Cornelius Van Vorst, ca.1620; 
Jersey City Free Public Library; Grover Cleveland Political Cartoon; 
Grover Cleveland Birthplace Historical Site Collection Peter Lee, former slave, ca.1880; 
Hoboken Historical Photographs Collection; Farm Map of Hillsboro, Somerset County, 1860; 
Historical Maps of New Jersey Collection; Bathing Beauties, 1890-1930; 
American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark Collection; Flag Salute, 1950; 
Seabrook Farms Collection;
Your Personal Story: Document and Preserve Your Family History
Introduction - Give the Gift of Understanding to Future Generations! Top
Postcard, 1890, American Labor Museum / Botto House National Landmark

Who are these ladies?
We wish we knew!

You and your family enjoy the photos and memorabilia you collect-in scrapbooks, in photo albums, in boxes or files. Families like to remember grandparents and great grandparents. Everyone likes to remember holidays past and trips to the beach.

But have you thought that every time you save a photo or a program and tassel from your daughter's graduation that you are creating history?

Pictures and mementos of everyday life bring history alive. We will always remember major events, like September 11, but September 11 really comes alive in the remembrances of ordinary people-where they were when they heard the news and saw the pictures. A photo of shocked faces watching the towers fall tells the horror of that day more eloquently than any journalist or historian.

The photographs you find in the New Jersey Digital Highway are photos of ordinary people-getting married, playing in the garden with their children, enjoying a recess from school:

Children playing ring around the rosy at recess, 1950, Seabrook Farms Collection

Your life today is the valuable stuff of tomorrow's history! Future generations of New Jerseyans will enjoy experiencing life in "days gone by" through your photos and family mementos. Historians will document the history and culture of New Jersey with your reminiscences.

How to Contribute Top

You can contribute to the record of history today, by following a few simple steps.

1. Collect (Return to Top)

Store your photographs and artifacts in archival folders and boxes. If you use photograph albums, you will want to be sure that the albums do not use self-sticking pages. Instead, albums and folders should meet the ANSI standard for permanent paper ANSI/NISO Z39.48. The company selling the archival supplies should readily state that this standard is met on the label or accompanying advertisement.

Photographs and artifacts should be stored away from sunlight, in a temperature that is comfortable for you and also for your materials. Avoid fluctuations of heat and cold throughout the year, to keep your materials safe, but maintain a comfortable 60-70 degrees F (40-50% relative humidity year round. The cleaner the air, the better for your precious artifacts and photographs, so you might want to invest in a simple air purifier or a filter for your central air/heating system that is HEPA-rated. The steps you take for creating an environment that preserves your photographs and artifacts are also good for creating a healthy environment for yourself and your family.

Two websites with valuable advice on caring for family photographs, papers and artifacts:

"Home movies"-videotapes and films that capture your family's adventures, are stored on media (film and magnetic tape) that are easily damaged by time and use. These artifacts require special care. The Moving Image Collections website, a "window to the world's moving image collections" at the Library of Congress, has a page of advice and links on caring for your home movie collection:

2. Document (Return to Top)

Add permanent descriptive information for each photograph and page. Include family name, family members, detailed location and inclusive dates for each box or album of collected photos and mementos. Photographs and artifacts should be documented on archival paper, in a permanent ink or typeface that will not bleed onto the folder, box or album. Don't write on photographs or artifacts. Don't use glue or tape to affix notes to photographs or artifacts. The best strategy is to prepare an inventory of each box, album or box, in non-bleeding ink or print, on acid free paper, that can be stored with the artifacts. Store the artifacts in order. If the box or album is about a single event, include that information. Remember, you are not just documenting for yourself, but for great great grandchildren and other people you will never know, but who will someday know you. Be descriptive and don't assume that people will "Know who you mean." They won't, not even in future generations of your own family.


LaRosa Family: Lucious LaRosa (father), Sheila LaRosa (mother) children: Shirley, Paul, Anthony, 218 University Avenue, Newark,NJ, 1975-1983

Wedding, Emily Jane LaRosa to William Smithson, St. John's Episcopal Church, Newark, NJ, March 2, 1963

Alfred Jepson Family: Alfred (father), Mary (mother), Children: Jennifer (age 12), John (age 9). 1763 Shepard's Lane, Trenton, New Jersey. Trip to Europe, April 7-16, 1992.

