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While data and written stories are a vital part of family history, there is so much more that comprises your family’s story. If you have copies of important records and documents, old photographs, and family videos, it’s important to preserve these in a digital format. Capturing these sources in a digital form preserves them against aging and deterioration, as well as loss, while making it easier to share them with friends and family.

But what are the best ways of converting your documents, photos, and videos to a digital format? Here’s what you need to know.

Digitizing Documents
Digitizing documents like newspaper clippings, vital records, and certificates is usually relatively straightforward. Unless the documents are extremely old, you can usually simply scan the documents into a computer and save them as a PDF or image. If you don’t have a scanner at home, many libraries and printing businesses offer scanning services.

If, however, you’re trying to digitize very old or very fragile documents, you should avoid scanning them. Exposure to the bright light of a scanner can cause deterioration in the document, which can lead to fading of the text. While you may not be able to immediately see the damage caused by a scanner, the damage will show up in the document over time. If you have no choice but to scan the document, be sure to scan it as few times as possible; each time you scan the document will cause additional damage. Also, be sure not to use an automatic paper feeder. Place and remove the documents by hand to avoid additional damage to the papers.

A better option for delicate documents is to photograph them with a high-quality digital camera. You could even snap a photograph of the document on your phone, if your phone’s camera has a high enough resolution to properly capture the text. Once the document is photographed, you can convert the JPG or TIFF file into a PDF and even make it searchable.

Digitizing Photographs
Photographs should be digitized in much the same way as documents. If you have a physical photograph that is not very old or very fragile, you can use a standard scanner to input them into your computer. If, however, they are quite old or delicate, it is best to avoid a scanner and use a digital camera with a high resolution to capture the image. Once the photograph is in your computer, there are many programs you can use to enhance the photo to make its appearance closer to that of the original.

Truly capturing the look and feel of an old photograph can be very difficult without the right equipment. So, if you’re having trouble digitizing your old photos, you may want to consider enlisting professional assistance. There are many businesses around the country that offer such services. At Legacy Books, we’re experienced with handling old, fragile photographs and perfectly capturing them for use in your family history book.

Digitizing Family Videos
Up through the 1990s, many American families captured important family moments with a camcorder, which recorded video onto a VHS. Now, however, VHSs are virtually obsolete, and there’s really no easy way to convert them into digital files. If you have a large amount of footage you want to convert, there are a few options available to you.

To convert the footage yourself, there are two choices to choose from. The first is to rent a projector and project your home videos onto a very clean white wall or sheet. Record the video as it plays with a digital camera. While this is a relatively inexpensive method, it is less than perfect, as the appearance of the video will be slightly different, and you might have some trouble getting the sound without any outside interference.

Another DIY option involves a bit of an investment. You will have to purchase (or if you’re lucky, you may find a place to rent) a film-to-video converter. These machines usually cost a few hundred dollars at least, but they’re very effective at converting VHSs into a digital format. The film runs through the converter, and is saved onto a memory card that can then be inserted into your computer.

There are also many professional services that you can use to complete your film conversions, and we recommend the team at Larsen Digital. These services can usually provide you with either DVD versions of your videos, or digital files. However, it does require you to send your home movies in for conversion, which can be nerve-wracking for some people, so find the method that works best for you.

Saving old documents, photos, and videos in digital format is an important step in preserving and sharing your family history. We hope these tips help you to convert your files in a safe and effective way so that your family’s legacy is protected.

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