Wherever you store your historical documents, photos, videos and such, spend some time providing information about each item to not only document the standard “who, what, where and when”, but to also make it easier for others to find your treasures.
This is called indexing and is quite simply the virtual version of the old library card catalog – only much more powerful. Your indexing efforts will make it easier for search engines to find your stuff when your research cousins key in their search criteria. Fortunately, most online storage platforms provide facilities to include this information. We just need to spend the time and effort to do it.
Here is the properties page for a document in Scribd. You’ll notice the title, description and tags fields at the top of the page. Below is the Yahoo! search record for this document. It displays part of both the description and the tags I included in the index record for this document.
When choosing tags for your index record, think of the search terms you would use to find this record – location, type of record, surnames if appropriate, etc. – and include them. Look back in the Scribd index example above and you’ll notice further down the page there are some choices for category and sub-category. Those options are pretty basic, so use the tags field to include more specific categories to describe your item.
Writing descriptions can be a challenge and the urge is there to take the easy way out. I just remember how often I was frustrated when search results didn’t give me enough information to determine if this was the item I needed. That’s motivation to get me back on track.
The Flickr photo page is as much presentation as it is information, but all the necessary data types are there. At the top of the page is the title and just below the photo is the description. To the right you’ll find the area for adding tags.
A little further down the right sidebar, there are even more properties about this photo. Some of this information – like camera used – is pulled directly from the photo’s metadata, but other information – like rights and visibility – can be included manually. When using Flickr’s site search, you can search for photos from specific locations with specific rights (if you want something you can use in your family history project or on your blog) and taken by certain cameras.
Even video platforms have index records for helping others find your old home movies, family documentaries and other video projects. This example comes from the Vimeo platform and includes the standard fields for title, description and tags. The Privacy button gives you options to determine who can see this video and whether you will allow downloads. The Credits button allows you to spotlight others who either appear in the video or helped make it. Right now you can only credit other Vimeo users, but there are plans to include non-Vimeo contacts too. That could make this feature especially useful for family historians.
Including appropriate indexing information is the difference between just posting a bunch of documents online and creating a personal archive. Look into tools such as Flickr’s free bulk upload app which makes it easier to batch process the index information as part of the upload process. Your efforts will be well rewarded when your treasures start attracting research cousins – and their pieces of the family history puzzle.