2016 June – Family Archiving

Family Archiving: Heirlooms in the Digital Age

Coordinator: Denise May Levenick, MA

Additional Course Instructors:

  • Shelley Ballenger Bishop
  • Pam Stone Eagleson, CG
  • Sierra Green, MLIS
  • Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL

Held June 26-July 1, 2016, at La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA. Registration Information.

Did you inherit the Family Bible? Or, were you tasked with emptying a family home filled with photos, documents, and memorabilia? Ancestral artifacts, whether found in private or public collections, can extend family trees, confirm kinship, and enrich family histories with social context and personal stories.

This course will offer researchers of all skill levels guidance in understanding, preserving, and incorporating family collections in legacy family history projects:

  • Genealogists who inherit family collections and want to learn how to safely preserve artifacts, efficiently digitize and archive both digital and physical materials, and use heirlooms to enrich their family history.
  • Family historians with a project in mind seeking ways to enrich genealogical writing or visual projects with material culture and social history artifacts
  • Professionals interested in offering archival assistance to clients seeking help digitizing, organizing, and understanding the significance of family keepsakes
  • Society members responsible for the care and curation of small collections, including paper, photographs, memorabilia, and artifacts.

Students will practice hands-on preservation, digitizing, and archival skills throughout the week using original artifacts, documents and photographs supplied by the instructor and/or the student. Students may also opt to work on individual archival projects with the instructor’s guidance. More information about recommended items and suitable projects will be sent by email.

The course is designed as a workshop. Illustrated lectures and informative case studies will lay the foundation for new skills and techniques to be practiced in classroom and individual projects. Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to come to GRIP with the idea for an archival project; throughout the week they may develop a project plan and practice necessary skills, so they are ready to move forward when returning home.

See what Denise said about the course on her blog.
Sierra Green has written several articles on the Heinz History Center blog.


 8:15 a.m. Introductions

8:30 a.m. Roles and Responsibilities of the Family Archivist (Denise May Levenick)

Family historians who inherit photos, documents and memorabilia, and genealogists who work with privately held family collections must often go beyond the role of researcher to become archivists, curators, and publishers. We will explore strategies for working with small collections owned by individuals, families, societies, or community organizations. Anyone who has inherited a family estate or been tasked with cleaning out a family home knows the challenge of deciding what to keep and what to let go. The morning session will introduce real-life materials and examples from a “typical” estate, and in small groups, we will sort, purge, and curate items to create a Course Family Collection to be used in Lab Workshops throughout the week.

10:15 a.m. Archival Storage Strategies and Solutions (Denise May Levenick)

This session will introduce best practices for long-term preservation storage and selection of appropriate archival containers for photographs, film, documents, and artifacts. A variety of storage solutions will be discussed, including construction of archival folders and textile storage enclosures. We will also discuss how to locate and set up up a home archive to hold family collections accessible for research and sharing.

1:00 p.m. Photo Conservation and Digital Editing (Denise May Levenick)

This practical session discusses solutions for common challenges when working with old photographs and documents including dirty negatives, brittle or curled photographic prints and papers, and fragile oversize items such as newspapers or large prints. Using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Elements we’ll see how to use a simple photo editing workflow to touch up damaged photos, improve readability of scanned documents, and create single images from multiple digital files.

2:45 p.m. Material Culture Workshop: Curating a Collection (Denise May Levenick)

What does it mean to “curate” a collection? How do we select appropriate items to tell a family story? Using items from the morning lecture, students will describe, store, cite a variety of artifacts discuss challenges in their own family collections and practice constructing custom-made archival enclosures.

4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Optional Lab Workshop

Optional Lab Workshop to create archival storage enclosures and discuss individual archival projects.


8:30 a.m. Hot DAM! Digital Asset Management for Genealogists (Denise May Levenick)

Digital archiving results in thousands of images and files across computers and mobile devices. This session focuses on practical strategies and workflows for digital file management, including backup, adding metadata, filenaming, captioning, and sharing with examples using Adobe Lightroom digital asset management software.

10:15 a.m. Grandma’s Treasure Chest: Investigating and Evaluating Family Artifacts (Pamela Stone Eagleson, CG)

Do you ever wonder why certain items are saved by our ancestors? This lecture examine objects that might be found in Grandma’s Treasure Chest – describing them, identifying sources to learn about them, evaluating the information found in them, learning the stories they tell, and citing the artifacts.

1:00 p.m. Facts, Photos and Fair Use: Copyright Law for Genealogists (Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL)

Understanding what is and isn’t copyrighted and what genealogists can and can’t use is the key to staying out of trouble and to protecting our own work.

