Category Archives: The Personal Archive

Archiving Email

Personal Archive BadgeEmail continues to be a primary communications tool for personal, household, business and research communications. Today, a good part of our lives resides in our inbox. Do you have a plan to manage and archive your important email? If not, why not?

Most of us know that we want to archive certain messages but have hit a brick wall trying to determine how best to do it. There are so many different email systems – webmail, IMAP and POP – and email clients – Outlook, Mail, Thunderbird, etc. – that finding a solution can be a challenge. A challenge, yes. Impossible? Not even.

First, you need to have a digital document management system in place. Although you can build your own using your computer’s file management system, having a document management app can make dealing with large collections a whole lot easier. [See Document Management Systems for more information.] If you don’t already have PDF creation software, you will need that too. With these two tools in place, it’s easy to archive your email – all you do is print!

That’s right. To archive a message, just print it using the PDF “printer” most PDF applications install on your system. Mac users can take advantage of the system’s built-in PDF capabilities for this effort. Why print instead of just saving as a PDF? My experience on my Mac has been that printing to PDF will include all the images, backgrounds and design elements while saving to PDF does not.

Mac print to PDF dialog

The Save to PDF dialog panel on the Mac print options pane.

I use Paperless for my document management system and, as you see in the above example, it installs a link in the PDF option of my print dialog. So, all I do is click on the PDF to Paperless option, then complete the index record shown below.

Paperless index panel.

Paperless index panel.

Attachments in messages are not automatically included. You will need to open the attachment and either repeat the “print” to Paperless steps or you can set up a Paperless Droplet on your desktop (File > Create Droplet > Finder Droplet) on your desktop and drag the attachment right from your original email message to the droplet’s icon on your desktop. Once both the message and attachment are indexed in Paperless, you can select them then right-click and choose the Combine Documents option to keep them both together. If the attachment is a media file, gedcom or some other data file, save it in an appropriate location and make note of it on your message’s index record.

Note, too, that since I use MacJournal, it’s also listed as a “print to” app. Using that I can include special messages in my journal with just a few taps. Think of the possibilities that offers . . .

This system works with both web-based email systems and desktop email clients and it includes the messages in with the rest of your personal archive rather than off in a world of their own. When you search your archive for information related to a specific topic, your results will include any applicable email messages along with documents. You can also take advantage of Paperless’s collections feature to “virtually” organize documents. While you only have one actual file stored on your hard drive, it can be associated with any number of collections. You can have surname collections, record type collections or anything else that helps you manage your research.

I recommend that you keep your “original” messages stored on your email provider’s server when at all possible. They do a much better job of backing up their information than even the best of us ever will.

With a bit of planning and a couple of handy tools, your desktop computer can make organizing your life a lot easier. Archiving important email is just part of it.

NOTE: This article was originally posted in March 2013 and has been updated with current information. And, if you’re wondering what that creature is in the message’s photos, it’s my very talented sister’s latest creation – an armadillo jug. 

Future-Proofing Your Family History

Google VP, Vint Cerf, lit up the newsreaders with his talk on “bit rot” this week. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to digital files that can no longer be opened or viewed because the software or technology that was used to create them no longer exists. My guess is that anyone who has been working on computers for ten years or more has their share of bit rot. I know I do.

Yes, it is an issue – especially for personal collections. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to future-proof your digital collections. Most of them are relatively easy and quite affordable. In fact, many of these options should be put to use now to protect you collections from all kinds of disasters – not just bit rot.

Move to Markdown for Writing

Markdown is a standard that uses plain text and simple characters like asterisks and hashtags to identify formatting elements. The key part of Markdown is plain text. Your document is saved as plain text – something that has been around since the beginning of the digital age.

Because it’s a standard, programmers can easily develop programs that can turn your plain text document into a Word document, HTML file for posting online or any number of other formats. The original document remains as plain text and is still quite readable on its own. When technology changes, programmers can quickly develop new routines to transform Markdown documents into the latest and greatest new thing.

You’ll be surprised to learn that a number of existing apps already support Markdown. Journaling apps were early adopters for obvious reasons. WordPress offers Markdown support as well as Tumblr. Even Scrivener supports it. Take a look in your app store for apps with Markdown support and see what’s available for your desktops and mobile devices.

