High fives, tears, and hugs, that about sums up our experience at RootsTech 2023.
We were humbled by the many expressions of gratitude we received for creating Artifcts. For some the gratitude came from a place of feeling overwhelmed by stuff, including the everyday items we collect to the family heirlooms we keep. For others it was the pressure of being that family keeper and desperately wanting to share the family history and legacy with future generations, but worrying, “Are they listening? Can I get them to understand before it’s too late?"
Our magic with attendees was clear as we demonstrated how simple it is to create and share Artifcts. And how by combining photos and video, or even audio, you can bring stories and memories from today and long ago alive.
The magic was also clear as people returned to us with spouses, sisters, and other attendees in tow. We all come to Artifcts from different starting points. Some are minimalists, others collectors. Some are artists, others living through a major life event and tackling downsizing. We know for some the smaller scale of this year’s RootsTech was a bit sad, but for us at Artifcts it meant deep conversations no matter your starting point that we’ll carry with us and have influenced how we see Artifcts and its bright future.
Whether you attend RootsTech virtually, in-person, or not at all, but find yourself becoming the family keeper, family historian, or some other version thereof, we hope this is only the beginning of our time together experiencing the power of Artifcts for capturing yoru personal, family, and community histories, stories, and legacy.
As for next year? We will be there! We’ll set up computers to help attendees register on the spot and customize their Artifcts experience, even create their first Artifcts, empowering all attendees to walk away with a bit of their own personal or family history preserved for generations to come.
Family history and legacy on your mind? You might enjoy these related ARTIcles by Artifcts:
Stuff is cozy. It's personal. It’s valuable. It represents piece of your family story. It's what we sometimes call "Life Links,” the context for the lives we're living - if only our objects could talk!
No judgement here if you, too, like ‘stuff.’
If you have attachments to stuff because of the memories, the dreams of a future when it becomes relevant, or whatever other just cause for keeping it, and it does not impede your daily life, good for you. We are here to say we're on your side. Ignore everyone else and real or perceived judgements about collecting and enjoying stuff.
If you're on the fence, stuff is stometimes a problem, consider some of our practical guidelines from our co-founder Ellen's household. And share tips of your own with us in social media or Editor@Artifcts.com.
As I told you in Lessons From Artifcting With My Mother, I'm neither hoarder nor minimalist. I don't even usually think I'm very sentimental (we talked about that, too, here). But I think knowing someone, who they are and not just what they've done, is made possible through the stories behind objects. It's less awkward, honestly. I don't have to be a fabled storyteller or enjoy the spotlight. It enables me to live my story and pass it on, digitally and/or physically!
Practical Guidelines Help Manage 'Stuff' From Overflowing
So, what's it really like here in the Goodwin household?
We have golden rules for stuff.
Some rules bring sanity in the rush of the school/work week. For example, no clothes on the bathroom counter or shoe piles by the door. And shred unsolicited offers with evil codes and other sensitive documents immediately.
Other rules are really practical guides to avoid penalties and lost meaning. Just as I schedule e-bills for payment as soon as I receive them, I Artifct moments after an item comes into the house (or is on its way out) or as I relax at the end of an eventful day. I take a few key photos I want to use to capture and remember the real story behind each item and add in the funny, factual, and other types of humanizing details.
No harm in hitting “pause” is another rule, especially when more stuff is concerned. If I still remember I wanted or "needed" to buy some item weeks later (or maybe a month later for a big-ticket item), then I do. I'm not a minimalist, but I do think about bringing more stuff into our home and try to do the same with my family. Here’s a real example from household: “Really? We "need" another Harry Potter Lego set? What about this one that's unfinished and this one that's not even started? Our house is small people; let's talk about this!”
Objects Turned Artifcts Become "Life Links"
I have embraced 'stuff' in a public way as the co-founder of Artifcts because valuing the meaning and history behind the objects I have chosen to keep is natural to me. My husband? Not so much. That's fine. I find energy and humanity in connecting through the stories only objects can tell, through me. So, to end this little sharing piece, here are a few of my “Life Links” through objects I have Artifcted. You can also browse public Artifcts and download our inspiration lists for more inspiration!
