One of the biggest personal projects I’m starting this year is the digitization of many family documents. I’ve selected the following three collections that are a good combination of being easy to digitize and personally meaningful:

WH diaries

My grandmother wrote daily diary entries from 1932 through 2003. The diaries are rich with family history and personal information, but are also a good source of information about daily life in southern California–she also writes about the movies she and her family went to see, and what she thought of them. My grandmother was a librarian, as I am, so I get a special thrill reading about her professional activities (ordering LC cards, taking classes in Taxonomy, etc.).

LLR bound correspondence

One of my paternal great-grandfathers, a ship broker, kept bound copy-books of his business correspondence. Nineteen of these volumes remain in the family, most an average of 300 pages long (a few are 500 pages, and a few considerably shorter). In addition to a wide variety of business correspondence related to ship brokering, he includes several letters to the foreman of his farm in Connecticut, near where I used to spend summers as a child. The volumes begin in August, 1906 and end in May, 1928; so far I have found mentions of the RMS Titanic, RMS Lusitania and the outbreak of WWI in Europe.

Update: There are nineteen extant volumes, not twelve. I also changed the dates covered.

LLR 1902 European trip negatives

I found a couple hundred medium format b&w negatives taken by my great-grandfather. I don’t know if they’re all from the same period or not, but most appear to have been shot during a 1902 trip to England and France. They were stored in an uninsulated pantry for several decades in envelopes lined with cardboard, and as a result the condition of the negatives varies: some of them appear fine, and several others have become brittle and stuck to to each other. Assessing the condition and preservation needs of these negatives (let alone their capacity to withstand digitization) is outside of my expertise, so I’ll be taking them to a consultant for assessment and, if possible, digitization.

I’m a librarian by training, not an archivist. The last thing that I want to do is damage my family history documents in the process of trying to preserve and digitize them. In thinking about and planning these projects, I was pleased to find and consult Preserving Local Writers, Genealogy, Photographs, Newspapers, and Related Materials, edited by Carol Smallwood and Elaine Williams. I’m also considering purchasing:

  • The Unofficial Family Archivist: A Guide to Creating and Maintaining Family Papers, Photographs, and Memorabilia by Melissa Mannon
  • How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records by Denise May Levenick

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