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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Back Up Your Research: Paper and Digital Webinar

    Digital backups are easier than ever with new software, tools, and services. Join me Tuesday, July 28 for a live webinar Backup Your Research: Print and Digital featuring easy backup solutions for every genealogist. Whether you want to maintain complete control with local backup storage or automate storage in the Cloud and forget about it, there’s a backup program for you.

    Backup Your Research Webinar

    I admit that I’m more than a little paranoid about losing my research data, especially the hundreds of TIFF images I’ve carefully scanned from my personal family archive. I use a combination of local storage on external hard drives and automated cloud storage to provide peace-of-mind backups of all my data.

    Unfortunately, our family has learned the hard way that it’s way too easy to lose files in a digital disaster. The Number One culprit seems to be that handy “Delete” button on the keyboard. Have you ever done it? Copied some files from one location to another, deleted photos, and then discovered that the copy didn’t quite finish? Ugh. Lost photos. That’s what happened to my sister. She lost years of family photos, and when she turned to Facebook to recover some images, she was devastated to discover that Facebook saves radically optimized versions. Those files were fine for web sharing but weren’t the quality needed for photo books and printing. 

    Double-check your backup program to be sure you follow the Backup 3-2-1 maxim:

    3 copies

    2 different media

    1 copy offsite

    My favorite routine includes two different external hard-drives plus Cloud storage. And I always keep the original paper photographs or documents — one more copy is another chance for long-term preservation. I first heard Curt Wichter from the Allen County Public Library mention this great advice:

    LOCKSS — Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe

    If you're looking for solutions and strategies to safeguard your genealogy research--- paper and digital, I hope you'll join me at the Family Tree University live webinar Backup Your Research: Print and Digital. Click HERE to register today.


    Mondays with Myrt on Organizing Old Family Photos

    I'm so glad that I'm not the only one drowning in old photos. The response to Organizing Old Family Photos with the Parking Lot System shows that a lot of family historians struggle with how to sort, label, store, and digitize family photographs, old negatives, and unidentified old photos. Last week I joined Dear MYRTLE and Cousin Russ Worthington for Mondays with Mryt Google Hangout on Air, and we had a great time chatting about the plethora of photographs demanding our attention.

    A Plethora of Photographs

    The show begins with general news from DearMyrt and a conversation with blogger Randy Seaver about online family information; our chat about organizing photos begins about minute 33:50.

    Dear MYRTLE, aka Pat Richley-Erickson, hosts a weekly genealogy Hangout on Air to discuss what's new in the world of genealogy. I love "hanging out" with Myrt and Russ and the regulars at Myrt's. It's a friendly way to start to week and catch up on news and events I might have missed.

    The show is Live each Monday morning at noon Eastern US, 11 am Central, 10 am Mountain US, and 9 am Pacific US. And, if you miss the live show, you can check out the Google + Page for the discussion and link to the YouTube recorded edition. There's no charge to participate or view the show; but if you like what you see, you're welcome to "Pay What You Want" via contribution at the Mondays with Myrt website. 

    Visit DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Community on Google+ for the discussion and questions that followed our chat.


    Organizing Old Family Photos With the Parking Lot System

    Organize 1

    Old family photos are like cars, aren’t they? They need a place to live out of the elements when they aren’t being displayed or driven (your pictures do take you places, don't they?). Hold that thought.

    This morning I spent a few hours with a box of UFO photos I’ve had since the twilight year between the deaths of my mother and my aunt, exactly one year and one day apart. One winter morning after Mom had passed away, her older sister called and said that she had found a box of old family photographs she wanted to give me. It was a bright spot in a very bleak year.

    She wanted to split the driving distance and meet in a park where her husband planned to take a hike. Which explains why we sat in the front seat of her car with an old cardboard boot box filled with older family pictures. The box held a motley assortment of black-and-white snapshots, tintypes, and 19th century cabinet cards. Auntie seemed to think most of the photos were from her father’s side of the family, but we only had a short time to look through the contents together and make notes of any people she knew.

    I brought the box home and transferred the contents from the boot box to a similar sized archival box. When Auntie passed away a few months later I wished I had pushed for more information about how and where she found the box of photos. It’s been waiting patiently for a little attention until today.

    The Sorting Dilemna 

    When I first started working with my family photo collection, I couldn’t decide on the “best” method for organizing the original prints. Should I sort by person? by event? (good for groups), by place? by type of photo? or by some assigned catalog number? I tried different methods and finally came up with a hybrid system that works fairly well. How I sort and organize depends on the project, or the end goal.

    My objective for The Boot Box (that’s the official box label) was to sort, identify if possible, prioritize next steps, and move the contents  to suitable storage. I am confident that the photos are all from the Brown/Kinsel side of the family, so I’m not worried about creating chaos in my archival closet. I’d like to integrate these loose photos with other sets so that I have a chance of recognizing people or events. My method for unpacking the box is something I came up with several years ago, and it works well for preliminary sorting and organizing. I call it “The Parking Lot Method."


    Organize a Box of Old Family Photos

    I like to work with one box at a time. I spent about two hours sorting through photos in The Boot Box, making preliminary identifications, inventorying the contents, and placing items in new storage. The Jane and John Does I call UFOs.

    Step by step, here’s what I did:

    1. Wash hands.

    2. Unroll a large sheet of white butcher paper on the dining room table. I like paper better than a cotton sheet because the photos don’t get caught on the fabric. This is the “parking lot."

