Digitally Preserving Family Documents

Knowing your family history is the first step towards preserving it. Having a shoebox tucked up in the closet that’s filled with aging photographs and crumbling papers isn’t the best way keep your documents safe.

The most efficient way of preserving your documents is to scan them into your computer so you have digital copies of your family records. Different types of documents to scan include:

Family Portraits
Photos give you a visual sense of family, and help bring someone to life. When you have multiple people in a family photo you can start to see the interpersonal relationships different family members had with each other. Photos also help establish time lines, geographic location, and offer socioeconomic clues about family during the time of the photograph.

Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates
Valuable information is stated in birth, death and marriage certificates. All of these help establish time lines, nationality, physical location, and family relationships.

Newspaper Clippings and Handwritten Letters
Letters and newspaper clippings have a lot of personal “slice of life” type of information. They help to flush out details of the time period, as well as establish interpersonal relationships.

Military and Professional or Educational Documents
College degrees, professional certificates and military documents are all valuable for rounding out a person’s life. From these documents you can find information on international travel, what kind of education they had, and what honors they were awarded during their career.

Once you have all your materials gathered, scanned, and touched up if needed, you can use family tree software to organize them, or you can do it yourself by putting documents in specific folders or by creating a slide show from iPhoto for Mac or Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Sharing with your family is not much simpler once you have digital copies. You can burn your work to a CD or DVD, or save your files together in a PDF and email them out. You won’t have to worry about photos being lost or ripped up any more.

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