Not all Artifcts I mention are public on Artifcts, but I've tried to give you the context so you can feel more comfortable embracing your own Life Links, and give people fair warning to treat them well whether they stay in the family or find new purpose elsewhere someday.
Heart necklace from my husband and daughter. This gift had very little to do with Mother's Day and much more to do with their symbolic support of this new fandangled thing called Artifcts. View the Artifct >
Throw quilt from Grandma. I do not know my grandmother well, but I always thought it was telling that she took the time to hand stitch a quilt for each of my siblings and me. View the Artifct >
Ping pong ball. It’s from the early days dating my now husband and always makes me smile.
Bird dish. A dish anyone can buy from Anthropologie but that reminds me how lucky I am in life to have my person (my husband) at my side.
Pywocket, the wooden cat. I know the origins and still find it remarkable to imagine a young woman in the 1960s (aka my mother) doing wood carving. Surely this says more about me and my assumptions than her skills. View the Artifct >
What stuff, sentimental and/or valuable life links, do you love in your home?
If you are interested in Artifcts potentially featuring your Artifct in our curator’s choice series, click the share button on your Artifct and send it to @ArtiEditor.
"I said I would go through it someday. I know I don’t need it all. But there it sat for over 15 years while I paid for the storage. I couldn't even remember what was in storage, much less enjoy it.” That’s what one Arti Community member of the boomer generation told us recently. We know she is not alone.
According to AARP magazine (April/May 2021) review of commercial storage trends, the older you are, the longer you keep items in storage. And, on average, boomers only visit their storage units once per month. How critical is that storage? How much cost and uncertainty does it create?
“Our family moved a lot over the span of 20 years, and I was in constant survival mode. There was no time to ponder what we kept and what we let go of much less the good stories to pass on,” said another Arti Community member.
He was trying to justify to himself why he and his partner kept moving the same ‘stuff’ from house to house, even if only to put back in storage in the next garage, closet, and attic. (And that eventually became a downsizing adventure of epic proportions. Read about it here.)
We have also heard from people who held onto items and expressed some version of, “Surely it will still be worth something, and I can sell it,” only to find it degraded over time in the hot attic, the style or material was no longer in vogue when recovered from the dusty bins, or some other reason meant that no, it was a lost cause. Think you're immune?
How to Make the Most of the Money We Do Spend on Storage
Keep in mind, storage is not always at an offsite property where you pay a monthly fee. Want to talk about expensive storage, consider the climate controlled space you live in!
#1 KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOU STORE
If nothing else, make a list or take pictures of the bulky and or valuable, to you, items. Better yet, Artifct what you store. Otherwise, you know what they say, ... out of sight, out of mind.
When you create an Artifct for the items that go in, you can also affix a QR code to the box to help you easily recall what’s inside each box or bin when you scan the code in its storage location. Tag Artifcted items with two tags: one that's simply #Storage and a second that's the specific location, such as #attic, #fronthallcloset, or #storageunit. That way with a single click on any #storage tag you can easily review what you're storing, and second click #attic, and "Oh, yes, that's what's up there. Maybe it's time to come out and get used."
If you're working with a professional moving and storage company, they'll usually create an inventory list for practical and insurance purposes. We encourage you to consider this the "if nothing else" bare minimum. You deserve more than an inventory of stuff.
#2 THINK AHEAD TO CAPTURE USEFUL DETAILS
Photos of the objects, for sure, but also a video snippet that gives a 360-degree view if an item is particularly special or valuable. Grab approximate dimensions and weight, too. This will help whether you need to move it again or decide to sell it. This is why if you ever meet up with an Artifcts team member in person, you'll catch us handing out pocket-sized tape measures.