This documentation will also help insure that albums or boxes are returned to you in the event that they are left behind when you move, found in a salvage operation after a fire, etc. This information is also invaluable for providing information for future historians, researchers, and even your great great grandchildren who are searching for their roots and will "connect" with you over space and time when they find your photographs and mementos online.

Provide similar information for each scrapbook page or photograph: names, location and date. Add information that makes pictures come alive. Be sure to add dates, and when appropriate, ages. Be sure to identify anyone who is not identified in the descriptive information for the box or album. Adding this information will make browsing the album or looking at the photograph more entertaining for family and friends today as well as valuable for historians and descendants tomorrow.

Number the pages of your scrapbook or album so that you can cross reference photographs with letters, diaries, or other text that documents the story that the photographs illustrate.


John and Jennifer in front of the Eiffel Tower, April 12, 1992. Jennifer loved the Eiffel tower best of everything she saw in Europe.

Emily's Aunt Jane (Mrs. John LaRosa, Philadelphia, PA) hugging the flower girl, Susie Smithson (age 5), sister of the groom.

Include letters, postcards and pages from journals that "tell the story" that the photographs illustrate. Memories "come alive" for others when they can walk in your shoes and enjoy your experiences through your eyes. Create links between the photographs that illustrate your stories and the letters, journal entries or text that tell the story:

September 9, 2003. We spent the day at Island Beach State Park. Joanie got caught in a riptide! It was very scary. We called to her, but no matter how she paddled, she couldn't swim ashore. The lifeguards quickly swam out and brought her back. The photograph on page 7 of the accompanying scrapbook shows a relieved Joanie posing with her lifeguard rescuers!

3. Donate (Return to Top)

Include a document making your photographs and mementos available to future generations in each album or box.

You may have questions about sharing personal artifacts beyond your family. Here are some questions you may be asking and our answers:

Is my stuff really valuable to anybody?

Absolutely! You are part of history in the making. Someday, a descendant of yours will be tracing her family history and will "meet" you for the first time in a family photograph she discovers in digital space-whether the web or an entirely new technology. The ability to digitize information is getting easier and easier, and the ability to store more information digitally is getting less expensive. Libraries and archives may not have physical space to store your physical artifacts, but ultimately, they will be able to store and provide access to digital copies for future generations to study and enjoy.

Do I have to include a deed of gift with my materials?.

You are the creator or owner of the photographs, mementos and scrapbooks in your collection. This means that you hold the rights to these materials, and only you can donate your right to copy and share this information with others. You must share this right in writing for others to be able to copy and share your information via the web or any other means of distribution.

I want my family to enjoy these materials. I don't want to give them away.

The deed of gift included here is a "nonexclusive" license, which means that a library, archive, or other cultural heritage organization can digitize your materials and make them available while your family continues to enjoy them and share them with each other.

I'm a very private person. I don't want to share personal memories with strangers.

Many people feel this way. You can identify or remove specific photos and artifacts that are excluded from sharing. You can also specify a period of time (10 years, 25 years, etc.) before photographs and mementos can be shared with others. It is best not to specify a time frame before they can be digitized, because they may get lost, but you can ask that they be withheld from display and distribution to others until the future, when they become historical artifacts and no one is embarrassed.

My photographs include photos of people who are acquaintances, friends and family. Do I have the right to share these photographs?
As the creator of the photograph, you own the rights to these photographs. Publicity rights, which govern the rights of people to "own" their own likenesses, particularly for commercial uses, are less clear. You should discuss with your family your wishes to share personal family photographs and artifacts with others, in the future and try to gain family consensus to share your family mementos before adding the deed of gift to your collection. A deed of gift to share your photographs and mementos should not be a surprise to your heirs and executors. To protect the subjects of your photographs, you can ask that photographs and mementos not be made available until X years after your death. You can also ask that personally identifying information (full names and addresses that would enable the subjects to be contacted) be excluded from public display for at least X years after your death.

4. Make your wishes known (Return to Top)

Your photographs and personal mementos are part of your estate. Be sure to let your executors and heirs know your wish to share your information with future generations. If you prepare papers for your executors, such as a will or financial documents, you can include a blanket deed of gift for all photographs and mementos or you can note that a deed of gift is included with each box or scrapbook of photographs and mementos.

IMLS Bookmark and Share