I’m a sucker for old photos, old letters, and old journals. I love the tie they are to our past, our personal family history, of eras gone by.
It was a very rare occasion that my mother actually opened up our trunk of old family photos and let us rummage around in them, as well as look through our old family film slides.
Once or twice my dad got caught up in the nostalgia himself and put together a reel of old film slides, mostly from his early Army and college days. It was hilarious to see pictures of my goofy looking dad (who still had a smidge of hair on top) and amazing to see pictures of my parents once so young (I’m the youngest child).
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And it’s those memories that should never die.
I’m a millennial so most of my important memories are captured digitally.
But, I know much of my parent’s collection of old film, reels, and documents have not been digitized.
And I hate that.
As I watch coverage of Hurricane Harvey victims and victims of Hurricane Irene (and of forest fires), I can’t help but ache for the memories of the past that are now damaged or lost forever.
I feel like all of the furniture, electronics, appliances and home goods people are losing, though terrible and expensive, is not as disheartening as the personal memories many are losing – the baby books, the family photo albums, the framed pictures on the wall, the original artworks from their children or grandchildren, the old journals from generations past, the reels of film, and so on.
These cannot be bought new from a store. They cannot be replaced.
Which is why I am urging you if you haven’t digitized your old memories, your old photos, your old family journals, and other personal items, do it now. You never know when a hurricane will bring down over 40″ of rain in a few days’ time. You don’t know if your house will accidentally start on fire. You don’t know what will happen!
But you should know it could happen.
September is National Preparedness Month and this year’s theme is “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.”
So here’s how you can plan ahead to preserve and keep all of your old memories before time or disaster leave them lost forever.
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Hacks for Digitizing and Scanning Old Photos, Cassettes, Film, and More
If you have an old trunk of old photos and other old media like videotapes, film, cassettes, photos, or reel-to-reel tape, there are some amazing companies out there that will do the work of digitizing it all and burning it on DVDs or CDs for you. This will definitely be the easiest, and likely quickest, way to get this project completed and taken off your to-do list.
These services aren’t free, but if you shop around, do some price comparison, or buy a Groupon deal for it, it won’t have to break the bank either.
Here are some of the companies that offer to scan old photos and digitize old tapes and other things for you:
However, if you are a DIY person, a cheapskate, or simply don’t have the time or means to send it all off, there are several options still available to you.
Scanning Old Photos Yourself
If you want help scanning old photos, there are many tips online about how to get your computer scanner to do a good job converting the image, glare-free, onto your computer. Some of these tips include:
- Remove dust from prints and scanner with a microfiber cloth before scanning.
- Scan multiple pictures at one time. You can crop them later.
- Select a high-resolution of at least 300 DPI.
- Take advantage of editing features like red-eye removal, brightness, and cropping.
However, there’s an even easier way to scan old photos, and that’s with Google’s new PhotoScan by Google app.
It eliminates the glare, shadows, and automatically crops out edges and white borders (like from Polaroid photos). In fact, it even works with photos in frames behind glass (no need to take it off the wall!).
The extra benefit of using the PhotoScan app is that it automatically backs up your image on Google Photos (a free service) so that you can access it anywhere are share with friends or family easily.
How to Convert VHS tapes to a DVD at Home
To convert VHS tapes to a DVD yourself, you’ll need a DVD recorder and a VHS player, or a DVD Recorder/VHS VCR Combo unit (which are expensive and hard to find), or a VHS player and a PC DVD writer. For more details on how to do it yourself, see this article.
But, often, it’s easiest to pay someone else to do it for you. You are likely to have a local electronics store that will do it for you.
How to Digitize Cassette Tapes at Home
If you happen to have cassette tapes with narrated journal entries or that served as “letters home” from missionaries or one-of-a-kind recordings of someone’s attempt at a cool garage band, these audio recordings can be great to keep and share digitally so that you won’t lose them over time!