2:45 p.m. Digitizing Workshop: Tools and Techniques for Creating Digital images (Denise May Levenick)

Preserving family documents and photographs begins with a master plan for digitizing materials. Today’s options for “scanning” include a wide variety of tools from dedicated scanners to smartphone apps. We will discuss how to select the best digitizing device for the task at hand, from flat photos to awkward artifacts, and how to take advantage of hidden features in most consumer scanners. Students will be introduced to the workshop equipment available during the Lab sessions throughout the week.

4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Optional Lab Workshop

Optional Lab Workshop to create archival storage enclosures and practice with digitizing equipment and accessories.


8:30 a.m. Elements of Good Design: Start With a Style Guide (Denise May Levenick)

Serif or san serif? Helvetica or Arial? Kerning, picas, and pixels. If you’ve ever wondered why some books, or websites, just look better than others, you’ll find answers in this discussion of basic “good design” for print and for web. This lecture will highlight the importance of understanding font families when selecting typefaces for a project; the role of white space, margins and leading; and when to use, or omit, illustrations. We’ll see how a style guide helps to maintain consistency and focus though out long-term projects.

10:15 a.m. Paper and Ink: Online Publishing Options for Family History Projects (Shelley Ballenger Bishop)

Daunted by the idea of publishing a family history book? Learn how easy it is to create a meaningful keepsake with Ancestry.com and MyCanvas, as well as other popular online services including Blurb, Shutterfly, and Mixbook. This session will explore online photo and book publishing services that are ideal for individual and short run genealogy projects, from single family calendars to family history books. We’ll look at ways to create attractive books without hiring a graphic design firm, and highlight the best features of some of the most popular online services.

1:00 p.m. An Archivist’s Guide to Family Collections (Sierra Green)

This session will explore the process through which institutional archivists acquire, preserve, and prepare a collection of unique records to be accessible for research with an emphasis on how to adapt and apply this knowledge to care for and organize a personal or family documentary collection. Acquisition policies at archival repositories will be discussed, as well as other professional principles that can impact an institution’s collecting initiatives. This lecture will be especially helpful to those considering donating a personal or family collection and to professional genealogists who are asked to assist clients in preparing materials for future gifts to archival institutions.

2:45 p.m. Publication Workshop: Challenges and Solutions for Print Projects (Denise May Levenick)

This workshop will demonstrate skills and techniques to create reproduction editions of original texts such as diaries and journals, and a project outline for developing an heirloom history album or other print project. Students may bring ideas and items for a personal project or work with items provided by the instructor.

4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Optional Lab Workshop

Optional Lab Workshop to discuss student projects and practice with digitizing equipment.


 8:30 a.m. Family History Projects for the Digital Age (Denise May Levenick)

Beyond paper and ink, innovative digital projects offer new ways to share photographs, artifacts, and stories. We’ll look at apps and tools available for computers, tablets, and smartphones to create multimedia digital slideshows, audio interviews, and videos. Ideas for sharing on websites, blogs, FaceBook, Instagram, Pinterest and other Internet sites will be discussed, with privacy and copyright concerns.

10:15 a.m. Using Family Keepsakes in Genealogy Publications (Denise May Levenick)

Family artifacts confirm relationships, identify ancestors, and bring life to historical narrative. This session highlights case studies of genealogical writing that make use of privately held artifacts. We will discuss how to select and prepare digital images for publication in scholarly journals.

1:00 p.m. Grandma’s Obituary Box: Use Of Obituaries In Genealogical Research & Their Role In American Culture (Pam Stone Eagleson, CG)

Obituaries help document our ancestors and bring them to life.  This lecture compares obituaries from the 18th to the 21st century, examines types of information found in them and where and how to locate them.

2:45 p.m. You Can’t Take It With You: Safeguarding the Future of Your Family Archives (Denise May Levenick)

Who will care for your family archive when you’re gone? We’ll look at creative solutions for distributing family heirlooms when settling an estate, how to be an attractive donor to institutional archives, and safeguarding collections against natural and man-made disaster.

4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Optional Lab Workshop

Optional Lab Workshop to discuss student projects and practice with digitizing equipment.


8:30 a.m. Orphan Heirlooms: Finding a Home for Lost History (Denise May Levenick)

Unidentified photos, heirlooms with “lost stories,” and keepsakes without a home are all orphans. This session will give examples showing how easily a treasured artifact can become homeless, and offer practical strategies to prevent orphan heirlooms in the future. Case studies will demonstrate techniques for learning more about stray items, and strategies for identifying and locating descendants and returning keepsakes to the family line.

 10:15 a.m. Opportunities in Family Archiving and Course Wrap Up (Denise May Levenick)

We will wrap-up the week with a discussion of further opportunities in the field of personal and family archiving including extended learning and professional client services, and by sharing student projects and future challenges.

Before noon: Distribution of certificates and farewells.