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Exclusive articles, interviews, and insights covering downsizing & decluttering, genealogy, photos and other media, aging well, travel, and more. We’re here to help you capture the big little moments and stories to bring meaning and even order to all of life’s collections for generations.
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PHOTOS, DOCS & OTHER MEDIA
How to Artifct Cards & Letters

It was Always the Sentiment that Counted

It’s probably the rare person that sends of a card, note, or letter thinking, “He better keep this forever!” Instead, we simply want people to know we’re thinking of them. It’s that simple. But we tend to hold on to these items, rereading, framing, and storing, like a security blanket. That person, those thoughts and memories, are always there waiting for us to return to them. 

And yet we know how imperfect our memories are at any age. We know, too, that life can be messy. Whether through moves, mother nature, or otherwise, these documents that might be only sentimental — or could contain bits of your personal, family, or even world history — are vulnerable to decay and loss.  

Artifcters have shown us many ways to capture these notes and cards, and the memories behind them, and we hope they can inspire you:  

  • Photo of a particularly special letter from grandma + PDF of all the scanned letters + an audio of you or her reading the letter.  
  • Your farewell card signed by colleagues + individual notes a few people emailed you + details about that job and where you were off to next! 
  • Photo of the card your husband gave you + a picture of the flowers that accompanied the card + the story of that first Valentines together.  
note cards with handwritten messages
 It's something about evidence of the everyday that means even more when our loved ones are no longer with us.

Don't Forget! 

Letters tend to uniquely capture what seems like the everyday but becomes so much more meaningful and revealing with age! If you were the only one that wrote letters with your grandpa, consider privately sharing those Artifcted letters from your grandpa with your family. 

Consider Artifcting cards as groups – holidays 2022, birthday 1995, Mother's Day cards through the years, etc. It’s an efficient way to Artifct and it's fun to see them together and how they change over time! 

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Have another tip or approach for cards & letters? 

Share on social media or write to us at Editor@Artifcts.com.  

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© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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How to Artifct That Photo

The Allure of “a Picture is Worth a 1,000 Words” has Tricked Us! 

One month from now, you’ll remember the outlines of the day when you took that photo because it rained hard, you and the kids got lost, and you packed only one of the camp chairs. One year from now it might become a generic, “We went camping at Eagle’s Nest last year.” And a decade from now it could be, “We used to camp a lot.” Which story do you want to hear? Which tells you more about the moment, the people, and the colorful, painful, humorous facts of life? 

Digitization has made keeping all those moments simpler than ever, but making sense of them in our lifetimes, never mind a generation from now feels hopeless sometimes. That’s where the easy act of creating an Artifct comes in.  

  • Old photo of mom in a tennis dress + mom’s voice telling you about it 
  • Three jokester guys sitting on a fence + names and dates on the back of the photo + who they are to you, where that fence is, and why they were there together 
  • A picture of a random skyscraper + you on its top floor smiling at the camera + the story of your first visit to the UN in NYC and how it inspired your career 
  • A photo of your family living room + special items within the room + story about your childhood home 

A mom and her two children sitting on a couch in the mid 1980s

 

Don’t Forget 

Work on digital photos bit by bit, but certainly start with the newest before you forget the details. Trim your massive collection by removing duplicates, generic landscapes, and pictures of people you don’t know or don’t like. And, yes, it’s okay to throw away pictures of your former in-laws that you haven’t spoken to in 20 years. 

Are we talking old photos, as in generations before you? Consider Artifcting the collection – you can take a new picture with several old ones captured in it – and sharing to a family invite-only circle on Artifcts, giving members edit access to the Artifct to add details they know about the old photos. 

Before you digitize old photos, negatives, and the like, read our story on ARTIcles by Artifcts. And if you need help, consider hiring a Professional Photo Manager.  

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Have another tip or approach for photos?  

Share on social media or write to us at Editor@Artifcts.com.  

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© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Let's Talk Photo Negatives and VHS Tapes

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.

 

drawer full of old VHS tape with a few home videos in the mix(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.
 
 
 
plastic rubbermaid bin full of photo negatives in original paper

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.

The Results

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.

QUICK TIPS

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

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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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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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A Virtual Impossibility: Keeping Up with All My Digital Photos

In August, my daughter and I visited Cape Cod. A first for each of us! It is the childhood home of Artifcts co-founder Heather Nickerson, and she and her daughter were the perfect hostesses for this quick getaway. My vacation photo collection included:

      • Whale sightings (94 pictures) 
      • Our daughters playing on the beach and posing at the lifeguard station (16) 
      • Sunset on the harbor (12) 
      • Ptown art alley (18) 
      • Marshlands (11) 
      • Random things that made me smile, like a brass King Neptune figure with sign “Mermaids welcome” and the quintessential lobster lunch (22) 

You get the idea.

