John Giacchino had been collecting information about his Italian American family for years. He had family trees, portrait photographs, immigration and census records, WWII registration cards, historical maps of the Philadelphia streets where his grandfather grew up, photographs from a family visit back to the villages, silent film (converted to video) of his Dad in high school and in the army, detailed biographies of most of his ancestors – and he had audio of his grandmother – now deceased – talking about her trip to America as a little girl.
John also had relatives spread across the United States, as well as back in Italy. And he knew it was time to do something with all this stuff for all these people. But what?
The answer was to create a digital legacy – a kind of modern day scrapbook. Not the kind that puts pretty borders around digital photographs – although there is nothing wrong with that. No, he needed a bigger solution. Something versatile enough to contain all his material. For John, he had four main choices: A Digital Briefcase, a website, a Powerpoint presentation, and a legacy video. But first off, he had to make sure his stuff was in the right format.
Digital file formats
In all cases, material must be digitized. It must be in a form that a computer can read. That means you may need to scan your photographs (JPEG format should do, scanned at no less than 300ppi) and digitize your documents (I like the PDF format). Audio also needs to be digitized and should be in the uncompressed AIFF format. Video should be converted to “Digital Video” (“.dv”) or Quicktime (“.mov”).
Will these formats last forever? Probably not, but if the future is anything like the present then there will be people and programs around that will enable your descendants to convert these file formats lickity-split.
Digital Legacy Options
In digital legacies, there are four main options: What I call the Digital Briefcase; the Website; a Powerpoint Presentation; and a Legacy Video.
The Digital Briefcase
This is the simplest form of digital legacy. It is a virtual briefcase with virtual pockets. You might have one with all your scrapbook files right now in your computer – although it might not yet be as tidy as it should be. If you don’t, then it is easy to create. All you need to do is create a master file and a number of sub-files. Then just slot all your material in.
Naming is important. John would name the top file “The Giacchino Family” and he would have sub-files covering each of his grandparents’ biographies. Within each of the sub-files, you might create new files according to the material – photographs, video, audio, and so on. It’s a good idea to include a “read me first” document in the top file (maybe in PDF or plain text) setting out what you have done and what you have included.
Once that file hierarchy is established and you have filled the bins, you can copy the master file to a CD or a DVD or an iPod or a flash drive or any other storage device and you can sent it or even email it all around the family and all around the world. Extra large digital files can be sent by vendors like Hightail.
This is not as crazy – or as hard as it sounds. A web page – along with its sub-pages – is a marvelous container for biographical information and holds and plays video and audio and displays text and photographs with ease. You can easily link to other blogs and websites.
Creating a web-site from scratch is beyond most people. But a blog is easy. Go to Blogger or WordPress (Blogger is a little easier to use) or Tumblr and upload your digitized material there. The great thing is that they’re free, can be accessed anytime anywhere in the world, and can be updated by you or anyone with your log-in details. (You can even make it like a progressive banquet around the family, each branch of the family adding pages relating to them.)
You can look at a whole bunch family digital scrapbook style websites by browsing GeneaBloggers.com.
There are also some vendors who will host biographical material for a fee. But with what a blog can deliver, for free, I don’t see the need myself.
The Digital Presentation
Most folks in business are very familiar with Microsoft PowerPoint. You can use it to compose personal or family biography page slides with pictures and text and you can embed video and audio and even hyperlinks. The program is kind of expensive – but what a lot of people don’t know is that you don’t need the program to view a PowerPoint presentation. Just burn a CD using the “package for CD” button and any computer will play it.
If PowerPoint is out of your league, why not try the new open source equivalent – Open Office? It has much of the functionality (including the ability to embed images, audio and video) and can be downloaded for free from OpenOffice.org.
John Giacchino didn’t go with the Website option or the Digital Presentation. Both can be run from a computer but not the TV. John wanted a DVD he could send around to the relatives.
The legacy video is a bit like scrapbooking gone wild. You can combine all your media – images, documents, text, music, video and audio into one continuous legacy video presentation that will play on TV via DVD as well as all of the new digital devices like iPods and iPads (and other cell phones) as well as the web.
You do need video editing software to make a legacy video digital scrapbook. Apple offers iMovie and PC offers MovieMaker that are both more than equal to the task. And there is nothing quite like watching all your hard work coming alive in a multimedia extravaganza delivered in wide screen on a TV near you!
Creating a video digital scrapbook is especially suited for video memoirs, life story documentary, tribute video and personal history videos. The adventurous can do it all themselves; if you are unsure you can talk to us here at Your Story Here Legacy Videos.
Which is best? The great news is that for the ardent family historian or family memory scrapbooker there are 4 great options to go digital and to elevate your creativity to new levels. As well as containing all your material, the other great benefit of each of these options is that they can be reproduced in endless numbers and shared all around the family!
Ultimately, the right choice will depend on your needs. John Giacchino wanted something that his folks could play using existing TV and DVD technology so he went for the legacy video. If your audience is more computer-literate, then the Website or Powerpoint Presentation may suit best. And if you just want to share the information without too many bells and whistles, think about the Digital Briefcase. And have fun!