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The Family Archivist

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While growing up, my dad was always the guy with the SLR or the Super-8 camera. Actually he still takes the most pictures at present.

As a result, we have volumes of photo albums, boxes of 35mm slides and a couple hours of grainy color film footage, luckily transferred to VHS back in the 80's before it disintegrated.

Around 1994 I took the opportunity to follow in Pop's footsteps, and start archiving every major and minor family event. When I met my wife a year later, I was pleased to learn that my future father-in-law had also developed a lifetime collection of media.


Starting around December 1994, I had a video camera in one hand, and a stills camera in the other. These days you can shoot both with one unit, such as a D90 or D5 Mark 2 (in my dreams) or more likely a digicam and a camcorder. Lately I have been choosing one or the other. For example, in 2005 when the Christmas Pudding nearly burned the house down from too much rum and a backdraft situation, I got that on DV tape. Then I shot stills in '06 and then HDV in '07, and back to stills in '08.

Most of what I remember is based upon my view through the viewfinder. This is my general appearance at a family gathering.

I have to say, the Sony Hi8 camera I bought in 1998 was extremely durable. Old faithful!

They don't make 'em like that anymore.


From 1994 to about 2001, the best way to distribute new pictures or video was via US Mail. Certainly Grandma didn't have access to e-mail until 2005, but given slow internet speeds in the late 20th century, prints and videotapes fit the bill.

Around 2002 I secretly borrowed Dad's 35mm slides and scanned about 50% of them and gave him 3 CD-ROM discs complete with HTML photo galleries for Father's Day. Secrecy is an important part of these projects.

From about 2004 to 2008 I was making DVD compilations of the classic family films and the new events. In 2005, in honor of Grandma and Grandpa's 60th Wedding Anniversary the tour de force of family DVDs was released, featuring the best productions and film clips going all the way back to about 1974.

Back in the day, people liked being on film. These days I get a lot of shots of people covering their faces.

Now, as time rolls on and inevitable milestones that we do not look forward to have transpired, we luckily have these memories for posterity. However one must keep track of everything, and let me tell you, stuff is everywhere.

I have had numerous home computers since 1994. I make sure to back up data before retiring a PC, however there are still multiple hard drives and stacks of CD and DVD discs, not to mention boxes of photos and Hi8 tapes.

Social Networking

The evolution of social networking for family members has gone from telephone to letter writing to e-mail to limited website linking to today's best-so-far solution, Facebook.

Telephone was of course limited to voice. It was great telling someone about a trip or event, but without visuals.

Back in the early 80's when long distance was still expensive, we had a system. One ring, call Franny. Two rings, call Rita. Three or more rings, ok to pickup - could be grandma. I think we invented Caller ID!

Then of course was the signaling system. Used after a long car ride, such as from Massachusetts back to Iowa. Hit 0 for operator, and place a collect call to Buster, the dog. When Grandma said Buster wasn't available (in reality, Buster had died years ago), we would say "Operator, just tell them to tell Buster that we arrived safely" knowing that Grandma could hear us say this. This was a way to avoid paying for a 1 minute phone call. Sorry Ma Bell - you've been punk'd.

Letter writing was never much of an enjoyable activity, aside from post-cards and the odd thank you note.

Jump ahead to e-mail. With 28.8k modems, sending more than one photo at a time was out of the question, and files had better of been under 100k. This continued until AOL started allowing multiple attachments. Then came broadband, around the same time as free web photo galleries. So photo sharing became easier. However this still involved multiple websites to juggle. Still not great or easy.

Finally social networking sites were invented. I admit I hesitated before accepting my Dad's friend invite. But now that I have, along with cousins and relatives who I have never even met, it's truly one big happy family. Now one can post a picture or video, and without any effort or stamps, everyone can see it, and if they desire, comment or pass it along to their own group of friends. Brilliant.

What I am getting at, is there is now - finally after all this time - an easy way to share your memories with a large disparate group of people.

Looking Ahead

So this week I started compiling my treasures, 1994-present, not only into a more organized offline fashion, but also bit by bit into my online family network. While it gives me joy to watch my Grandpa Morris talk about working in the shipyards during WWII or how he was arrested for selling hot dogs on Coney Island, it gives me even greater joy to share that video with my uncle, who had never seen video of his father, and with my mom, dad, brother any extended family. It's not that I did not have the ability or inclination to send my uncle a copy of this video in the past, it is just so easy now that we are all connected and communicating on a daily basis.

Last week I did a Skype video chat with my mom and dad in Florida. Now that is something all of my grandparents would have loved to see. But, you are thankful for the memories you have, knowing that you are always creating new memories for the future.

Thanks for reading. Now go get those shoeboxes from the attic and get scanning!

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 29, 2009 at 4:50:48 pm memories, photography

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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