Have You Left Room in Your Budget for Your Family History?
Whether it’s weekly groceries, an annual vacation or a long-term college fund, we all try to plan for life’s important expenses. But what about budgeting for your family history? Survey data shows that keeping family history and stories alive is by far people’s greatest desire when considering their legacy, yet many families don’t put the needed money aside. We’ll show you how to budget for preserving the boxes of photos and other mementos likely stored in the attic or basement so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
1. Decide what story you want to tell.
Sharing your family’s story is one of the most important things you can do. Begin with the end in mind and work backwards from there, piecing together steps that will transform your family photos and videos into something the whole family can enjoy.
Maybe it’s turning an old family scrapbook into a modern photo book; maybe it’s creating a slideshow that details a love story; maybe it’s collecting history from the last few generations into one place and uploading everything to a website that your family has access to.
Whatever the goal is that you have in mind, it’s important to get a scope of your project, as well as an assessment of your own skills to see whether or not you can do it yourself or it requires someone with more technical expertise. A really good photo book can be created with only a couple dozen photographs, letters and documents if they are accompanied with the appropriate narrative text. Larger photo books can go up to 200-250 photos. Slideshows on the other hand have a sweet spot of 100-175 photos. If each photo is shown for three to four seconds, that’s anywhere from five to 10 minutes. Comprehensive family websites are definitely a larger undertaking and can be as large and thorough as is necessary. In some cases, it may be best to showcase bits and pieces of everyone’s lives. In others, scanning the entire family archives might be appropriate.
Don’t forget to include video into the equation as well. Though it’s not an option for photo books, slideshows can benefit from a few short, meaningful clips. Family websites can also have a video section that can include old 8 mm home movies all the way to newer smartphone videos.
2. Make a plan to scan irreplaceable family photos and videos: DIY, local shop or national discounter?
Factor the most important items into your budget first and work from there—things like family scrapbooks, baby books, old home movies and wedding albums. As you think about converting to digital, keep in mind what story you plan to tell. If you want to create a photo book, there may be resolution requirements depending on what service you are using; if you have organized and labeled your photos and videos, it’s important to find a service that will preserve the labels and keep everything in order; if you want to edit the videos yourself, make sure you receive a file type that is compatible with your computer.
For the most precious family items, it’s worth looking around for a service that will meet your needs. Many of the larger national companies carry ‘shoebox’ scanning options with attractive pricing. This option is a great move if you have 500 4-by-6-inch prints or 10 VHS tapes that aren’t quite in the top tier of family significance, but are worth saving nonetheless. These companies require that you ship your materials across the country and in some cases overseas, which is a nonstarter for some people. On top of that, it isn’t guaranteed that your photos will be in the same organizational structure or order as they were when you sent them; preserving captions and labels is also no certainty. For the most precious items, it’s worth finding a local shop that doesn’t ship anything out. It will be more expensive, but worth it for the peace of mind and the extra level of service you will get.
If turnaround time is a concern—maybe there is an upcoming family event to prepare for—the local option is almost always the better choice. Don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face contact when you ask someone to accelerate a project on your behalf. Taking the mail out of the equation, you can also save almost a week in shipping both ways.
If you are interested in DIY projects, there are also plenty of options to choose from. There are a host of media digitizing devices for different formats: from flatbed scanners, to specialized slide scanners, to videotape home conversion kits. Having the extra measure of control for these projects can be empowering and give a sense of accomplishment and safety (after all, they are never leaving your hands).
3. Build your budget.
If you decide to go the DIY route, you will need to get equipment to do the work for you. A flatbed scanner can be purchased for under $100 if you don’t have one already. The basic printer-scanner versions do a perfectly adequate job, but if you are looking for a high-end toy, plan on spending about $500. If you have a lot of slides to scan, you can expend roughly equivalent amounts on a slide-specific scanner. On the other hand, a $25 tray can be attached to most flatbeds that will work just as well. For videotape conversion, expect to spend about $200 on the equipment. With midrange equipment, a DIY project with both photo and video digitizing will cost around $500.
If you outsource the whole project, the charges will be based on amount. Video tapes are easy to count, and there usually aren’t that many of them. For photos, if you stack them vertically and measure the stack, a good estimate will be 100 photos per inch. For slides stacked the same way, it’s 20 slides.
The national bulk-scanning companies generally charge photos and slides at under 50 cents per scan. A local company may be as much as twice that amount and scans can go as high as $5.00 to digitize things such as children’s artwork, photos that are larger than 8×10 or fragile documents. For video, the prices are even more. National companies will be able to do video tapes for around $10-$15 per tape, whereas your local shop might charge $15-$25.
On average, the bottom line for preserving your family’s collection is around $200-$400 for the most important pieces. The cost for a really good, comprehensive project that covers most of your family members will be around $600-$800. If you are looking to preserve the entire family archive going back generations, the costs can get up into the thousands.