Calder Hammond knew it was time to do something if he wanted to preserve family memories for his posterity,
"Everything was deteriorating," he said. "The movie film was getting to the point that it was getting brittle; the tapes were getting brittle. In fact, some of them broke up and actually just disintegrated before my eyes."
Like so many Church members, Brother Hammond of the Sandy Utah Cottonwood Creek Stake owned an extensive personal media library documenting several decades worth of his family history. Formats ranged from photographs and slides to 8mm film and reel-to-reel audiotapes. But all those varied media formats meant high-fidelity copies were virtually impossible to make. Further, it meant a slew of projectors, screens and recorders were required to view all the different kinds of media.
Upon reflection, Brother Hammond decided to digitize everything he had. By taking advantage of technology readily available from businesses specializing in photography and related fields, he planned to transfer all audio recordings to CDs and anything with visual images to DVDs. That way, the quality of recordings would endure longer than it would in its present analog format. Also, copies of the digitally formatted media could easily be made and shared with family members.
"Film seems to retain its quality and clarity and brilliance of color because of the dyes used," Brother Hammond said. "It's not magnetic coding. At the very least, they have to at least be able to replicate and maintain that quality that was in the original medium and not let it deteriorate."
After three tries, he found a vendor that satisfied him. Much to his delight, Brother Hammond discovered that not only could a competent curator permanently capture the quality of his home movies and voice recordings onto a digital format, but also in many cases the quality of the original could actually be improved upon.
"This is preservation for my posterity — it's part of our family history," he said.
Brother Hammond added that his children, who are in large part the intended beneficiaries of the effort to digitize the family archives, contribute to the ongoing project by making cash donations in lieu of gifts on birthdays or holidays.
"Another advantage is that you can take the recordings and alter them or even enhance them by properly scanning everything frame by frame," he said. "We've been able to add our narration (taken) from a small digital voice recorder and background music to the DVD's, which really enhances the overall viewing enjoyment."
To that end, a lot of people deciding to digitize their family film archives are motivated as much by being able to potentially enhance the quality of family memories as they are by the preservation aspect. Annette Turner is one of those people.
Sister Turner has an extensive collection of home movies on Super 8mm film. Because the Super 8mm format contains no audio aspect, it is silent. But she had audio recordings taken at the same time as some of her Super 8mm movies, and by going digital she was able to combine the video from those home movies with the pertinent audio recordings. For the movies without any accompanying video, Sister Turner simply selected era-appropriate music to accompany the on-screen action.
"Some of my Super 8's, I had also made an audio (recording) of it," she said. "With that, we were able to sync in the sounds off the tape with what was going on in the screen. I looked at the other films, and then I thought about some of the songs that would fit them well."
Richard Hale of the Murray Utah South Stake is so enthusiastic about digitizing various media sources that he's been able to carve out a business for himself of helping other people digitize their own media libraries. He echoes Sister Turner's sentiment that the right type of narrative can substantially enhance the value of a home movie.
"I had one lady who brought over a bunch of 16mm sound film," he said. "Her husband was in the navy during the Korean War, and we had a bunch of the footage her husband had taken on the boat. It didn't mean a whole lot to see airplanes landing and all of that. So I suggested to her, 'Sit down with your husband and just record a little bit of what's happening.' He did that, and it suddenly became very, very fascinating when you knew why he was there and what was going on."
An added bonus of the digital technology is the convenience of transporting it. Instead of toting around unwieldy film canisters or boxes of photographs, Brother Hammond, Sister Turner and thousands of people like them have digitized large chunks of their respective family media libraries onto CDs and DVDs.
In terms of pure convenience, the net value of transitioning from analog formats to digitial was never more apparent than during a recent visit to Brother Hammond's home. He dug out all the slides, tapes and film reels that used to constitute his family's treasure trove of recorded memories. Then, for the sake of comparison, he breezily waved in the air the half-dozen or so discs that now comprise the bulk of his family media library. As visual images go, it was worth a thousand words – and then some.