#3 ASK BEFORE YOU STORE, THEN STORE, AND STORE SAFELY
We know it might be hard to let go of that piece of furniture that's been in your family for decades or even generations. Likewise, those bins of old papers and photos that you know tell your family's story. Oh, and the collections that snuck up on you and now when you see it all together brings back so many memories. Yes, all very tempting to store for someone someday to enjoy again.
If you Artifct it and share it, with one click you can ask someone if they want the item if you do not. No? Let it go to a new home.
If you elect to store it, and let's assume that space is climate controlled, please still think about what boxes and bins you are storing them in. So many of the popular bins will let of gasses ("off-gas" in archival terms) and ruin photos, film, and documents. And without proper care, textiles can also be a lost cause. You don't want to realize you lost the history and stored what's now trash. Use archival quality materials. Monocurate, and similar archival services, offers great tips and supplies.
What's In Your Storage?
Don’t wait. Find out. Record it. Artifct it. And think about whether it still belongs!
It’s that time of year again! Time to make promises to ourselves to be better, work smarter, live healthier, and so forth and so on. I swore decades ago that I would not make New Year's resolutions. Nope, not me. I would make New Year's goals instead, family (and pets) included.
What’s the difference? In my mind, goals are things that I work to achieve over the course of the year. Things that I can make incremental progress on and forgive myself if I don’t follow through on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. To me, goals are the friendlier version of resolutions; goals don’t require me to give up anything or go all draconian on one thing or another. (And good thing too since only 9% of Americans follow through on their resolutions by the end of the year!)
Here at Artifcts, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the most common goals people set for themselves for the New Year and thinking about how Artifcts can help you achieve your goals, whatever they may be. Okay, there may be some limitations, as I have yet to find a way that Artifcts can help me run a 5K with my daughter, but you can bet that we’ll be Artifcting the medal after the 5K! As for my goals, here’s a peek at a few along with tips for how Artifcts can help you make AND keep New Year's goals.
My goals for this year are: Spend more time with my family, clean out my junk drawer, organize my digital photos, and run a 5K with my daughter. Sound achievable, no? Let’s break it down:
Goal: Spend More Time with Family
Artifcts is a great way to spark intergenerational conversations and stories. Visiting an older relative? Look around their house and pick an interesting object. Ask them the story behind it, what it means to them, and why they keep it. We can’t wait to hear what you discover! Same goes for kid art (what is it and what were they thinking), old photos (who is that and what are they doing), really, anything that sparks your curiosity and makes you ponder “Why?” Ask the question, create the Artifct, and share the memory.
Goal: Clean Out [Insert Space in Your House Here]
We all have those spaces in the house where ‘stuff’ lurks. For me, it is my junk drawer. My husband may have moved a full trash can between houses, but I moved a full junk drawer. I need to stop making excuses. Out with the junk and in with the Artifcts. That Red Sox ticket from 2003? There’s a reason I’ve kept it all these years, time to Artifct it and move on. Same goes for the nearly impossible puzzle I bought years ago. My entire family will thank me for this goal.
Did you know that the average American has over 2,000 photos on their phone? That’s a lot of photos! Ellen has previously discussed the overwhelming nature of digital photos in this story on ARTIcles. So what do you do with all those photos? Artifct the ones that mean the most; the ones that have a story behind them; the ones that you are going to want to remember decades from now. And when we say the “ones,” we really mean the “ones.”
I Artifcted eight photos last year; four were old photos, two of which I had the story behind, and two of which I am still searching for the stories. The other four were photos from events and moments in time that I wanted to remember not only for myself, but for my daughter, too. Artifcting is my way of remembering for her, of ensuring she will have the story (and memory) when she wants it.
There's a fear factor motivating some adult children to prematurely help - some more aggressively and/or cheerfully than others - their parents downsize, whether to downsize and literally move into a smaller home or downsize at home to more minimal possessions. The end goal for these adult children is sort of "Not it!" Do not send all that stuff to me. I don't have room for all my own stuff, never mind your stuff, too.
