Creative Child

Preserving Your Family History: DIY Versus Outsourcing to a Professional Service

By Eric Niloff

Everyone is in a different place when it comes to preserving their family histories. Some folks are making simple photo books to be shared with loved ones; others are deep into personal digital archiving projects that span several different generations and media formats; and some people are waiting for the right moment to interview an extended family member whose valuable stories they wish to preserve.

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Many personal digital archiving endeavors are very involved and some are very costly, but each is rewarding if done right. Here we’ll evaluate the pros and cons for different types of projects to help you determine if DIY or outsourcing (or a combination of the two) is right for you.

Small Digitizing Project: Outsourcing is usually cheaper than buying equipment

Maybe you have a couple hundred photos, a single videotape to put on DVD, or a carousel of slides. The first thing to think about is whether or not you have the equipment. A basic scanner will do an adequate job for digitizing old photos. Slides, however, require special equipment that most of us don’t just have lying around; this can include a tray attachment for a normal scanner or a slide-specific scanner. If you really care about the quality of your scans, find a company that has the equipment to handle this part of your personal digital archiving project.

Videotapes also require a specific device. If you are only looking to get a small number of tapes done, outsource the project to a service that will convert them for anywhere from $15-$30 per tape. It’s more cost effective than buying an expensive piece of equipment that you’ll only use twice. 

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The bottom line for small personal digital archiving projects is that outsourcing is almost always the way to go. Even if you are buying low-end equipment, it will run about $200, which is twice as much as what it should cost from a professional service.

Creating a Whole Family Archive: A balancing act between time and money

Some people spend 10 or more hours a week on personal digital archiving projects— collecting, interviewing, recording, organizing and digitizing. What can be a relaxing hobby for some is a daunting task for others, and it’s not always the right path. Consider that scanning a photo (or a slide or negative) takes two to three minutes per scan when you include cropping, color optimization, file naming, and exporting. Across 5,000 images, that’s over 200 hours of time just scanning photos.

When thinking about outsourcing a big personal digital archiving project, consider that you will still have to do a large amount of organizing to create a collection that is easy to navigate and fun to look at. 

Services for digitizing can cost anything from 25 cents to $1.00 per image to scan, plus an hourly charge for any genealogical services. The price tag for putting together a large family archive can be in the thousands when done through a professional service. Consider this a big investment of either time or money, depending on which way you go.

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