Create Online Media Archives

Create accounts with online media platforms and upload copies of your photos and videos to them. Not only are you building an off-site backup of your collections that protects them from disaster, you may also be future-proofing those files too. Why do I think so? Because it has already happened.

When Apple announced it would not allow the use of Flash technology on the iPad, most video-sharing platforms used Flash to display those videos. Last month Google announced that YouTube would now default to HTML5 format for presenting video on the Web. Many other platforms have also moved to HTML5. Those of us with videos on these platforms did nothing but sit back and watch. Video wasn’t the only technology making the change. Scribd, the document-sharing platform, also made the switch from Flash to HTML5. All the documents in my Scribd library were updated and look exactly like the originals.

What about photos? I use Flickr for a number of reasons. Flickr gives every user 1TB of storage free – that’s roughly equivalent to 560,000 high-resolution digital photos. I can add titles and descriptions as well as metadata like dates, places, people and tags. I determine which copyright license I want for each item as well as setting privacy levels. Unlike some platforms that reduce the size of uploaded pics to save space, Flickr saves my images at their original resolution. Flickr photos are very search-friendly and my public photos have attracted a number of people – including cousins. Flickr has billions of images. Do you think that when a new image technology appears they will dump everything and start over from scratch? Neither do I.

The question with online platforms isn’t will they stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest technology, but rather what happens when they get shut down. I’ve seen that happen too. When the blogging platform, Posterous, was bought by Twitter they didn’t want the blogs. They wanted the talented developers. The announcement that Posterous would be shut down came as quite a shock to many of us. Fortunately, a number of other blog platforms saw an opportunity and stepped up with migration tools to make the move as easy as possible.

I personally think that the biggest threats to personal archives are disasters – equipment failure, storms, fires, etc. By taking advantage of the services discussed here we can be prepared for both situations. There is no be all/end all solution that guarantees all our digital files will survive into the future anymore than there is a guarantee that paper archives will. We do have options – some very good ones – and now’s the time to put them to work.

Evernote’s Scannable App

Evernote’s new Scannable app [iOS – free] has quickly become the most-used tool on my iPhone. It makes scanning papers, documents and even publications amazingly easy. All you need is some decent light and a contrasting surface to capture beautiful scans in seconds.

Scannable capture

Capturing a page with Scannable on an iPhone

Scannable takes advantage of the contrasting background to “find” the edges of your document. You just hold your phone over the page and watch Scannable do its thing. Once it finds the edges it captures the page, flattens it, straightens it out and makes it available to you for processing. If you’re scanning a multiple page document, just flip the page and keep holding the phone over it. It keeps capturing pages until you say enough by tapping the check mark on the screen. At that point Scannable gives you a number of choices for what you want to do with your newly scanned document.

Your scans can be saved as PDFs or images. You also have several options for what to do with the resulting scan. Obviously, your scans can be saved to your Evernote account, but they can also be emailed, sent via Messages, saved to Photos, forwarded to another app or even printed.

I have been using Scannable to scan my collection of quarterly journals that I want to keep but no longer have room to store. With Scannable I don’t have to rip them apart so they can be scanned. And, even though the pages aren’t flat when I capture them, Scannable does an impressive job of straightening both the scanned page and the text on it. The result is also a searchable PDF document – very handy when I want to find a particular topic or name inside these journals.

Think of what you could do with this in the research library!

Right now Scannable is only available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. My guess is an Android edition won’t be far behind.

Flickr on the Desktop

Mac users looking for a Flickr desktop manager will find Flickery [Mac – $14.99] quite impressive.

Flickery desktop

Flickery desktop

In this example, you are looking at my photo collection in Flickr. The panel on the left allows me to wander through my albums, galleries and groups. The center panel displays the content of the selected item – in this case a photoset. Using the panel on the right, I can add/update the metadata for the selected image(s). I can also download selected files and even search Flickr – all inside of Flickery. There is an uploader in Flickery, but uploads are not performed in the background although the developer promises that version 2.0 will. I’m quite happy with iPhoto’s Share to Flickr function and since my photo processing workflow begins with iPhoto to review and edit, I’m not going to change that.

I’ve been a Flickr user for almost 9 years and have more than 7,000 photos posted there so as you can imagine, my collection needs some serious housekeeping. Flickr’s Organizer tool is quite functional, but it’s slow and clunky. Flickery has already paid for itself by making it drag-and-drop easy to move photos from one set to another. My cleanup is going much easier.

