The Importance Of Family History In The Digital Age (Guest Post)

Posted by Ian Stewart on

Depending on how old you are and where you grew up, there may be some memories of elders discussing things that happened in the past. Those of us raised by Baby Boomers have heard history that went back as far as the U.S. Civil War.

At the beginning of this new era, some of us got out ye olde cassette tape recorder to record some of this oral history. However, cassette tapes are finite and don’t last forever. In fact, it would be hard to find a decent cassette recorder or player now. That is the beginning of catching important family history on tape.

Besides cassette tapes, we had photographs. Those go back even further than cassettes. Some families have photos that go back into the eighteen hundreds when photography was just getting started. These are important, but they are also finite. They won’t last forever, either.

Camcorders become inexpensive enough to begin recording family history during the nineties. Videos of children growing up and oldsters telling tales from long ago began to be recorded. A lot of them went on a different type of cassette tape, but something new had just arrived along with it. The ability to add these things to our computers was arriving.

Digitizing these pictures has become more than just a family thing. It is a big business. Not everyone has the time or the equipment to enter all of the movies, cassettes and/or pictures into a digital format. That said, it isn’t that difficult to do so.

A lot of younger people have asked why they should bother. This is an important part of this article. Oral history can change as it is handed down. Pictures fade. People die, and once they are gone what they know is gone with them.

Our family history now goes back eight generations with the addition of our grandchildren. They homesteaded in West Virginia before it was a state. At the time, it was part of Virginia. They fought in the Revolutionary War and every war since then. A lot of the Civil War was fought on West Virginia soil.

There is a lot of rich history there, including photographs and documents. By now, some of those are a century and a half years old. Having them digitized and on our computer makes it possible for us to show our grandchildren when they come to study those times in history.

My mother handwrote her family history. This is after decades of research, some of it online. Most of it was done the hard way; cemeteries, newspaper archives and the Library of Congress. Almost all of it had to be done in person. That history is now on our computer, ready for the next generation.

The digital age is important for more than just cherishing memories made now. It is important to us as a part of history. Who knows what we will see that should be recorded for posterity? Now we have a means of making sure that it lasts.

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