Three days and 202 photos later, we were departing Cape Cod on our return journey home to Austin. 

Where was I supposed to start with all those photos? On the plane, I did two things: culled and refined. I culled the near duplicates as well as the less than stellar and the “Why did I take that?” images. 

 

view of deleted photos in album on phoneClearly I did not want to miss my chance to photograph the whales.

After scrubbing as many photos as I could, I color and size adjusted several photos that I particularly liked and marked them as favorites to further distinguish them.    

Now what? What do you do with all the digital photos that are so very easy to accumulate?  

Do you post albums to social media and then move on to some new post once the commentary dies down? Or push them into whatever cloud or other storage device you prefer, and look back through them only for the occasional calendar, enlargement, or holiday card? Perhaps send a few to lucky friends and family through one of those digital picture frames? 

I’m choosing to follow the model of Rainer Jenss, who used Artifcts earlier this summer to chronicle his trip through southern Africa day-by-day and creating composite Artifcts to represent the three days we spent on Cape Cod. Each Artifct captures something special, memorable, or otherwise, “Let’s do that again soon!” endorphin-rush worthy. 

I’ve shared these Artifcts with family, with our hosts so they know how special it was, my daughter (so she’ll always remember), and a few close friends who asked me for travel tips for their upcoming visits to the Cape. Bonus! These Artifcts will also make it easier to retrace our steps the next time we visit. One set of Artifcts, so many possibilities.  

Check out my public Cape Cod Artifcts as you consider how you want to easily and meaningfully manage your growing digital photo collection, even if it's only one trip at a time! 

Happy Artifcting! 

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Capturing Family Stories, One Video Biography at a Time

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Lori Roux, founder of Whole Story Productions (WSP), for many years. In fact, Lori was one of our earliest sounding boards as we contemplated building a community around all things “stuff” and “stories.”

Aside from being a die-hard skier and former New Englander, Lori was an Emmy-award winning team member of ESPN’s X Games and the creative genius behind WSP. Lori and the WSP team help families bring to light the stories, memories, and histories that make them who they are today through beautifully directed family videographies. 

Ellen and I saw an immediate fit between Artifcts and WSP—we couldn’t help but think about all that family “stuff” as we listened to Lori talk about the families she has worked with and the stories she has helped them tell over the years.

Sure enough, families, “stuff,” and stories go hand in hand. Whether it is a collection of old photos from the turn of the century or Grandma’s china or an assortment of antique silver. Those objects all represent lives lived, adventures had, and the very essence of what it is to be us, to be alive.

I sat down with Lori for a virtual conversation last month and wanted to share with you some of our key takeaways.

Heather Nickerson: Tell us a bit about your typical client. 

Lori Roux: Usually I’m working with a family, but once in a while there may be more of a corporate lean, where the story is more business oriented. Many clients have had successful family businesses and are telling the story of how it started, where, and when. Then we progress through family evolution, historical aspects, philanthropy, and legacy.

I also had a project for a museum exhibition – that creates challenges around length, how long can you keep people’s attention while standing at a kiosk of some sort.

Nickerson: How do clients typically find you?

Roux: Clients usually find me by word of mouth, so somebody knows somebody who knows somebody who I’ve worked with. I’ve also met clients through their other service providers – attorneys, accountants, financial advisors. I am listed as a service provider with large and small financial institutions.

Nickerson: You’ve said that people often tell you that they are not interesting enough to do a video. How do you convince people that they are?

Roux: Almost to a tee people will say, “Oh, there’s not much to tell.” Or, “We’re not really that interesting.” But I try to explain that to their audience, their family and friends, it’s incredibly interesting. It’s a story for the rising generations. A story of who they are, their successes and failures, and what their message is for those that they may never meet.

As one client said to their hesitant father/patriarch, “It’s not about you Dad. It’s about us. It’s FOR us.”

It’s not about you Dad. It’s about us. It’s FOR us

Nickerson: Can you share a story or two that stands out from the families you’ve worked with?

Roux: There are a number of stories, so I’ll pick one of my favorites.

I had a family that I worked with in Australia with eight adult children. The family tells a story debating whether they were “free settlers or convicts” when their ancestors came from the Isle of Skye. There were multiple versions of the story depending on who in the family you asked. I don’t usually do the research, but I was searching for an image of a ship from the 1800s to include to help the visuals of the story. I happened to come upon the original manifest of the ship’s passengers. It listed a number of the family names with a $ fee next to it, which means they paid for passage! Not sure it put to rest the argument, however, as they genuinely like the mystery and family lore!

Nickerson: Getting people to talk about their most intimate family details has to be challenging. How do you get people to trust you? 

