Back Up Your Carousel of Nostalgia: Don Draper Would Approve

Back Up Your Carousel of Nostalgia: Don Draper Would Approve

My dad had the coolest Nikkormat film camera and lenses. He shot vacations and family events almost exclusively on 35mm color slides. He taught me about f-stops and depth of field and Super 8 movies. Our basement darkroom reeked of stop bath and always had black-and-white prints hanging to dry. We even had a separate circuit for the red safelight.

People like my dad captured it all before it was cool to capture it all. Maybe you or your parents or grandparents had that role – maybe you still do. From movies on 16mm and Super 8 film, to the first 30-pound VHS decks to Hi8 to DV tapes to SD cards – plus a dozen audio formats, from open-reel to 8-tracks and cassettes to microcassettes to minidiscs and SD cards. Our tribe of storytellers captured a lot of stuff back when a smart phone meant a Ma Bell landline phone in a very trendy color.

Saturday nights with guests involved threading the Super 8 projector and cueing up the Kodak Carousel slide projector so we could laugh over our silent vacation escapades. The electric smell of the projector lamps, the kachunk-chunk sounds of slides changing, and the creak and whir of reels spinning were essential to the experience. And patience was taught in two ways: enduring the lag between mailing the Ektachrome canister in the mail and 36 tiny presents received the next week, and suffering Uncle Stan’s 45-minute lecture along with his 108 mostly-out-of-focus slides from Yosemite National Park.

In or out of focus, memories fade. And unfortunately, so do the media that hold them.

As I child I recall listening to reel-to-reel tapes of my great-grandfather’s from when he was an elderly man. Those audio tapes have long since disintegrated into dust, never to be heard again, and I am heartbroken at their loss. It has motivated me to do a better job protecting the memories that have fallen to my generation, and the memories that my generation is creating for our progeny. Nowadays, it’s cheap and easy: there’s no excuse not to do it.

Preservation and Backup

Media preservation is a broad science. Museums do it. Hollywood studios do it.  And you should do it too! Here are a few quick suggestions about protecting and preserving your memories — still images and movies from the pre-digital era:

  1. Have your print negatives, slides, movie film, audio tapes, and video tapes professionally transferred to digital media. Choose a reputable national firm or a reliable vendor in your area. For example, Playitagainvideo.com, Mymovietransfer.com, or Legacybox.com. (If you know of any other, please let us know!)
  2. Hand-carry the original media to your vendor or choose a reputable, trackable courier, and break the job up into smaller shipments. This reduces the risk of all of your originals being lost or destroyed should there be a shipping issue.
  3. Tell the vendor to transfer your originals to digital media using as little compression as possible. If this means you need to provide more SD cards or larger disk drives, so be it. Keep in mind that DVD video or Blu-ray video involve some compression and may entail additional challenges in getting the files into an editable format later. Also, DVD and Blu-ray discs have their own longevity challenges.
  4. Once you have your photos and movies transferred to digital media, remember the 3-2-1 Rule: Always have 3 copies of data (1 primary and 2 backups); on 2 different types of media (e.g., hard drive and USB flash drive); and keep 1 copy in the cloud.
  5. Every few years, be sure to transfer your local backups to the most current and reliable hard-drive media.  After all, hard drives don’t last forever, either, and you may actually have trouble finding a computer to read the files!  (SCSI interface, anyone?) This is also a great reason to keep at least one version backed up to the Acronis cloud. You won’t have to worry about the media.

The smells and sounds and screens of today’s family movie night may be very different than back in the day. But the reasons you create family memories are still the same: Remembering the first steps. Recording the school concerts. Interviewing your elders about the old country. Take pride in the fact that you are continuing the grand tradition of creating and curating family memories.

Protect those memories with backups and give today’s images and sounds the chance to become tomorrow’s family nostalgia.