    3. Unpack the box in layers, keeping any groups together. The contents had been shuffled so many times that there wasn’t much order except the little stacks made by Auntie the day we looked at the photos together.

    4. Survey the contents. It takes a little time to really look at what you have, to notice the families and events that are pictured. When you feel like the faces begin to look familiar, start sorting.

    Organize 3

    5. Label 3x5 cards with names, places, or whatever makes sense. These will be the “parking spaces.” Group photos together with the “parking” label. I had a pile of UFO babies, and another I labeled Friends & Family. I recognized some family groups and found captions or notes that helped identify pictures. I found:

    • 8 family groups of snapshots and small photos
    • 1 group UFO Friends & Family 1940-50
    • 1 group UFO Friends & Family pre 1920
    • 1 group UFO Colorado and Kansas
    • 1 group UFO Children
    • 1 group large photos
    • 1 old photo album falling apart
    • 2 small albums
    • several postcards, most blank
    • misc. ephemera: unused address book, calendar, Christmas card, etc.

    Organize Family Photos

    6. I brought my grandmother’s photo album to the table and reviewed it for captions and notes. This helped me identify several more people and places.

    Old family photo album

    Murphy lois ruth 1

    The note on the reverse side of this Real Photo Post Card identified the children as “Lois” and “Ruth” and the writer as “Lora,” and showed a postmark date of 4 April 1912. The photo album page shows photos captioned with “Ruth & Lois Murphy” next to a picture of “Laura Goodbar and Ruth and Lois.” Great clues!

    7. Some photos looked like extras from an album in the box that was falling apart. Most didn’t have captions, but I grouped them together. Other UFO photos were grouped by type of photo or place — several were obviously from a farm, others from a trip.

    8. Each set of photos was placed in an acid-free photo envelope or archival folder labeled with the name and notes about any interesting photos.

    Organize 5

    Photos grouped by person and listed on the inventory sheet with notes for Next Steps.

    9. Each envelope or folder was listed on an inventory sheet with notes and next steps. I’ve decided to scan the photos in at least one folder and send the images to a cousin. Maybe she will recognize the people. I also made a note to check out the album that’s falling apart, for scanning and possibly removing the photos.

    10. The contents of The Boot Box was organized and moved to 12 archival photo envelopes, 4 file folders, and one book box for the albums. The inventory sheet reminds me what I found and what I need to do next. 

    The “parking lot” system helps organize different kinds of photos as you work and makes it easy to keep track of your photo sets and groups. Of course, the best part is discovering a true classic as you study your family’s past.

    For help with scanning resolution, naming files, and organizing your digital image library, see Part One in How to Archive Family Photos: A Step-by-Step Guide to Organize and Share Your Photos Digitally (paperback, PDF, and Kindle editions) available from Shop Family Tree and

    Disclosure: Affiliate links help keep this website online.


    Were Your Early Ancestors Part of the Great Migration? Find Out Free This Week

    NEHGS July 4th  Great Migration promo press release

    I have a few ancestors who should be named on these lists. . . do you? This week you can check out all online searchable databases related to The Great Migration — those early American colonists who came across the Atlantic from 1620 to 1640 — at the New England Historic and Genealogical Society website

    If you’re a frequent visitor to The Family Curator you may know that NEHGS and the website are among my very favorite places to research, not only because I have New England roots but because I love discovering names from history books listed right alongside my lesser known ancestors. It makes my people seem more real somehow, to know they too had a place in history.

    I didn’t learn about my New England family history until fairly recently; unfortunately, shortly after my younger son graduated from a Massachusetts college and came back to California to live at home. Oh the research trips I could have enjoyed! Fortunately, Mr. Curator likes New England too, and we’ve been able to visit those ancestral states many times since graduation day, with a few productive stopovers to research at NEHGS on Newbury Street. I won’t be traveling this weekend, though, except virtually at

    More details from NEHGS:

    Inspiration for a nation—born in the Great Migration.

    To salute the anniversary of our nation’s independence, NEHGS announces FREE access to all online searchable databases related to the Great Migration on  A unique foundation of governance and religion was brought by the 20,000 men, women, and children who crossed the Atlantic between 1620 and 1640, seeking opportunity and relief in New England, in the period known as the Great Migration. These are the Mayflower names, the Pilgrims, the Puritans, and the families that delight and provide rich insights for genealogists and family historians.  Since 1988 NEHGS has sponsored the Great Migration Study Project. The results are yours to research FREE all week, starting Wednesday, July 1, through Wednesday, July 8.


    Scenes from IGHR, Samford


    It’s easy to see why the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research hosted by the Samford University Library is close to the heart of so many genealogists. I was privileged to attend Dr. Thomas Jones’s genealogy writing course and be part of the IGHR Class of 2015. If you have this institute on your Big List of Things to Do, I encourage you to move it to the top and be part of the 2016 program.

    Samford Univ Library

    IGHR is hosted each year by the Samford University Library with the assistance of
    the friendly and efficient library staff.

    IMG 0797

    What a great library display highlighting family history and genealogy! 

    Samford Beeson Hall

    Beeson Hall, where several classes (including mine) were held.

    Samford campus

    Across the green.

    Memory Leake Hall

    ‘nuff said.

    IGHR Banquet

    IGHR Banquet introductions in the beautiful dining hall by course coordinator Judy G. Russell.

    Campus Clock

    Time to think about marking your calendar for IGHR 2016!

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