from Tim Soles
This article was originally published in the April 2003 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
I was quite moved by the poem at the end of the last edition entitled ‘Strangers in a Box’. Most of us have been frustrated by having family photos in our possession but not knowing who they are.
Last year, I embarked on an ambitious personal project to preserve information about my father on CD-ROM. This may have been prompted by the fact that I never knew my grandfather who died before I was born - I do not even have a photograph of him. My grown up children have no interest in family history, but that may change in later life so at least I will leave something for them to think about.
My father died many years ago but my mother is still alive. I have taken the opportunity to ask her some simple things, such as how and where she met my father. I have also documented what little information she had about my father’s parents. There are a few unlabelled photographs of my father in his early days, and my mother has been able to identify some of the locations and people.
The CD-Rom contains the photographs, commentaries, scans of my father’s war records, photos of his medals, his birth, marriage and death certificates, an abbreviated family tree, scans of various documents including references when he left school, an extract from a radio broadcast made by his brother and just about everything else I have found. It’s not finished yet, but even in its present form, it will give my descendants a clear picture about my father and his life.
But is it worth the effort? Some of you have photographs that are over 100 years old, and if labelled, are of tremendous value. Most of these old photos seem to last very well. I have colour photographs taken of my children just over 20 years ago which have been kept in an album. Some are in perfect condition, but others have faded substantially, and will soon be illegible.
If you had made a tape recording on an old reel to reel tape recorder, you would now struggle to find a tape recorder that can play it. You will also find that the quality will have deteriorated and the recording may have disappeared completely – magnetic media fades over the years. You might have a video recorded on a Betamax tape – try finding a player! Again, video tapes fade over the years.
But surely my CD-ROM will last forever – or will it? With the pace of technology, there is no doubt that within 10 years, CD-ROMs in their present form will be obsolete. Unless, I keep transferring the content to a more up to date medium, it will be as useless as a Betamax video in a few years time. Ah – but at least it will not fade away. Think again – the quality of CD-ROMs varies considerably, and although they should last longer than tapes or videos, they do fade and then become unusable.
The same will apply to all the photographs and videos taken on digital cameras and video cameras. In fact, photographs printed at home will last even less time than processed photos from a lab. Images stored on a computer will almost certainly be lost at some point in the future.
So what is the answer? Well I don’t know! To preserve important records, my inclination is to use traditional photography, and make sure the prints are produced in a good quality lab – and I must remember to label them!
I believe there is a real risk that with PCs in the home, e-mail becoming a common form of communication, and photos now being taken and sent on mobile phones, we are creating records that will not survive the test of time. Tony’s article tells us about a letter written in 1840 which is well preserved. What an irony in this modern day and age, that with all the benefits of modern technology, we may be creating family images that are no more likely to survive the test of time than old photos!
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