family historian memory fortressAre you the family historian?  The one with all the knowledge of the family’s ancestry?  The person with the most pictures and videos?  The keeper of the piles of old negatives?  The scrapbooker of the family?  If so, you probably feel an excessive burden sometimes, especially around holidays when the extended family gets together.  They all look to YOU for the images, the knowledge, the answers.  And you may not always have them.

Fortunately, there are now best practices around preserving and organizing the memories of an extended family (not just your own household, but those of aunts, uncles, cousins, and other close relatives).  As we look forward to the holidays this year, here are a few tips to help you and your family preserve the past so everyone in the family can enjoy old memories.  And do so without being stressed out!  Now is the time to begin to think about getting your memories digitized.


  1. family historian memory fortress photo scanningCommunicate with extended family members NOW, well before the holidays. Ask them to send you as many memories as they can. Specifically, photo shoeboxes, photo albums, 35 mm slides and negatives, scrapbooks, VHS tapes, and camcorder tapes.
  2. As you gather them from extended family members, keep them organized by labeling them with colored tape or bags (red for Aunt Suzy’s family, blue for cousin Ed, etc). You will have to return these items to them in a month or two, so keeping them separated is crucial.
  3. Once you’ve acquired enough memories to collapse the kitchen table, it’s time to go through them. Some you certainly will want to digitize (weddings, graduations, baby photos, emotional events) and some you certainly won’t (three pictures of a random shrub, multiple images of the same event, and the old VHS tape of Super Bowl XVIII). Those first two piles are easy; the third pile is the Maybe pile, which is more difficult.  When in doubt, it’s probably better to go ahead and digitize most of the Maybe pile. Keep in mind that some of these memories may not be important to you.  They may, however, be very important to your family member.
  4. Call a service that digitizes old analog formats (Memory Fortress is the obvious company that springs to mind here) and ask about pricing and turnaround time. You should certainly get a better deal by combining all of the memories, rather than sending in bits and pieces over time.
  5. With the help of the digitizing service, figure out what forms of device delivery (flash drives, DVDs, cloud) are needed and who will be receiving them. You may not want every member of the family to receive every single image, so a detailed folder system is crucial.  A solid company like Memory Fortress will certainly help you with mapping out who gets what.
  6. Send everything in before November 1; you should have everything back to you in 5-10 business days. (Unless it’s a gigantic amount … then plan on 2-3 weeks). The goal is to have everything processed and sent back to you in the correct format well before the holidays are upon you.

With everything digitized by end of November, you should be able to relax and enjoy your holidays.  The gift you are giving to the rest of the family will be the most precious one.  And while you’re at it, get them to split the costs!  After all, you did the majority of the work!