The question for the parent in this scenario becomes one of legacy - will you leave a burden of stuff, or one of memories, rich with who you were in your lifetime, and who you were together, too? Shared now and shared later, maybe through these stories and memories you’ll help release people from holding onto so much stuff that the stuff becomes that burden the adult children fear, clouding the memories.
Simple everyday objects, with meaning. But will you keep them always, or maybe just the memories?
On that note, meet Sue, a member of the Arti Community. And not just any member. As she approaches her first anniversary with Artifcts, she is also our top Artifcter, surpassing even the founders of Artifcts who had a head start and a natural predilection for Artifcting.
Who is Sue? If you search @Sue on Artifcts, you won't see a single Artifct. We did promise everyone that your Artifcts need not be made public. Everything is private by default, and Sue loves this freedom.
Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin sat down with Sue to learn who she is, what she Artifcts, and most important of all why she Artifcts. It was such a treat to chat with an Arti Community member directly and a fascinating conversation. Enjoy!
Ellen Goodwin: Hello Sue! We want to know all about you. Who are you, and what brought you to Artifcts?
@Sue: I am a piano teacher. One of my personal collections is miniature pianos. I am also my family’s keeper and a genealogist. I have collections from both sets of grandparents, my parents, and of course my collections as well as my husband’s. This house is like a museum! Name anything, practically, and I probably have something of that.
I keep wanting my daughter to come down to North Carolina and go over things with me. Find out what she wants, and what she’s not interested in so I can do something with it. But there’s never enough time. And my son-in-law really doesn’t want all this stuff. So he gave me Artifcts as a Christmas present last year.
Sue shared this reality with grace and humor. Watch now!
Goodwin: What did you Artifct first?
@Sue: Christmas ornaments! Well, all things Christmas, really. I have heirloom ornaments, multiple Santa Claus figurines, and other items, so before I packed them up last year, I Artifcted them.
Goodwin: And then you continued Articting, focusing on collections or at random?
@Sue: As I have bits of time here and there, I have just started. No particular order. Just what my eyes light on in a moment in time. Sometimes Artifct collections. I laid out all my jewelry one day and enjoyed working my way through it, sometimes Articting pieces individually, sometimes Artifcting collections, like brooches.
I have Artifcted my grandfather’s weapons collection as well, including antique knives, some of which date back to the late 1800s. My grandson caught sight of the knife collection, and was interested, so he’ll inherit them. His great grandfather’s collection!
Goodwin: And we hope you’ll share the “why” behind this knife collection with your grandson, as well as the “why” of all of your own collections, like your pianos!
@Sue: Piano has been a passion of mine for a long time. I found out recently through my genealogical research that my middle name Beth is for Beth of Little Women, the pianist of the family. I don’t remember who gave me my first miniature, but my mother kept adding to it, and then I did eventually, too. Each is very different. Now my senior graduating piano students get to choose one from the collection, a remembrance from me to take with them. I have only Artifcted the very unusual pianos, like one from ivory, another from Dresden. I am Artifcting the ones that are special so my daughter knows which are which.
Goodwin: You told me that you Artifcted a collection of family bibles, nearly a dozen. I’m curious. What’s next for them?
@Sue: I inherited 40 boxes of heirlooms, pictures and genealogy papers, which I am still going through. These bibles were among the boxes and now sit in the open air on top of a family cabinet in my genealogy research room. I love the Cheatham Apocrypha Bible in particular, so that is the one I’ll definitely keep. It’s also the only one that still has the family pages in it. As for the rest, I don’t know what to do with them. I might see if the state genealogy archives wants them.
Goodwin: You have 100s of Artifcts. Are there some really marvelous stories among them that stand out?
@Sue: Yes! Well, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I was really surprised to find a lock of Gertrude’s hair. Oh, and great grandfather’s bowler hat. That’s an heirloom with a great story.
