The best way to keep genealogy research in assisted living?
Question: My sister-in-law is moving into an assisted living facility and has years and years of genealogical research, projects and documents. It seems no one else in the family cares about these things, but I’m afraid to get rid of them. Is there a good way for her to take it with her? Or for us to keep it without taking up so much space?
Answer: What an incredible historic gift your sister-in-law gave your family, and how special it is that you want to preserve all the work she has done to document family information!
Genealogy is by nature a paper-heavy business. Making good use of the storage options will allow your sister-in-law to take her most treasured items with her to her new living space and efficiently store the rest in an accessible way for future generations who may be interested in her research. .
Categorize documents for digital storage
The short answer is that digital storage is the best way to approach storing these types of documents. Before that happens, however, decisions will have to be made to categorize and prioritize your sister-in-law’s collection. Once you are able to make these decisions, you will be able to assess which documents should be kept and which can be deleted.
Genealogists work with two different types of documents: original documents and working copies. The first step is to separate the documents into these categories. Original documents could include original copies of birth, marriage, baptism and death certificates; funeral cards and family Bibles; newspapers and letters; photocopies of the files made during the on-site research; and original photographs. If the cost is prohibitive or impossible to replace the article, it must be considered as an original document.
Working copies are typically documents that have been downloaded and printed from a website or public record such as census, probate, or estate records. If you can find it online, it’s considered a working copy. Research notes are also considered working papers because they can be easily scanned and the paper recycled.
How to digitize and store genealogy records
Digitization is the next step in the process. Work papers are probably the bulk of documents and can be scanned and stored in a cloud service such as Google or iCloud. Bulk scanning greatly speeds up this process. There are dedicated scanners that you can use or even scanning apps like Genius Scan that you can download to your phone. Make sure that when you scan documents, you’re not scanning unnecessary paper – unused travel brochures, old travel itineraries and duplicate copies don’t need to be added to your digital files. Once the documents are scanned, you can recycle the paper you no longer need.
Heirloom originals require a special touch when scanning. Using a flatbed scanner instead of a standard sheet-fed desktop scanner will prevent old, broken, or damaged paper from being accidentally shredded or caught in the scanner feed. A scanner app on your phone is a great way to keep heirloom documents intact and the best choice if you’re scanning book pages, large items, or projects.
Keeping these heritage documents safe for future generations is easily done with archival storage options. Plastic storage bins and cardboard boxes will not protect and preserve these heritage documents like archives will. Resources for archival supplies such as folders, envelopes and boxes include Hollinger Metal Edge and University Products.
Prioritize documents taking into account the available space
Once the documents have been digitized, you will be able to discuss the priority digitized items, as space is limited in an assisted living facility. To ensure that your sister-in-law has access to the pieces that are most important to her, I recommend that you go through the scanned items together and ask her to choose the items that she would like to have easy access to.
Websites like Shutterfly and Mixbook allow you to easily upload photos from a phone or computer to their site where you can create a photo album from those photos. There are several options for inserting photos into photo albums. A simple option is to allow the website to automatically populate the photo album from uploaded photos. Alternatively, you can choose to create the layouts yourself. If your sister-in-law wants to learn how to create the photo albums herself, it’s really a simple drag-and-drop process to populate the photo albums.
The albums are then easily accessible from a shelf or counter in your sister-in-law’s bedroom, and they can also serve as a resource for future generations.
A special note about projects your sister-in-law has created: one option is to photograph the project and include it in a photo album. Another option is to have the project framed by a professional, either in a standard frame for a flat project or in a shadow box frame for a three-dimensional project. It can then be hung in your sister-in-law’s bedroom where she and her visitors can enjoy it. Using museum glass in any framing project will provide added protection against deterioration of the item being framed.
Organize, prioritize, discuss, give!
Organizing your sister-in-law’s research is the first important step in preserving the information for your family as well as donating the information if there is no family interest in preserving the research. Most historical societies and libraries don’t have the storage space or staff to sort through massive amounts of documents and information. If your sister-in-law’s research is organized and the inheritance documents are properly stored, one of these places might be able to accept the documents if their donation guidelines are followed.