If you are the keeper of family history items that you believe could be of interest to scholars, you may wish to donate them to an institution where they will be archived and available for others to use.
As you reflect on your life, what moments or thoughts would you like to save? What about some of your family members? Wouldn’t you like to record their opinions on their lives?
Open-ending questions about people’s life experiences yield surprising results. Use these questions to record your thoughts, or start a conversation with a relative. When possible, record the interview on audio or video.
In your collections, you will often come across photographs in a format that you cannot identify. These are primarily early photographs. By understanding the type of photograph you have, you can begin to learn when or why it was taken. Knowing the format is also helpful in finding out the best way to preserve the images.
Photographs contain a wealth of information, but you need to build your visual literacy to extract clues. The social history context that photographs provide is especially important for groups who have historically not been represented in text-based archival collections, such as women or people of color. I've gathered some of the techniques I use when conducting historical analysis of photographs.
When you are creating your family archives, you will most likely have to rehouse your family treasures in suitable storage containers, such as folders, enclosures, and boxes. These items are often described as “archival” or “archival quality” by their manufacturers, but these terms convey no specifics about their preservation use.
It may seem as though you wouldn’t have to worry about copyright issues when you are creating family history projects. If you have original diaries, photos, and letters in your possession, you might also think that you own the rights to them, especially if they are old. However, even though you may own the physical materials, the author of the documents retains their legal copyright, sometimes for much longer than you would assume.