@Sue: "I found this in one of the boxes that I inherited (all genealogy based).
With it was a card signed by Gertrude which probably dates to the same year, 1904.
Gertrude Cheatham married August Johnston 24 Apr 1905."
@Sue: This hat belonged to John Mortimer Cheatham who lived in Missouri his whole life (1843-1915).
The hat box is signed by Eugene Scherman of New York, so I imagine this is who made the hat.
Today, Grandmother Gertrude's fox lives with the hat.
Goodwin: How do you Artifct? Do you use the app, a tablet, both?
@Sue: I take the pictures on my phone, because it allows me to skip the step of transferring the photos from my nice camera to my computer. If I want to add more details or long stories, then I edit the Artifcts later on my desktop computer.
Goodwin: Have you tried new features as Artifcts has announced them?
@Sue: There is so much I haven’t fully taken advantage of yet, but I did recently ask for my first estimate from Heritage Auctions with your “What’s it worth?” feature. It was a set of four meerschaum smoking pipes. Each used. They had significant market value!
My daughter and extended family will inherit the items they wish to keep; she can always sell the remaining items. I think it’s important, however, to keep at least some of these things in the family—especially the older things. Maybe someone will choose the pipes.
Goodwin: As the co-founder of Artifcts, I'd be remiss not to ask ... What would you tell those who have yet to Artifct? Why should they do it?
@Sue: Watch and listen to her response! (Or read below.)
It’s mainly the stories about the stuff. Nobody else is going to know what it is. I am trying so hard to get them written down and on Artifcts with the pictures, too, because otherwise once I’m gone, the story is gone. I think it’s important for the children to know what was the most important to me, what meant the most to me, and why.
Now, they may not want to keep it, but if it’s Artifcted, it’s there FOREVER. So, they will always have that memory even though they may not have that item, because who wants 300 miniature pianos?!
And on that note, what's your equivalent of "300 miniature pianos?"
When was the last time you pulled out that box of photo negatives, or rifled through your family’s vintage home video collection? If you’re anything like me, the answer could even be never. Yet, I haven't had the heart to toss any of them out.
Over the last 20 years, I have carted around from state to state, house to house, a plastic bin full of film negatives and VHS tapes with family home videos my parents took with the original giant camcorders that you propped on your shoulder. I realized some of them were testing their lifespans. Tapes degrade, first getting dark, then with the color shifting and bleeding. If you were lucky and chose high-end tapes, you might have bought yourself a bit of time but don't count on it. The audio may be the best of what remains on those tapes. Negatives are the same story, especially when stored in their original packaging.
(Above) A few home videos lost in the mix of old VHS tapes where no one has a hope of viewing them.
(Below) A plastic bin with what turned out to be more than 1,400 photo negatives.
Enough was finally enough. I wanted to reclaim every last bit of space in my limited closets, protect my negatives and tapes from complete loss, and share the results easily with friends and family. Decision made, I dropped off my collection at the offices of preservation and digitization specialist Monocurate. (Yes, I'm lucky, no shipping required!)
Why are you choosing to digitize?
Actually, back up. Before I dropped off the negatives and VHS tapes, I casually looked through the negatives. Glad I did! A quick review helped me come to terms with what I wanted out of this digitization work. Why bother with digitization?
Cost. At between $0.40 and $1 per negative (usually according to volume) for basic digitization, it can cost a small fortune to digitize an entire collection! Just think, I only had a 3.5 x 12.5 bin of negatives, organized inside the original envelopes the processor returned them to me in. What if my parents wanted to digitize their boxes, boxes, and still more boxes of negatives?
Relevance. Then there’s the fact that somewhere in the mix was old boyfriends. I did not want to pay to digitize every part of my history. Some history is better left to faded memory. I tried to quickly hold up the negatives to the light and remove those from the collection.
Quality. To top it all off, many photos frankly weren't even very good, because they were blurry, too dark, etc.