To copy a tape to your PC computer for archiving, you need:
- Cassette Player (walkman, tape deck, etc)
- Stereo Patch Cord
- Audacity – free open-source program
- Instructions on How to Digitize Cassette Tapes and/or this Youtube Video on how to Digitize Cassette Tapes with Audacity
There are several Cassette to MP3 converters available to purchase for around $20 that work via a USB.
How to Digitize Old Journals
I personally have kept a journal starting from when I was 11 years old and in the 6th grade. I remember writing about things happening at school and the crush I had on the Hmong boy in class. Oh, those were the days. But, I regularly kept a journal since then, continuing on through today.
While I should probably write them digitally now, I also find it therapeutic to physically write rather than type (I type all the time for this blog, and email, etc and rather keep up my terrible handwriting to be preserved forever in ink! Ha!) and there is research out there as well that highlights the benefits of physically writing. So, I’m not bound to give it up anytime soon.
Whether the journals you want to preserve are your own or your great-great grandmothers, digitizing them is still a great idea to preserve them against the effects of water, fire, mold, fading, and time.
Here are a few options for digitizing old journals:
1.) Transcribe the text yourself
There are various software programs out there like Google Docs Voice Typing, Windows Speech Recognition, Apple Dictation, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking which allow you to read the journal entries aloud and have the computer do all the typing for you.
Most of those are free (though some only allow for short dictation sessions of 30-seconds or so) and will likely be quicker than you typing the text yourself, and saves your hands from some major typing fatigue. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a paid program but is generally considered the fastest and most accurate.
2) Scan the Journal
If you own a scanner, or have access to a library with one, you can manually scan in the pages of old journals, one at a time, and save them as PDFs onto your computer or a jump drive. While this will likely be a time-consuming task, it preserves the handwriting of the pages, and can be organized into folders digitally.
There’s also an app called Scanner Pro that allows you to simply take a picture of various documents and it will automatically detect borders, correcting distortion and geometry, as well as back them up on the online storage of your choice.
It also lets you use OCR to convert any scan into a text! I am not 100% sure this works
on handwritten texts or works on it with 100% accuracy (handwriting quality is likely to matter here!), but if it does, and perhaps with some training, it will convert the words of a hand-written journal into easy-to-read text that is also searchable!
You can download Scanner Pro on Google Play or from iTunes.
I have also enjoyed using an app called Keepy which works in much the same way (without the OCR) but it’s great for quickly digitizing photos and organizing them too. The function I really like about this app is that you can record audio or video and attach them to your uploads! So you could read a page of a journal out loud as well as scan it! Plus, you can organize items into folders and users with dates, and more. You can learn more about how it works via my Keepy Review.
How to Backup Your Digital Files
After you have converted old photos, files, and documents from physical copies into digital copies, it’s important to back them up as computer hard-drives crash!
While a jump drive, external hard-drives, DVDs, and CDs work to move the digital content off your main computer hard drive – which is good! – they are often very poor long-term solutions for digital storage as they are susceptible to corruption and data loss, unfortunately.
Thankfully, there’s a solution to that problem.
MDISC Photo Backup
MDISC is the best way to store digital photos for long-term storage. The M-DISCs store your information by engraving the information into a patented rock-like layer that has been proven to last 1,000 years as it is resistant to extremes in temperature, light, humidity, heat, magnetism, and EMP. M-DISC cannot be overwritten, erased, or corrupted by natural processes, and a single M-DISC can hold up to 100 gigabytes of information. It is also compatible with many DVD or Blu-Ray drives so you can access your data anywhere, anytime, for a very long time!
Cloud Storage Photo Backup
While cloud storage services are not free from their own set of risks and loss, it is very convenient to have your files and photos stored digitally somewhere besides your own physical hard-drive which you can access it at any time, from multiple devices. In fact, you may even take advantage of multiple cloud services, just to ensure they won’t be lost.