Roux: You know, that’s something that I work really hard at. It all starts at that first meeting – trying to talk about the project while also expressing your own humanity and sharing a story of your own that might apply. Even offering a comparison – like, my own family immigrated from Eastern Europe and though they thought they really didn’t know much about their history, it turned out, the more questions they asked each other, the more they discovered they knew collectively!

I also talk about their privacy, and how they will end up including other family members, and how we keep their final product secure. 

It’s all about them… and I try and express that it’s not a “gotcha moment” when we do an interview. It’s all preplanned and preapproved so the final film is what they envisioned.

Nickerson: Explain how you incorporate other keepsakes in a video (e.g., photos, letters, music). 

Roux: Some of the most important parts of a project are the photos, videos, letters, and other family records. You know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, that’s so true! We can tell so much of someone’s story with a few photographs and some music, without even a word being said. We try and include whatever is meaningful and significant to each family – whether it’s a business contract or a love letter.

Nickerson: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients?

Roux: With all the photos and keepsakes that people share, that we include, Artifcts is a great place for them to find a home. When the project is complete, all the photos can be archived on Artifcts so family members can then go and peruse them at their leisure. When it’s in the film, you might only see something for five seconds. All the people in the photo might be recognizable, but in the film, the images fly by so quickly. Having organized, archived access for everyone who the family wants to share with will be invaluable. It’s like a secure online photo album shared with the entire family, accessible any time, only the family can then add documents, stories, and all the details that you typically don’t get with a photo album.

< End of interview >

We know that when it comes to our personal lives and histories “someday” often turns into never or maybe simply too late. We hope you will think about those pieces of you that should be Artifcted and archived to pass to friends and family and future generations before it’s too late. Take it one object at a time. If you get stuck, see if some of our partners and membership organizations can help you!

Interested in creating a family video biography? You can reach out to Lori at Whole Story Productions  to start the conversation. 

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Rescue Mission: That's More Than a Photo! Artifct That.

I'm a gregarious person by nature. So, when I'd visit home during undergrad and chatter away about economics and business, it was somewhat disappointing to be met with polite disinterest. My siblings went to a private art school. Surprise, surprise, their stories, supported with paintings, sketches, and designs, were far more captivating.

I imagine historians and genealogists must suffer a similar reception as they try to get others excited about newly discovered ship passenger manifests or wedding announcements from obscure 19th century newspapers. Black and white details with no life behind them, no immediate relevance to embrace. 

Recently, however, I've come to appreciate how even seemingly random photos can provide the spark connecting us to each other, to histories, to futures unknown, if given the opportunity. The ice hiker shown above? He might be a lost cause. A researcher could find an explorers club to assist, trace the clothing, authenticate the age of the paper maybe? We've had more luck with personal photos and histories of late at Artifcts. In fact, if you've read Our Story, you've seen a black and white photo of woman who in some ways is the silent third founder of Artifcts.

 

Artifcts co-founder Heather Nickerson's mother

 
 
 

The photo grabs you. Who is she? What (or who) is she looking at that is making her smile? Who took the picture? When was this picture taken and where? Truth is, her end-of-life was the inspiration for Artifcts and our efforts to remove so much of the potential burden from our loved ones who are left to parse through our belongings after we're gone. Instead, through Artifcts you can pass along memories, heritage, and legacy, and not just 'stuff.' Not a mere photograph, but a history. You can read about that very photo's history here.

When you can, you should just ASK!

Here's a second photo that captures my interest in the same way, sparking the same questions. And, I wonder: If someone sold a framed photo like this through an estate sale, consignment shop, or flea market, would it captivate a curious, anonymous buyer? It could just as easily fit into the decor of a modern home as one with a farmhouse chic decor or even a cozier older style. 

Co-founder Ellen Goodwin's mother

 
 
 

I found this framed portrait buried in an unused bedroom at my parents' home. My mom was instantly recognizable to me, but I could not guess her age or anything else about the photograph. I had to ask her. Turns out, one of her older brothers was dabbling in photography and asked her to sit for a portrait. Now I'm plotting a rescue mission from the obscurity of that bedroom in Wisconsin to my home in Texas where I can enjoy this unique glimpse of my mom in her youth.

I bet you have photos like these in your own family, many probably with as yet undecided fates. Yes, museums, artists, and others sometimes buy them in bulk. But we're eager to help you all to capture that history before it slips away.

Artifct a few choice photosyour favorites, the most outrageous, or maybe the ones that make you go, "Hmmm." You can easily share your Artifcts with friends and family to meaningfully connect and reconnect over (nearly!) lost pasts and new stories shared for more "I never knew that about you!" moments now and into the future.

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If you are interested in photo and/or video digitization services, maybe our Partners can help! Learn more here.

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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