Well, I already told you, I brought the negatives to Monocurate anyway. I simply decided that the investment was worth the couple dozen or so digitized photos buried in the collection that would be worth their weight in sentimental gold. Within two days I had an itemized estimate. It detailed my options for digitized formats along with all the other lovely details about what to expect. I was shocked by how many negatives were in my very small bin once Monocurate itemized them. I confirmed I was ready to digitize the negatives and home videos, signed the digital contract, and let the wait begin.
Before I even looked through the photos, I jumped directly into the videos. I knew that 30+ years was too long to expect much.
The results were still exciting. Seeing yourself as a kid. Seeing your siblings and parents from your now adult perspective. Seeing family members who are no longer with you and hearing their familiar voices. Or learning, "So, that's when I got that special doll!" Or, "Ha! The truth about what I thought of my first day of kindergarten." I don't even have that on video for my own daughter. And that was actually the key for me. It was really interesting to see which moments my parents each chose to videotape, from the ordinary of hauling wood, painting the house, feeding the sheep, and playing with our outdoor cats and dogs to the special, like when family would visit from Illinois, there was enough snow for cross-country skiing in the yard and sledding in town, and Christmas holidays.
Then, the photos. With the videos I was ready for the feeling that technology has changed. The photos took me by surprise. I wasn't thinking about how much less crisp and life like they would be compared to modern digital-native photos. My hopes for a few worth their weight in sentimental gold, however, was met. Kodak moments from ages 16 to 26, digitized.
Beyond the obvious rewards of having these videos and photos digitized as I'd hoped, I learned a lot in this process about understanding my motivations, as already described above and the ins and outs of selecting the right company to bring my media to for digitization. Here's my parting gift to you all in the form of a few quick tips if you are considering digitization.
Before you Digitize
Avoid disappointment when digitizing negatives and tapes by getting clarity on each of the following four points before you hand over this sentimental gold.
1. Find out the digitized formats and resolutions your files will be provided in. Avoid proprietary formats. Guidelines from Monocurate:
Photo negatives. Look for .JPG or .JPG2 files at 72-300 DPI resolution (depending on the use case). If you want .TIFF format (at 600+ DPI) for any reason, who knows, maybe you're putting up a billboard, make sure you ask!
VHS tapes. The goal here is avoiding a result that is squished, stretched, or fuzzy, coloring that is not calibrated to look like the original, and has audio missing or not synced. (Many companies will not even digitize sound on film and may not warn you in advance!) So, look for high resolution, high bitrate, no/minimal compression, with audio sync. Your new VHS files should be around 352x480 resolution; S-VHS will be around 704x480 resolution (same as hi8). You can't really convert VHS to HD, much less 4k, with current technology, so watch out for claims in that regard.
It's worth repeating: Know that you may be too late and the video image quality will be so deteriorated that the sound quality is the best of what remains. Is it still worthwhile to digitize? Only you can make that judgement call.
2. Do you want the originals returned?
Be sure to confirm they will be returned if you want them and the cost, if any, to you for shipping or local delivery.
3. Where will the work be done and by whom?
Is digitization performed onsite or shipped out (with some additional risk of loss)? Are the personal devices of employees and visitors to the facility kept outside the work area? No one wants their private videos or photos leaked.
4. Do you want basic digitization of your media "as is," or do you need organization and touch up, too?
If the negatives are jumbled mess, do you need them organized and an index created? Do you want to first have dust build-up, grime, etc. removed to capture a clean copy? Archival indices and preservation are not typically the work of big box digitizers. If you think your collection needs some love, look for preservation and archival specialists who offer digitization services, like Monocurate, who is a member of the Artifcts partner network.
Consumer warning: By going through the process to digitize personal negatives and VHS videos, we were disappointed repeatedly by the fine print and general lack of detailed information of some popular, mainstream online digitization services companies. Read the fine print. Check reviews and FAQs. Know what is important to you and make sure the services match your expectations. If you have any doubt, write and ask questions before you send off your materials for digitization.
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