Social media has connected our world in ways never thought possible. Facebook Memories pulls up events we attended, dinners we ate, and visits to friends going back a decade or more. Instagram allows us to tag our friends and mark our location. For those with Smart phones with digital cameras, all we need to do is open our camera app or look at a few texts to figure out exactly when, where, and with whom a picture was taken. Our digital footprint has in a way immortalized us by preserving the details of our lives.
But what about pre-digital documents? What can be done to preserve these records? I am fortunate that my grandfather kept meticulous records of the family cemetery, including photographs dating back 100 years. He also clipped obituaries and newspaper articles. All these things, along with the histories that he and others wrote, have allowed us to maintain an unbroken history of our family and community.
During the application process for our Historic Texas Cemetery designation, the Washington County Courthouse was a tremendous help in writing the narrative of the Jaeger-Witte Cemetery. Mom and I spent countless hours at the courthouse, the Nancy Carrol Roberts Memorial Library in Brenham, and the Clayton Library in Houston researching documents. The picture below is the two of us looking through property deeds. I was tickled to find, as I read through the deeds, that the petty dramas and family feuds we encounter in contemporary times were just as common in the old days.
About 20 years ago, Mom and I set out on cataloging about 5,000 photographs. She being one of the last surviving people from her generation, it was imperative that she identify these pictures before she too was gone. We sorted the photos by century, decade, year, and then event or family and placed them into archival albums. Every so often, we find another picture tucked away in a box or a book, so I hesitate to say that this project will ever be completed. It’s been an enjoyable experience and I recommend this as a way of bonding with family and learning about your history. I have also found that these albums are an excellent resource for relatives experiencing memory loss. The pictures revive fond memories of childhood pets, family gatherings, weddings, funerals, and a time long past. In recent years I have begun the arduous process of digitizing these photographs along with Grandpa’s obituaries to ensure that these documents are available to as many people as possible. This is especially important as many of the obituaries are unavailable or difficult to find in online databases. The hundreds of hours spent are worth the effort when I see how happy people are to have these things. So, as much as possible, preserve your documents and make them available in a variety of formats. Your family and future generations will thank you.