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Am I a Good Steward of My Own Digital Life?

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After reading a great post by the Smithsonian Institution Archives on Archiving Family Traditions, I started thinking about my own activities as a steward of my and my family’s digital life.

I give myself a “C” at best.

My mother's china. Photo by Leslie Johnston
My mother’s china. Photo by Leslie Johnston

Now, I am not a bad steward of my own digital life.  I make sure there are multiple copies of my files in multiple locations and on multiple media types.  I have downloaded snapshots of websites.  I have images of some recent important texts.  I download copies of email from a cloud service into an offline location in a form that, so far, I have been able to read and migrate across hardware.  I have passwords to online accounts documented in a single location that I was able to take advantage of when I had an sudden loss.

I certainly make sure my family is educated about digital preservation and preservation in general, to the point that I think (know?) they are sick of hearing about it. I have begun a concerted but slow effort to scan all the family photos in my possession and make them available with whatever identifying metadata (people, place, date) that I gathered from other family members, some of whom have since passed away. I likely will need to crowdsource some information from my family about other photos.

But I am not actively archiving our traditions. I often forget to take digital photos at events, or record metadata when I do take them. I have never collected any oral histories. I have not recorded my own memories.  I do have some of my mother’s recipes (and cooking gear) and I need to make sure that these are documented for future generations.  I have other items that belonged to my mother and grandmother that I also need to more fully document so others know their provenance and importance.  And then I need to make sure all my digital documentation is distributed and preserved.

I asked some friends what they were doing, and got some great answers.  One is creating a December Daily scrapbook documenting the activities of the month. One has been documenting the holiday food she prepares and family recipes for decades, in both physical and digital form.  One has been making a photobook of the year for every year since her children were born, and plans to create a book of family recipes. Another has been recording family oral histories, recording an annual family religious service for over 20 years, and is digitizing family photos that date back as far as the 1860s.

How are you documenting and archiving your family’s traditions, whether physical or digital? And preserving that documentation?


Comments (3)

  1. This blog post relates strongly to my own desires to do more with my family archives. Thank you for sharing some good ideas and for motivating me to continue to be a better “steward”. I can organize materials and digitize documents/photos/etc. Where I am struggling is in adding the metadata. Do you have suggestions for methods, tools, and guidelines on how to associate the necessary metadata with each item in our personal archives?

  2. I would say that the metadata is the most difficult thing. When I digitized my family photos, I made a spreadsheet where I recorded as much metadata as I knew and included the name of the image file so I wouldn’t lose the association of the metadata with the file. You can also use software like photo editors or PDF editors (not plain viewers) to insert/embed metadata into the files themselves. Try to keep it simple: date, people’s names, location, event. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t know or remember everything, or if somethings have some vagueness, like 19060s because you don’t know exactly when something dates to. The key is consistency: always format dates and names and places consistently, so you can search your files later and find what you’re looking for. Also, I find it important to name the files themselves in a way that helps you, like names and dates. And I organize them in folders on my drives by time periods, events, trips, etc.

  3. If you are a C, then I am an F!

    I always remember Miss Manner saying that some people are so busy recording their lives that they never actually live them, so don’t be so hard on yourself.

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