Take Care What You Donate and to Whom

Ancestors, locked away and held for ransom!
Ancestors, locked away and held for ransom!

My Ancestors, and perhaps many millions more of your own, are actively being held for ransom. Donating to a local Historical Society seems like a kind and generous act when you have finished scanning and scrutinizing photos and papers. BUT. Lately, I’ve been learning a tough lesson about handing over the “goods” to a big omnipotent archive.

Well of course I’ll elaborate…thanks for asking!

Remember 10 or 15 years ago when the digital imaging thingy was hotly debated and very new? I clearly recall telling my oldest daughter she couldn’t have a “camera phone” because I was sure they would be quickly outlawed. Copyright and plagiarism issues were the angst du’ jour.

Well, that didn’t happen. And now, I cannot imagine doing my job, any of them…without my smartphone. I use it more for photos than I use it for incoming/outgoing calls. It’s cheap. One micro SD card = a bazillion images stored. It’s immediate. The clarity of the photos is startling and WYSIWYG (blog-speak for “What You See Is What You Get) lets me know immediately whether or not the pic is good.

And this brings me to the digital scanners we dedicated family history hounds tow along in our purses and dity-bags. ¬†The amount of light these wonders of the modern age expose delicate pieces of documentation to is minimal. They are relatively safe and will not markedly degrade the object. With our memory cards, once again we can store a bazillion images inexpensively. We can then upload the images and SHARE with loved ones. Or use them to head up blog articles (guilty ūüôā )

Meanwhile, back to the real late 90’s and copyright infringement and book-snarfing via blatant acts of plagiarism like photographing each page for free ala a Boris and Natasha…

I went into our local climate controlled, nothing-allowed-in but a #2 pencil and a single sheet of standard notebook paper, air locked and hushed-if you-whispered image archive room. My mission for the day was to find a photo and perhaps some biographical info on my husband’s Granddad who was a big shot in banking. It was a really cool place with little self-serve lockers in the airlock where you could lock away all the stuff you weren’t allowed to bring in. That most certainly would include a camera–phone!

I dutifully used my #2 to request the file box that I wanted to see, and about 20 minutes later, was happily pawing through it elbow deep. Now, it seems the archive had been in possession of this box for about 20 some years. However, they had not gotten around to cataloging the specific contents. I had struck gold by devine intervention during a discerning round of eeny-meeny-miny-mo. I was only allowed one box at a time.

All the goodies were not delicately preserved in acid free sleeves– handled only with the long surgical steel tongs and white gloves I had imagined. Some warehouse guy heaved the box up the basement stairs and plopped the cardboard box on the austere table before me. “Dig in” he gruffly stated as he disappeared back through the “staff only” door to the stairwell.

After an hour or so, I found a couple of trade journal articles talking about BankerBilly with a press photo included. Elated, I filled out another form requesting a photo copy of these items. I forked over $2.25 (after being allowed to go back to my locker to bring back only my check book and driver’s license) and left. You see, there was about a two week turn around on photocopy requests. As guardians of the frail past, the archive had a strict standard for xeroxing anything. Each item was only allowed to be exposed to the copier “X” amount of times. After that, only a copy of a copy would be offered. The two week turn-around was necessary for the staff to research the number of times on record the same items had gone “through the light.” Respectable I thought, prudent of them.

In about 16 days, I had my copies in hand. Happiness.

Now let’s enter the digital age. How exciting. Everything is less adverse to the integrity of images, the work of a scanner is cheap, Memory cards and flash drives are rather universal to most scanners and results are immediate. Life is good.

Except. It’s expensive. Because there’s a ransom to be paid.

My local archive has done a real bang-up job in acquiring mounds of historic and familial documents. Still mostly uncatalogued, these items have been dropped at their feet by the bushel-full from institutions, families, and new owners of old homes with trunks full of goodies found in the attic. I would guess all of the donors felt like they were really doing a good deed. A public service–preserving history. Walking to the dumpster and giving this stuff the “heave-ho” isn’t illegal as far as I know. And although I would find such an act “unthinkable” it sure would be easier than driving the stuff downtown, dodging Hobos, and paying to park.

So several weeks ago, I went tootling down to the archive to order digital copies of several images I need for a book I’m working on. It’s a local history thing. It’s not going to hit the NYT top ten or rival John Grisham. Frankly, I am hoping for robust sales in order to break even on the hours of research etc. I brought new, clean, still in their packages sets of memory cards and a large flash drive. I purchased these thinking it would make the whole transaction less expensive ( I was looking for over 100 images) and one less step for the curating staff.

Imagine my shock to learn the “new” pricing structure. With the upgrade from copy machine to digital imaging, each image I wanted to take home would cost me $15. For that $15, I didn’t even get a lousy sheet of copier paper. Additionally, to publicly use any images in their holdings, a separate fee of $75 was imposed as a “use” fee. In short, those same images of Grandpa BankerBilly whose own last name was the property and birthright of my own children, would have cost me nearly $600 to walk out the door with that day! Back during the copy machine days, I was dinged for around $20 with postage.

