Digital Tools Enable Families to Document the Past and Present for Future Generations

By Sharleen Reyes

On an episode of the NBC television show, “Who Do You Think You Are?,” film director Spike Lee lamented that he never filmed his own grandmother to try to capture her own personal stories of his family’s history. While you don’t need to be an Academy-award winning filmmaker to document your ancestry, the point to take away is: spend some time preserving those memories now and you’ll thank yourself for years to come.

Through passed down family albums, home videos, letters and documents, we discover our family history. While family is forever, the items that allow future generations to learn of the past are not. With time, precious memorabilia can degrade, fade, become damaged, or lost, ultimately denying future generations the joy of seeing a piece of their loved ones history. Fortunately, with the aid of digital technology combined with a little effort, timeless family memoirs such as weddings, births, vacations, reunions, and more, can be forever preserved. Following are some steps you can take today to ensure your own family’s history remains protected for generations to come by creating a family history library.

Getting Started

Start by gathering materials. Begin organizing, labeling and creating a timeline. Collecting all of your mementoes will help you see the past through a wider lens and certain dates, events, impressions will become clear. As you gather your touchstones of the past, attempt to label them with dates. A month and year is best, but even approximate dates, like c. 1954, autumn, or after school during 5th grade, can help put context around an image and begin to tell the story of your family.

Once you have gathered materials, decide how far back you will chronicle. Perhaps your immediate family is a large enough project for you right now. As you walk through your materials, take the time to ask yourself a few questions about your family events to help categorize your memories.  This could include general questions such as:What activities do you do when you get together?Where did you visit together that made an impression?Do any scents instantly bring you back to a place in time, such as cooking smells, flowers, ocean air, sawdust from a workshop?What games have you played with your relatives?What was the weather like on milestone days?

Record these memories on video, audio or even simply in a journal.

What and How to Preserve

Now that you’ve collected your materials, you’re probably wondering what’s next. You likely have gathered materials ranging from photo prints, to old films that you’re unable to watch with modern media equipment, to newspaper clippings. Don’t get frustrated or overwhelmed – there are many services and solutions available to help you digitize your memories and preserve them for future generations.

Create a Family Tree Mapping out your genealogy is the most obvious place to start. offers a large amount of resources, links and suggestions for getting started researching your lineage. The site is also launching a Wiki, a user-defined online encyclopedia of sorts, to provide more insight on how to research your background.

Photos and Home Movies Repair minor to severely damaged photos with photo retouching and restoration or check Film Forever: The Home Film Preservation Guide. Convert pictures from old photo albums, home movies on 8mm film or VHS tapes of weddings, baby photos or other everyday events to DVD with YesDVD; then “future-proof” memories with MemorySafe, the digital archive companion program to YesDVD. By preserving your films and photos with MemorySafe, you can ensure that family members throughout the world, today and in the future, can find and build upon your digital library.

Family Cookbook There’s nothing like the taste of your mother’s home cooking. Create a family cook book with treasures recipes that have been passed on for generations. Ask relatives for favorite recipes such as your aunt’s brownies, grandma’s pasta sauce or uncles secret barbecue mix. Transcribe them and add photos of the chef in a book, created with traditional scrapbooking supplies or digitally with software packages.
Letters from the PastFew things are more personal than a person’s handwriting. Scan letters, holiday cards, thank you notes, as well as the timeline you developed, and save them as JPG images for viewing later, whether as stand-alone images or as part of digital scrapbooks or DVDs

Newspaper Clipping Track down old newspapers or magazines in old shoeboxes, through libraries or by calling publishing companies’ back issues departments. The Newspaper Archive website has some great resources. Save clips of announcements such as births or sports teams’ victories, or save whole front pages from milestone days such as weddings, the day you moved into your home or the day you started a new job. Again, preserve hard copies by scanning them for a digital archive.

Official documents Diplomas, birth certificates, military commendation papers, children’s artwork – virtually any official or treasured paper document can be scanned and saved as a digital file, such as PDF, for future use, whether archiving, posting on a social network such as Facebook and for personal reminiscing.
With a little effort, time and dedication you can create a family history library that will be available for future generations to build upon.

Sharleen Reyes is director of marketing communications at YesVideo. For the last ten years, YesVideo’s YesDVD transfer service has been providing convenient services for families to preserve, enjoy, organize, share and relive video and photo memories on DVD. For more information, visit

This article first appeared in the Fall Issue of WE Magazine for Women. You can read the PDF version here: or the FLIP version here:

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