At Memory Forward, our mission is to help Austin-area families organize their photo, video, and memorabilia treasures so they can preserve and share their life stories. Our clients' collections come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of disarray, but we relish most the projects involving a family's multi-generational history, spanning decades of memories across a variety of different media types--from vintage photos and film reels, to digital files and smartphone libraries.
We get to become a trusted partner for those clients, working together to create an accessible, searchable digital legacy of family history that will be protected well into the future.
One such project was the Henry Estate family archive. When I first met Angela Henry over 6 years ago, she was overwhelmed by a recent inheritance of massive amounts of photos, letters, documents, artwork, videos, and other memorabilia. The size and scope of the task left her paralyzed with inaction, her study floor covered in piles of loosely connected people and events that she had been agonizing over, trying to make heads or tails of it all.
Even though she had been working with a professional organizer colleague of mine, they had stalled out on what to do next and how to manage the entire process. They agreed they needed to call in an expert so that this family legacy could be cared for in the way that Angela and her brothers wanted. One short phone call later, we had arranged our first meeting!
Our Plan and Process
Angela and I worked for several sessions to gather and continue sorting all of the items (including a large, almost-forgotten batch at her brother’s house!), breaking them down into smaller categories and deciding how to handle each group of items. We agreed that documents should be organized by family member, scanned, and stored in archival pages inside 3-ring binders, photos separated into estate-related photos, and later Angela's own, more modern family photo collection would be tackled separately. Home movies and videos would be included in the digital archive as well, and the entire collection's digital files would be labeled by names, events, dates, and other searchable key words. Angela saw all of the work we'd agreed to as insurmountable, but I treated it with gusto as a puzzle to solve, and she soon began to feel relief and excitement for how the whole project would turn out.
Months and months of scanning ensued, taking care to keep handwritten information associated with the photos, and to keep track of what vintage boxes the items had originated from since that information provided meaningful and sentimental context for the Henry family. Very little of Angela's time was required during this part of the process, as I was busy doing solo detective work and making educated guesses as to how to group and identify things, but always making note of things that I was unsure of when the context was unclear.
The next phase of the process included multiple meetings with Angela to review all of the scanned items to capture details of the stories, identify things that belonged together and things that didn't, delete what was no longer important to anyone in the family, and label everything in a way that ensured it would be easily searchable in the family’s photo archive for decades to come.
The result? An organized legacy and peace at last!
Once everything was digitized and organized, we applied a very efficient “matching” system that I’ve developed over the years to make sure that all physical and digital assets are cross-referenced with each other. So no matter whether you are looking at a digital photo and want to find the print, or are looking at a print and want to see other digitals related to it, you can always find exactly what you are looking for. The end result for Angela was a beautiful, synchronized digital asset library, accessible through a software program on her computer and her phone, and an impeccably labeled, archival-safe physical library of photos, documents, artwork, movies, and more. Angela and her brothers each received a copy of the family photo hub and have been using it for several years now to create heirloom-quality photo albums and photo enlargements, celebrate special events, browse and search on a daily basis, and delight friends and family with gems long since forgotten.
The experience with Angela was one of the most rewarding of my long career as a photo organizer. The project beautifully married my skills for photo detective work, my passion for keeping track of all the details, and my comfort with technology and organization. Since this experience, I’ve been fortunate to be able to grow Memory Forward to include a team of professionals who share my passion and value the high standards for photo preservation and client interaction that I’ve set. We feel truly honored to now be able to serve more clients, to become part of these families’ lives and history, and to be trusted in these long-put-off, often overwhelming family history projects. We become personally connected to every client in a very unique way, as we’ve relived the family history together and worked diligently to retell and preserve it in a modern way.
-Laura Woolsey, Owner-Memory Forward
*Client name was changed to respect their privacy