The Future of Preserving the Past


In today’s lightning-fast world of smartphone photography and social media, news and entertainment, who is saving what for future generations? When was the last time you archived your smartphone photos for posterity?

“The average computer or smartphone user often finds that she has neither the time to separate important and valuable photos from among the innumerable pictures taken nor the patience to sort emails and provisional versions of visual and text files,” wrote Ivan Szekely in “Do Archives Have a Future in the Digital Age?” (Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies, 2017).

As The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore celebrates its 100th anniversary, there has been much mining of historical records, giving perspective on where the organization has been and where it might be headed.

But how do we preserve today, so our artifacts can serve the community tomorrow? A question made even more important by the history-making coronavirus pandemic.

“From the first camera to the hand-held camera, to our digital camera phones, the way we document our lives has evolved with the latest technology. From typewriters to computers, storytelling has also evolved,” says Joanna Church, the Jewish Museum of Maryland director of collections. “With our cell phones, we now have so much ease ‘in the moment’ to capture a story from our loved ones.”

But as an archivist and collections expert, Church is painfully aware of what happens when we don’t store our photos, writings and other savable items correctly. Although, even for the amateur, it is possible to be a future-looking archiver with the help of current tech.

Yet, Church notes that “nothing can replace the photo albums for preservation of family memories and stories; having something to physically hold onto and pass down through the generations.”

Debora Feinberg
Pictured: Debora Feinberg, who produced a video with her dad, Paul T. Reamer, about his life and their family.

With help from The Associated, Debora Feinberg and her dad, Paul T. Reamer, decided to produce a video about his life and family.

Feinberg and her dad, who died in 2018, worked on the script together. “We met with The Associated and filmed the video at the JCC,” she says. “After recording the video, he was so excited to share the production with his daughters as the gift it was intended to be…his legacy, and something concrete that they can then share with their children and grandchildren.”

After her dad died, the family was able to show the video to family and friends as a special tribute. Stories Feinberg remembered fondly from the video included her father talking about his father’s general store, where outside pumps sold gasoline for 15 cents a gallon and chicken coops from which live chickens were sold out back.

“They had the only phone in the area and his father let his neighbors use the phone in emergencies and also helped them get to the doctors or hospitals when there were emergencies,” Feinberg remembers.

The Associated advises families to keep an eye on family gatherings as a great way to collect personal histories that should be preserved. Storytelling passes down family traditions and values. Even more important, according to research, children who know their family stories and are connected are more resilient.

However, there really is no time like the present. Available and easy-to-use video chat technology are easy ways to get together and share stories.

As Kelly Newcom writes in Grandparenting in the Digital Age, (braveparenting.net) having actual face-to-face time with grandchildren is the best way to pass down family knowledge.

Learn more at jewishmuseummd.org

The JMM’s Joanna Church suggests the following for preserving family memories.

Ancestry
Cloud-based genealogy platform that helps to tell your family’s story along with researching your ancestors

StoryCorps
NPR’s app to record, preserve and share stories.

Snapfish
Digital photobook apps can recreate albums of the past.

Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout
Video chat technology are easy ways children and families can get together and share stories across miles.


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