And I haven’t even looked at Flickery’s social features yet . . .

Save Your Photos Day

Save Your Photos Day Logo

Moultrie Creek is proud to be a member of the Save Your Photos Alliance – a group of organizations, governmental agencies, associations and businesses dedicated to preserving and protecting our precious photos from disaster and helping to recover and restore damaged photos should a disaster happen.

One September 27th, the alliance is kicking off their first Save Your Photos Day with a number of events across the U.S. and Canada. There’s even one event scheduled in New Zealand! Visit the Events page to see if there’s one near you. Even if there isn’t an event nearby, there are plenty of things you can do:

  1. Create a free account at Flickr, the amazing online photo-sharing platform.
  2. Check your photo-editing program to see if it includes the ability to upload photos to Flickr. I know iPhoto does.
  3. Start uploading your photos – using your app or Flickr’s uploader.

Flickr offers a ton of features for organizing, displaying and sharing your photos, but more than anything else it provides a safe, off-site location to store copies of those precious images. Flickr provides every user with 1 TB of photo storage at no cost. That’s equivalent to 560,000 high-resolution photographs. Should your hard drive crash or a disaster destroy your home, you can replace equipment and rebuild your house, but you cannot replace those photos unless you’ve taken steps to store copies in a safe location.

I’ll be talking more about Save Your Photos Day and Flickr throughout the month. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Flickr, you can begin here. You’ll also find other related articles spotlighted below.

Dropbox Pro: Same Price – 10 Times More Storage

Dropbox announced yesterday that its Pro account ($9.99/mo, $99/year) has now been increased to 1TB of storage (that’s 1,000 GB) along with improved sharing controls and the ability to remotely delete your Dropbox files from your mobile device should it be lost or stolen.

Combine this with the 1TB of photo storage you get with a free Flickr account and you have some serious off-site storage capabilities.

Why did this happen? My guess is it’s related Apple’s upcoming release of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite (Have you noticed all the apps being updated lately?) which includes a new iCloud Drive. I understand it also includes much lower prices for storage. This is another example of how competition is good for the consumer.


On the road with Flickr

It’s vacation time which also means lots of photos. Several years ago I got a hard lesson in protecting my photos from disaster so these days I take Flickr with me when we travel.

Why Flickr? Here are a just a few reasons:

  • Flickr provides 1 terabyte of storage free. That’s enough room for approximately 560,000 photographs.
  • Flickr uploads and stores photos at their full resolution.
  • I control access to those photos so I can share them with selected family and friends while we’re traveling without letting the rest of the world know that we’re not at home.
  • Flickr’s mobile apps include Flickr for Android, Flickr for iPhone and Flickr for Windows Phone 7. Each of these apps has its own camera along with features for editing, uploading to Flickr and sharing via other social networks.
  • Both the Mac and iOS versions of iPhoto support Flickr uploads.

My normal routine is to spend some time each evening reviewing the photos I’ve taken, doing some quick edits and adding titles, descriptions and metadata. Although I can do it on my phone, I prefer to use my iPad so I have more “room” to work. I’m usually doing this in iPhoto for iOS which lets me upload to Flickr right from the app. When done, I’ll have copies of my photos in iCloud (temporarily until I get home and stash them in iPhoto on my desktop) and on Flickr – my permanent off-site photo archive.

Flickr Studio app for iPad

Flickr Studio app for iPad

One other app that comes in handy on trips is Flickr Studio [iPad – $4.99]. It’s a beautiful way to display your photos and it has some great batch editing tools for adding metadata before uploading.

Not only is Flickr impressive as a permanent off-site repository for your photo collection, it’s mobile capabilities can be quite handy when your traveling. Make sure Flickr goes with you when you’re on the road.

Evernote Journaling

There are dozens of journaling apps – desktop, mobile and both – that will capture your thoughts, photos, videos, voice and location in a nice neat package. They all have their share of journaling goodness, but can they compete with the potential Evernote provides as a journaling tool? Let’s take a look.