There are loads of cloud storage providers. Some are free (up to a point or up to a certain quality) and some are paid services. You’ll have to figure out what fits your digital photo backup needs.
Popular Cloud Storage Service Providers:
- Google Drive
- Google Photos
- Microsoft OneDrive
- Amazon Prime Photos
- Apple iCloud Photo Library
- Shutterfly Photos
And if you haven’t backed up your digital files in a cloud storage, as a last ditch effort, you can remove the hard drive from your computer before you leave your home in an emergency (here’s how to safely remove your hard drive from your PC). Just be sure you have some anti-static bags handy and perhaps some dry bags as well!
How to Your Hardcopies of Photos, Journals, and Documents Safe
Besides backing up your photos, journals, and other important documents digitally, an important step in keeping them safe is making sure they are in an environment where they won’t be corrupted, or corrupted faster!
For example, don’t store your hard drives, CDs, DVDs, journals, and photos in a dark, dank basement that is always the first thing to flood. Also don’t store them in a hot, musty attic where fires are prone to start and vermin explore!
Where you can, store important files, documents, and discs in a climate-controlled environment that is high off the ground, like on the top shelf in a closet on your main floor.
If you store these items in a storage unit, opt for a climate-controlled unit versus an outdoor unit, and on an upper level. Also place them higher up within the unit, instead of on the floor.
It can also be to your benefit to invest in a fire-safe, waterproof safe!
My husband bought one for us about a year ago, and I love knowing that our marriage certificate, birth certificates, social security cards, MDISC, and other important documents and files are all in one place and safe against a freak fire or flood. (Learn more about what to put in a fireproof box).
Another idea is to keep copies of important documents in an external place outside your home like a bank safe-deposit box, a trusted friend or family member’s home, or a secured storage unit.
You can also keep your most important papers and files (or copies of them) in something that is easier to grab in an emergency, like a portable file system, portable file box, or portable lock box. In this you would keep things like birth certificates, licenses, passports, social security cards, immunization records, wills, and medical information.
I hope that you will begin doing the things I mentioned above now before a disaster strikes your home and you find yourself losing some of the most precious possessions you have – your family history and cherished memories! Because those things are far too precious to not preserve in case of fires, floods, Hurricanes, tornados, or whatever other emergencies might strike your home.
To help you get started in this process, I’ve created a FREE Printable Sheet to help you work through the steps I’ve outlined in this post. It’s part of an amazing Preparedness Bundle myself and several other amazing bloggers have put together because we want our readers ready for whatever might come their way.
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FREE Preparedness Printables Bundle
Several of us have put together an amazing bundle of printables for everyone to have for free upon signing up for our email lists!
Katelyn from What’s up Fagans? has a Personal Document Protection printable, which is basically a simplified checklist for everything I went over in this post! Work your way through it a little at a time and make sure your old photos, videos, audio files, journals, and other documents are protected physically and digitally!
Carrie of A Mother’s Shadow has a great Dutch Oven Guide! In many emergencies, you may find yourself without power which can make cooking food difficult, unless you have something like a dutch oven which is easy to carry and to cook a wide variety of foods in.
Katie of Clarks Condensed has a very helpful 72 Hour Kit Checklist. Should you find yourself having to leave in a hurry, you and your family can simply grab your 72-Hour kits and head out the door, knowing that you’ll have the food, bedding, clothes, tools, medicine, toiletries, fuel, and personal documents you need.
Kristina from Mother’s Niche has an Emergency Car Kit printable so that you are never stranded helplessly on the side of the road, not knowing what to do, nor having the tools and supplies to help in this emergency.
Camille of My Mommy Style has a handy Family Fire Safety Log where you can track your family’s readiness in case of a fire in your house, as well as make sure you are checking your smoke and CO detectors.
Receive all of the above printables for FREE when you sign up for our lists below. May you be prepared for whatever may come your way!