Wednesday, January 7, 2015

End of the DOOF Project

At long last, the Digitization Of Old Fotos project, is complete! One year and eight months after my dad passed away, I finished scanning all the prints, negatives, and slides that were in the Christensen house. The 4,593 photos cover a five decade span, from 1950 to 2006. Even more than the DAle's Numerous Genealogy Binders (DANG) project, DOOF is a tale of meticulousness and persistence. It involved removing pictures from whatever album or box they had melted into, sending them off to a digitization company (or just scanning them myself if they were particularly tricky), figuring out what event/year the picture captured, organizing the file accordingly, and typing whatever was written on the back into the filename (I don't trust tags or comments). The last three steps were the most tedious, because I'd have to find the picture associated with a specific scan and create an awfully-long filename. I usually did those steps on my train rides to work (an hour that's best spent doing something time-intensive and mindless). It feels great to be done. For those of you with similar needs, ScanDigital was my favorite service provider due to their excellent customer service and the little extra things they’d do, like proactively organizing the scans into folders named for the package they came in (e.g. “Flower Box #1”). This is unbelievably helpful when you are trying to locate a particular photo among the 900 you sent the company in no particular order. Southtree and PeggyBank did good work, too. The scans look great, and it was fun to go through them all with my wife.

Dale loved to fish...
As did my grandfather.
I found pictures from my parents' wedding.
Pictures from our search for my great-grandfather's home in China, too!
Now that the DOOF is done, I'm left with one nagging question:


Why did I spend so much time digitizing photos I may never look at again?

Let me clear: I am super-glad I took the time to go through them all. It brought back good memories of my mom and dad, and reminded me how they were more than just parents. They were people with good friends and interesting hobbies (there are probably a thousand photos of my dad fishing) and dreams of their own. It was fun to see my parents when they were really young, before I knew them, without their revisionist commentary about who they were and what they were thinking.

I could have just looked at them all, though, sent half the pictures to my brother, and been done with all of this 18 months sooner. I'm unlikely to look at the pictures much more, though, and I knew that when I began the DOOF. Why spend over a year and a half cataloguing everything?

The first reason is that the DOOF made things simpler with my brother. As the executor of my dad’s estate, I had an obligation to divvy up the pictures. Nine times out of ten, I'll choose working harder if it means I won't have to worry about something in the future. I'm sure my brother would have been fine with whatever selection I'd sent him, but would I? My dad went genealogy crazy in middle age. What if I did the same? I think I would have always had a lingering concern that I sent away something I’d really want in my 60s, and I didn't want to run the risk.

Probably just as important, though, was the colossalness of the DOOF itself. Some people climb mountains. Some people do jigsaw puzzles. I catalog old photographs. The DOOF had value for me precisely because it was a pain in the ass. You know how Pillsbury makes you add an egg to their boxed cake mix because it makes people feel like they did something and motivates them to buy more cake mix? That’s what cataloging photographs was for me. Incidentally, I also make cakes from scratch, and recently gave a jigsaw puzzle to my wife as a gift. Maybe my kids will look at all those old photos someday and say, “Wow! It’s a good thing you saved all those photos, dad!” More likely, they’ll seem them and ask, “Um, is that why you didn’t fix the snowblower?”

Now what?