Setting up our digital family archive – part 1

This weekend, I met up with some members of my family (my dad’s side) to do something we’ve been talking about for year: digitising and structuring our family archive. We started talking about how to set up this digital archive, and decided to at least create various databases with information:

– Pictures

– Documents (from the archive itself, such as passports, drivers licenses, etc)

– People (one entry per person, taken from the already existing database)

– External information (newspaper clippings, family recipes, etc)

– Locations (important places where family members lived or have moved to)

– Entities (such as the company my grandfather worked for, the family preserves factory)

We talked about how to organise all this information, how to link it to each other, and how to involve other people from the family collect stories and annotations on things that we don’t know. More research is needed, but it’s an exciting prospect to actually create a very specific community in order to ‘crowdsource’ information, and we hope to get more and more people involved from other branches of the family that we don’t know that well. Who knows what might turn up!

After determining this crude set-up and the various metadata fields needed per database entry we selected a first set of pictures and documents that we would scan first. We felt this first batch should contain at least those pictures and documents that mean a lot to many family members

My family is very active in preserving its history already. We have done extensive research on our family tree and there is even a wonderful publication that contains written accounts of our family history, in which the various interesting characters and stories are collected, together with pictures and documents. However, there are literally crates of pictures, drawings, written stories, love letters from my grandparents, and the booklets made for their funerals, just to give some examples.

And while going through these remnants of my family’s past I realised why it is so important to undertake such a time-consuming task. I found my father’s hand-written speech he gave at my grandfather’s funeral. There were pictures of my grandparents in their younger years. Drawings of me that revealed my love and obsession with biology from a very young age. Accounts of my grandfather’s friends who wrote stories about his character when he was slipping away in the darkness of dementia. Pictures of all the grandchildren growing up through the years. These were just some documents and pictures that already brought back a flood of memories and emotions.

It just goes to show how much you can learn about your background and history, but also about what connects us all as humans: people and events shape us in ways we tend to forget or that are just latently present in our conscience. The ‘evidence’ which is left behind can be a powerful trigger needed to reflect on just what brought you here, wherever that is.


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August 2010
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