  • Evernote is available on just about every operating system and device known to man. And, it keeps your notes and notebooks synched to any and all computers and devices you are using. Get a new computer, phone, tablet or whatever and all you have to do is add the appropriate app, then log in with your Evernote account information and all your Evernote goodness is right there waiting for you.
  • Since your primary notes collection is stored online, you always have an off-site backup. Evernote is unique in that many of its apps maintain local copies that are kept synchronized with the cloud copy. This not only means your information is protected, but also that you have access to it when you aren’t connected to the Internet.
  • You can update your journal with just about anything from anywhere. You can write notes (using apps like Penultimate [iPad – $.99] – now part of the Evernote family), type notes, include photographs, dictate notes, email notes and capture notes from the web. You can even send tweets to Evernote. With Skitch [iOS,  Android and Mac – free], another Evernote app, you can grab a screenshot, mark it up and forward it to your Evernote account. The Evernote Hello app [iOS and Android – free] captures contact information. And, don’t forget Evernote Food [iOS and Android – free]!
  • If you organize your personal journal as multiple notebooks arranged in a stack, you can then create notebooks just for special events like vacations, weddings or new arrivals. Tags are a free-form method of organizing and can be used to identify people, places, events or topics to quickly collect everything associated with one or more tags across multiple notebooks when needed.
  • Notebooks can be shared with others – either just for viewing or you can allow them to add content too. You could share a travel folder while still keeping your personal notes and notebooks private.
  • Notebooks can be exported as HTML or Evernote XML format. The Evernote XML format is a great way to archive a notebook for later import into an Evernote profile. It could be imported back into your profile or sent to someone else’s. If you want something for others to read, the HTML version is the better choice.
  • Everything is searchable in Evernote. That includes text in an image and even handwriting. Even if Evernote can’t decipher it, including scans of cards and notes adds another dimension to your journal.

Evernote is an amazing tool for research, but it can be put to dozens of additional uses too. Journaling is just one of them. Try some experiments to see if it works with your journaling style. You may be pleasantly surprised.

The Personal Archive: Scribd

The Personal ArchiveThe Scribd document management and publishing platform is a family historian’s dream. It offers a broad range of features and services to support the construction and management of your personal document archive. Each uploaded document is converted to HTML5 while maintaining the existing formatting, indexed by the major search engines and provided its own page within the Scribd platform. It can then be downloaded in PDF format, embedded on web sites, posted to Facebook and even sent to a growing number of portable eReader devices. And it costs you nothing.

Scribd Profile Page

Scribd Profile Page

Your user profile becomes the home page of your archive. In this example, my profile displays information about me, who I follow on Scribd and who’s following me. There are links to my shelves, collections and other Scribd activity. I can easily include information about my research – the families, locations and time periods I’m researching as well as a link to my site/blog. Like many other social platforms, Scribd provides both commenting capabilities and a discrete messaging system to help connect with other researchers.


The Document screen.

The Document screen.

Every document has its own page. Front and center is the document reader with a menu of options available to the visitor. The publisher determines some of the menu options – like whether or not visitors can download a copy of the document – and the Document Owner Controls are only visible to the document’s publisher. In this case, anyone can bookmark the document, download a copy, embed it on their site or share it via Twitter, Facebook or a number of other networks. There are free mobile apps for iOS and Android devices allowing you to read wherever you are.

A Scribd document viewed on an iPhone.

You can upload documents in any number of formats including MS Office (Word, PowerPoint and Excel) and For best results, Scribd recommends uploading your publications in Portable Document Format (PDF). Your formatting, graphics and font styles are best preserved when using PDF. Although a formatted photo book would be a good candidate for publishing at Scribd, individual photos would be better published on a photo-sharing platform such as Flickr.

One very nice Scribd feature is Collections. This gives the user the ability to build a topic-specific collection of documents from across the Scribd platform. This would be especially useful for genealogical societies who could use the Collection feature to organize and present content published by users on their personal shelves. The society benefits by offering a larger collection of publications while each individual benefits through greater visibility.

Scribd helps protect your archive from disaster by providing off-site digital backup to your precious documents. You even have the option to keep specified documents private. Although I wouldn’t recommend including documents containing current personal or financial information, you can use Scribd to safeguard documents that you don’t want to share publicly.

It costs nothing to upload and store documents. Scribd members can also offer publications for sale through Scribd. Once an account is set up in the Scribd Store, you choose during upload if this document will be made available for sale and set the price. Scribd will handle all the sale management, downloading and customer service effort. They will take a 20% commission off each sale and forward your earnings to your PayPal account or via check each month.

