack of care they have received over the years.  Retouching photos is time-consuming and requires an artist’s touch.

While tracing his family roots through census records, reading historical maps, newspapers and even text books, I learned of our family’s escape from repression and the Irish potato famine, exposure to the Tammany Hall Riots and conscription into the American Civil War.  Subsequent generations were laborers and nurses, some ancestors were sent to live in a ‘home for the destitute’, others joined the Navy—as did my father.  His service was brief, but it was active during the early years of the Korean War. My dad was the first of his family to graduate from college.   On his modest salary he fed, clothed and educated nine children.

The project of documenting Dad’s family history was fascinating.  I learned a lot about a man I thought I knew.  And typically, I found there was much more I would never know.  It was the kind of history lesson that only Dad could give.