Family Archives

This summer I took on a project that ended up taking over most of my summer.  I have a couple gigabytes worth of photos of my process but have pared down so as to not bore you (after a while, piles of documents and photos all begin to look the same).

My late grandparents’ house has sat empty for the last 3 years. Well, empty of people, but not of things. A 100-year old wedding photo hangs near furniture from the 1960’s with modern technology sitting on it.

I asked my dad (who now owns the house) if I could spend some time there this summer and digitize our old family photos. He enthusiastically agreed, and I packed my bags.  I had anticipated I would be done in 2 weeks – it ended up taking me 5 weeks.  Granted, I was dealing with one family about to celebrate their centennial in this country, another family which was a big deal in the Fort Rock, Oregon community, and a former county treasurer who had served for 35 years.  There was a lot.

I spent the first couple days just pulling boxes out of closets.




Take a long hard look at all the boxes and piles. Remember how much space they all took up (it will make the final product look all the more dazzling).  Along the way, as I made 2nd and 3rd passes throughout the 900 sq ft house, I found more boxes tucked away, full of photos. I never knew so much could be hidden away in such a small house.

Step one was to THINK BIG. I was working with 2 big families (and all their descendants) and 2 large, well-photographed properties. Every picture I came across was divided into one of those categories.


Above is my great-great-grandmother’s family, descendants, and property.  It was a hot mess, but it didn’t matter. At that point, I just wanted to separate photos and documents by family.

After I did, that, I began separating photos and documents into smaller families. For instance, I took the big pile containing all photos and documents from my great-grandparents’ family and gave a separate pile to my grandpa and each of his siblings.


I just put a stickie note with the person’s name on their and every photo with them and their family.  My grandpa was included in my great-grandfather’s pile (when he was a kid and in family photos), he had his own pile (with school photos, report cards, etc), and his own family pile (photos of him and my grandma and their family).  Once my father got married, he got his own pile.  Of course, each person had many “subpiles” – weddings, graduations, and such.

Once everyone was in their own piles, I broke out the scanner.


The above photo was taken late in the process. Normally my work area looked like this….


Four out of the five weeks I spent on the project were spent scanning photos and documents.  The main goal was to get everything digitized and then build a searchable database and share it with the family so they could search by keyword or their relative’s name and download full resolution copies of photos.  I’m still in the process of adding metadata to the database.

After they were scanned, photos were kept in general categories and then put into boxes.

Above is the final project of the “Family Archive,” as we call it.  I created a finding aid, so there is a list of everything in each box. Not every photo’s file name is listed, but every folder in the Dropbox matches up with a category within the boxes.  So if someone wanted the original of a photo, all they would have to do is look at what folder the file is in, and find the corresponding folder name on the finding aid, and it tells them which box the photo is in.

Pretty neat, huh?

As a treat for sticking with this process for this long, here is one of my favorite finds:


It’s a Christmas card…


…that’s a box of matches!! How clever is that?!

The Deschutes Historical Society will be publishing a book on my family’s history written by yours truly.  As I continue to go through the database, I’ll be posting interesting historical finds on our Instagram. Be sure to follow us @actthegiddygoat.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the inspiration to pull out the scanner and finally get to the 70 years of family photos that are beginning to fade or stick to others. Its got to be done before they are beyond help… great blog

    Liked by 1 person

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