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Tag: family history

I Found this Lost 1903 Letter from my Ancestor Harry

While going through my father’s belongings, I opened an old file box of papers to throw away. Instead, I found century-old letters that revealed the identities of my great-grandfather’s brothers.

There’s chaos in life. And there’s some inevitable chaos in death. At least that’s been my experience. With the recent passing of my father, I’ve been working hard to keep it all together, both emotionally and logistically.

One perspective my dad shared with me several times in recent years was that after he’s gone, there will be no one for me to talk with about the past. He was referring to his life story, but it also extended out to our larger family history.

Unfortunately many of those details are still not entirely clear to me. And it’s a punishing reality that the keys to that door of knowledge are lost forever.

Missing Pieces of the Past
It’s not like I didn’t try to understand my family history over the years. And yes, I asked my dad on numerous occasions. Sometimes I got different answers. I think that because he was fuzzy on some of the details.

So putting together my family history on my father’s side has always felt like a complex puzzle.

And now he’s gone.

There is Another
Fortunately, there are still ways for me to continue forward in my research.

Thankfully, there’s my first cousin. We’ve already talked a bit about this, and I intend to share my notes with her in the near future.

A few years back, I convinced my father to do a DNA cheek swab, and I signed him up for myheritage.com along with me. My Heritage is an online genealogy platform, which I’ve been using to try to fill in some of the blanks in my ancestry. It’s a slow process, but it’s a helpful tool.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found some buried treasures of knowledge as I’ve gone through his New York City apartment. For example, I found two letters to my great-grandfather Isaac from his brothers.

One is from 1903 and the other from 1909. I never knew for sure what their names were. Now, I do. They were Gustave, Harry and Julius.

The 1903 Letter
Here’s Harry’s letter to Isaac and his wife when Harry was away in the Catskills during the summer of 1903.
I love his line about giving a 100 kisses to the “little peppie” who just turned one. That was my grandfather’s sister Nora.

I can’t believe I found this amazing sliver from the past from an ancestor who’s name I didn’t even know. That’s priceless.

Building my Digital Archive
Those letters contain casual correspondence. But they were saved by my great-grandfather, passed on and stashed away by my grandfather, and then transferred and forgotten for almost five decades by my father. (Perhaps my dad never even knew he had them. They might have just come in with some other random paperwork from my grandfather after he died.)

This sounds crazy, right? The irony is even with all of the neglect and disorganization, those letters survived for over a century.

Now, I’ve got them.

Of course, I immediately digitized the letters. And then I uploaded them to a cloud folder.

They’ve joined my online family archive. I’ve been building it slowly across the years, but now I feel this huge need to accelerate my efforts.

I’ve talked about digitizing my family’s old photo albums. And I recently begun digitizing some of my father’s analog slides. I’ll also add many of those images to my online family archive.

Trying to Finish the Job that Nobody Really Started
It doesn’t take a psych major to know that my organizing behavior is being driven by my sense of loss. It’s an effort to replace what is gone forever.

But while I’ll never be able to talk with my parents again, there is certainly an independent value to completing a family’s history… as best one can.

And that’s what I’m doing.

When I’m finally done, I’ll focus on how to best preserve it, so the knowledge can be carried forward into the future.

The Challenge of Preserving for the Future
While digital organization is great, I can’t help but wonder how well hard drives and uploaded content in cloud services will withstand the ravages of time.

I think I’ll likely create an analog version (book?) that could make it to the next century in the back of another closet. I’ll also pass forward the original photos and letters that I’ve carefully placed in Print File archival sheet preservers.

And if you’re a descendent of mine reading these words in the 22nd century or beyond… and if you haven’t found the archival preservers or my family history book yet, but you’ve uncovered random pictures of my son as a twelve-year-old boy holding an unidentified cat… that was his pet. The cat’s name?

Zane.

You’re welcome.

How to Quickly Convert Old Slides to Digital

A little film to digital converter can easily bring new life to old slides like this 1978 photo of my parents in Greece.

People ask me how I’ve been doing since my father passed away last month. Well, truthfully, I haven’t had much time to really process it. I’m not sure exactly how I’m doing. These weeks have really been more about what I’ve been doing.

I’ve been spending most of my free time clearing out my dad’s apartment. And while one might say that’s a tactic of psychological avoidance (and I’m sure it is), I still have to do it.

Yes, it’s been somewhat overwhelming. It’s more than simply going through his belongings and deciding what to save. I quickly realized that I needed to go through the same exercise for some of my mom’s things that my father saved (or never addressed). And so you don’t think I’m being judgmental, I’m also faced with going through my own stuff I abandoned decades ago.

I’ve quickly realized that maintaining a sense of organization is critical to this overall process. Throwing things in a box and simply moving it to my own home is a half-baked strategy. There’s only so much available space.

I know I need to break through my inner grief and the urge to save as a counter against my loss, and instead really consider the future value of these items.

The Forgotten Photo Collection
Of course, I saved all of the photos I found. Many will go through a digitizing project to integrate into my larger family photo archive.

But then I uncovered a forgotten photo collection. Deep in the back of a closet lived 12 boxes of old 35mm slide carousels. Yes, for several years, my father shot photos that turned into slides. Remember those slides that could be viewed by projecting them onto a screen with a clunky projector? Yep. That’s what my dad had.

So I popped a couple of those filled-up carousel boxes into a bag, brought them back home and placed them on a shelf.