Needless to say, I was stunned and a little more than just pissed off!

So before you haul a bunch of stuff to the mother-ship of your Historic Archives, I suggest doing a little bit of research first. What exactly is their policy for sharing and cataloging, and storage. Does it seem like they care? Is there another, smaller institution–even your local, small town library–who would like first dibs on this stuff?

Can it be deposited somewhere where it will be more than warehoused and shared at extortionist prices? Look for these places first. Please!

Bitter? Yes

Abhorred may be the more succinct description. How dare you hold my Grandpa-in-law hostage in a box in the basement on a warehouse shelf…unopened, ignored.

Maybe someone should write that down…

 

 

How to: Maybe someone should write that down…the Prequel

wpid-0918140950.jpgHere’s your chance to be the alpha super-hero to your future generations~~Now we all know family isn’t a competition…but who doesn’t want to win?

Recently, I’ve run into a couple of bloggers who are doing something cool. We’re talking about the “Mom” thing~ preserving family stories. These clever authors are doing it “as it happens,” starting with babyhood for their Grandbaby or own little one!

This is what I call a fabulous idea!

Dorian and her Mama¬†are doing a bang-up job of documenting her little, adorable, wanna-smoosh-and-kiss-those-fleshy-baby-cheeks days! ¬†Longtime blogger Locksands¬†welcomed her new Grandbaby with a round of thoughts describing the world, and the day, and the people she was being born in to the arms of in contrast to her own years here. It was fabulous! What a terrific idea, certainly a way to go over and above the perfunctory “Baby’s 1st Year” book.

…Man, if they would have only invented blogging sooner…

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Here in “Mom-land” I have a long standing tradition (let’s count here…my oldest is now in the 22nd grade…yes…I’ve done it now for 23 years). Annually, on the first day of school, I’ve made my Sweeties stand in front of the same bush at the front of our house to have a photo taken. For the sake of identifying the grade level, they’ve been directed to hold up enough fingers to correspond with the grade they were about to start… that part didn’t always work.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kindergarten was a zero made to look like an “OK” sign. Freshman year of high school, we reverted back to one and worked our way back up to four for Senior year. As college started, again, the single finger for Freshman year and so on.

Siblings joined into and left the photo as they aged in and out of the school yard.

One summer we moved to a new house before school started. Along with the excitement of their new rooms, the kids thought they would also be gifted with an end to the annual ritual. Sorry kids, a new crop of photo-shrubs came with the new home!10613140_352181668262308_7817412307034460731_n

 Some years the kids were excited and compliant. Other years they were surly and down right grouchy. In many shots they seem to be cringing with embarrassment because cars were passing by on the street. 

“What if someone sees us?!” they growled into my camera.

¬†But, kid after kid–year after year–Mom won. I got my photo!

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My God Child’s parents came up with an exceptionally clever idea before she was born. Recently we all enjoyed the fruits their dedication at their daughter’s wedding. Brit was born on the 22nd of the month. Starting in the first moments of her arrival and continuing monthly then,on each subsequent 22nd through her second birthday they filmed her for a few minutes. With imperfect (some times they missed by a week or so) but amazing amount of diligence, they were able to select a quick little 15-30 second snippet of video showcasing who she was on that particular day and what she was doing.

Beyond her 2nd birthday party, they continued with small clips of each subsequent birthday, First Communion, Christmas mornings by the tree ringed knee deep in gifts etc. ¬†Sort of like the bush in our “First day of school” photo shoots, their backdrops changed over the years. So did the video recording equipment and format. Eventually siblings started to appear in “cameos” on the “22nd” video clips– not to worry though, each of the younger brothers and sisters also had their own day of the month for “stardom.”

The real struggle to persevere for their parents was in the giant (and often expensive) leaps that technology took over the years. They had to constantly upgrade and transfer their precious moments from 8mm to Beta to VHS to digital and on to the “Cloud” and YouTube.

And, amazingly enough, they upheld their video documenting tradition through and after divorcing!

¬† At Brit’s wedding reception, seeing this near 30 year compilation roll by on a small screen in the corner was a huge treat. Certainly an awesome payoff for the proud in-house Paparazzi. My beautiful bride of a Goddaughter was truly moved. I don’t think she ever considered that Mom and Dad were constantly organizing and preserving all those silly films clips into a larger work.

What are you letting slip by? It’s never too early or late to start racking up the story fodder and amassing the data.

Ask yourself:

*¬†Would the “fam” be more eager to participate if they understood the method behind your madness?

*Could you begin work now on a top secret surprise masterpiece for a special day in their lives?

* How do you visually document and organize your clan?

*Are you keeping current with the technology needed to preserve all those “snaps”?

Perhaps most importantly–Do you suppose a day will dawn when I’m forced to rename my blog: “Maybe someone should hologram that…” ??????????????????????????????????????