For those concerned about the impact of technology on their archives, Scribd has already proven they can and will adjust. The original site was built using Flash technology, and when Scribd realized that new technology offered better options, they moved to the current HTML5-based platform. All existing content was migrated by the Scribd team. Sure there were some hiccups during the process, but the results are very impressive.

Scribd recently initiated a subscription service for reading a growing number of books via their mobile apps or the web. Subscriptions cost $8.99 a month and can be cancelled at any time. There are no limits to the number of books you can read, no check in or check out. I have at least one novel open at all times and a number of reference books in on my “shelf” so I can refer to them at any time.

Scribd offers the family historian and societies an affordable place to build their document archives and any original publications. These documents are indexed by all the major search engines, making it easier for research cousins and potential members to find you and you can even generate some revenue through Scribd’s monetization programs. Stop by today and take a look for yourself. While you’re there, stop by and check out the Moultrie Creek library.


The Personal Archive: Flickr

The Personal ArchiveWhen it comes to building a photo archive, nothing beats Flickr. Flickr has set the bar by collaborating with a growing number of public archives to make their photographic collections more accessible.

The Commons at Flickr hosts collections from The Library of Congress, Smithsonian Museum, George Eastman House, the British National Maritime Museum, the National Archives of the U.S., the Netherlands and the U.K, libraries from Australia and New Zealand and many more.

Florida Memory collection in Flickr Commons.

Florida Memory collection in Flickr Commons.

Why do these archives post their content at Flickr? For one reason it is a very search-friendly platform and by taking advantage of the available metadata options, each image is even more searchable. In addition, viewers are encouraged to add their own comments about the images which these institutions then use to learn more about the photos in their collections.

Flickr is a Yahoo property and you can create a free Flickr account using your Yahoo username. Each free account has 1TB of storage available for photos and video. That is the equivalent to more than 560,000 high-resolution photographs. In addition, you control  the privacy settings for each photo,  making it is a great place to build a personal archive of the images you wish to display along with those you wish to keep private. And it provides a much-needed off-site backup of those photos.

A Flickr user page displaying that user's photo sets.

A Flickr user page displaying that user’s photo sets.

Uploading files couldn’t be easier. Click the Upload item in the Flickr menu at the top of the screen and start dragging photos onto the upload screen. From here you can batch add titles and descriptions, add tags relevant to these photos and set privacy and rights options. Need help? Click the New Here? item to display a quick walk-thru tutorial at the top of the screen. Mouse over a step in the walk-thru and you’ll see a number of notes appear on your screen showing you what to do. Once you’re ready, click the Upload Photos button and Flickr takes care of the rest.

Many of today’s photo-editing apps – especially those with photo-organizing functions – include the ability to upload photos to Flickr. In the example below, you are looking at my Flickr sets from within the iPhoto app on my Mac. Once I’ve added new photos or scanned old ones to iPhoto, all I have to do is select the Share to Flickr option and they are uploaded to my Flickr account.

Looking at my Flickr collection inside iPhoto.

Looking at my Flickr collection inside iPhoto.

Flickr uses two primary elements for organizing photos – sets and tags. Sets are similar to albums in that you must create the set yourself and identify which photos go into it. Tags are keywords you assign to a photograph to describe it. You can add as many tags as you wish to a photo. In addition, Flickr will automatically capture the metadata contained within the digital image file. When your image is a photograph taken with a digital camera, this metadata can include things like the date/time the photo was taken, location coordinates for the photo, the camera used along with camera settings. All these elements, along with the title and description fields included for each photo, are searchable. This means all of your public photos can easily be found by research cousins looking for your ancestors and the places they lived.

Flickr’s Uploader and most of the third-party apps that support Flickr make it easy to bulk edit your photos before uploading to add titles, descriptions and tags quickly. In addition, the Edit button found on your Photostream and Set screens let you rearrange and batch edit photos once they’ve been uploaded.

Not only does Flickr give you an affordable, off-site backup for your photo collection, it can also serve as an impressive archive to attract others. Need some inspiration? Take a look at Florida Memory by Florida’s State Archives in Flickr Commons.

This article focuses on Flickr’s capability as a personal archive and off-site backup for your family photos, but that’s just the beginning. As you can see from the articles listed below, there’s a lot more photo goodness available in Flickr.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect Flickr’s current features and capabilities.