And then I thought about housing all of these boxes. I asked myself why I would want to keep the carousels. Sure, the boxes provided pure organization and safety for those slides. But I was never going to use the carousels. I needed to extract the slides from the remaining carousels and just bring the slides home. Those slides were like negatives that simply required digital conversion. I just had to find a method to do that…

Wolverine Data F2D Titan Film to Digital Converter
So I looked online and quickly found a variety of devices on the market that will convert old slides to digital files. Some are more high-end than others. I just needed a basic conversion. Nothing too fancy.

I decided to go with the Wolverine Data F2D Titan Film to Digital Converter. It’s compact, easy to use and $150 at B&H Photo.

I also picked up some compact Print File Slide Storage Boxes to put the slides in.

First Use
I powered up the F2D Titan and got to work with the first batch of slides from my parents’ 1978 cruise vacation in Greece.

It’s a straight-forward process. You slip your slides into a mini light tray, and then you press a button to take a picture of the side. The Wolverine creates jpegs with plenty of resolution for me. (5472×3648) and between 4-5 MBs in size. It has a small amount of internal storage, but the better process is to pop in an SD card, which is what I did. You can make color/brightness adjustments if you choose, but I decided to do all of that in Adobe Lightroom. It’s faster.

The Wolverine is perfect for my project. The image conversions look good. The process is quick, and the Titan’s footprint is small.

New Views
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen many of these family slides before, and it feels pretty remarkable to view these images of my parents.

It’s almost reality-bending for me, as I integrate these moments into my larger world-view of my family.

Find the Time
This is all great, but you might be wondering how I’m going to find the time to convert hundreds of slides while I’m also going through hundreds of old photos and digitizing those? And clearing out my dad’s place. And handling the rest of my life.

That’s a good question.

What I do know is every time I digitize three or four old photos or slides and add them to my family photo archive, I feel a warmth that fuels me for what may otherwise be a cold day ahead.

It takes about 15-20 minutes.

I figure if I can regularly carve out that time during my early mornings, that could actually help in my healing process. (Plus, it breaks down a massive project into achievable little pieces.)

Maintaining Ownership
So that’s what I’m doing. Yes I know I could pay a service to do all of this digital conversion, but I want to do it myself. Plus, I know I won’t need to digitize every old slide and photo. And only I can make that decision.

If I’m going to first look at every slide to decide its fate, it doesn’t take that much more time to slide it into the Wolverine converter and create the jpeg.

Don’t Wait
Family history is important. I don’t want to just save these photos and slides. I want them to be a part of my story. No, I shouldn’t have waited this long, but I’m glad I still have the opportunity to bring them forward into the future…

What Should You Do with your Parents’ Old Photo Albums?

Now that both of my parents are gone, I’m left with all of their photo albums. And I’m faced with the complicated question of what to do with all of the pictures, like this cool photo of my father from the 1950s. Here’s one perspective…

My mother documented my youth in three large photo albums that were eventually forgotten in a hallway closet after she passed away in 2006. But not entirely. I knew they were there. For different reasons, I’ve borrowed a few of the photos and digitized them, but the vast majority still lived in analog form in that closet.

Sure, I could have easily taken the albums and started a digital conversion project at any point in the past decade, but I always had my existing family photo management work to do, which I was seemingly always behind on. And so this archival project never began.

These albums stayed buried in that same apartment where I grew up and my father still lived.

And then he passed away.

Remembering the Good Times
So, I’ve finally taken possession of these albums. (They’re one of the first things I moved out of my dad’s place.)

And now I’ve begun the slow process of digital conversion for some of these photos. I’ve quickly realized I don’t need all of them. Just enough to tell the story… the story of my family’s lives during those decades.

What I’ve uncovered mostly aligns with my memories, but it’s amazing what you forget or what you were too young to ever remember. It’s good that the photos are there to tell the story.

It’s comforting. Really comforting.

Reviewing Someone Else’s Memories
But there are other photo albums too that lived in my father’s apartment. These were his albums. And they lived separately from the core group. I knew they also existed, and I had seen them across the years, but they were much less familiar to me.

Some contained pictures of my grandfather and grandmother. Then, there were photos from my father’s youth. Others displayed people I didn’t know. There was also a treasure trove of photos from my dad’s travels to distant lands. He was very much a world traveler.
Here are a couple of his pictures from his trip to Egypt.

Then, there are boxes and boxes of his slides from the 1970s. (Remember when that was in vogue?) I’m not exactly sure what those contain… not yet.

I will need to go through all of my father’s photography. He’d talked to me about some of it across the years, but now I guess it’s left to me to figure out how to integrate it into the larger family ‘story’ that will get carried forward.

I think about his legacy. I think about how it is now left to me to carry forward my father’s story. I realize I’m more than a family archivist. I’m suddenly a historian.

It’s a daunting process. And yes, I am overwhelmed. How could I not be?

Keeping the Project Manageable
The good news is I’m not starting entirely from scratch. My father was a great storyteller. And I’ve videotaped many of his stories. And I have digitized some of his photos across the years.

I have to remind myself that this should not be an exercise in quantity. I don’t have to digitize every photo! Instead it’s about finding just what you need to properly represent the story and put any remaining pieces of the puzzle together.

This should support my healing… not make things worse.

Finding a Way Forward
I know this is going to take time (months? years?). So, I’m trying to keep all of these albums and photos properly organized in boxes and bins in our home.

Organization is key.

Is it possible they’ll simply live in the back of another closet until the next generation finds them? Let’s hope not.

Their future state deserves to live in digital form and integrated into my larger family archive collection.

Wish me luck…

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