We all face the death of our family’s older generation at some point or another. Death is inevitable.
Here are some thoughts and tools that I have found to be very helpful.
There are the obvious; make sure there is a will in place. Make sure the household can be maintained upon death; bills paid, taxes paid, bank accounts accessed without probate, etc…
Then there is the non-obvious. Or, at least, tools I never saw mentioned as we approached Mom’s expiration date and prepare ourselves for our father’s eventual death.
More likely than not, the older generation will have cabinet(s) full of paper records. Everything from real estate transactions to legal agreements to personal letters to certificates, etc….
While preserving the original of some of these documents is critical, having easy access to all of the documents while also preserving them is also critical.
To that end, get a good document scanner. The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500, in particular. Fujitsu also makes a cheaper, portable, variant that works well, but is not nearly as bulk-friendly as the ix500.
It is the best document scanner I’ve used (and it does a good job on photos, too). The software — no surprise — is kinda lacking in the UI department, but that’s OK. You don’t want to have to interact with any UI at all and it can easily be configured to do exactly that.
Specifically, you want a solution that enables very quick scanning of hundreds or thousands of pages with minimal interruption. And the ScanSnap does exactly that. Stick a document in it, push the blue button, done. It’ll detect if there is a jam of any sort, but does a remarkable job of not jamming. It will OCR the documents as they are scanned, meaning that they are indexed by SpotLight for easy searches later (this has been invaluable for cross-referencing documents).
I configured the iX500 to scan straight to an iCloud folder. Once captured, I’ve then been renaming and creating a folder structure, as warranted. Being in iCloud, I have easy access to the documents from any of my devices. I do wish that iCloud allowed folders to be shared amongst users (radar filed), though.
In our family, my father was (he hasn’t picked up a camera in a couple of decades) an avid photographer. As such, we have boxes and boxes of slides dating back to the 1950s. Beyond some genuinely amazing bits of family history, said slides also capture little bits of history — and sometimes big bits — that are of interest well beyond the family.
Now, I could send these slides off to a service like iMemories or the like and have them scanned. And I might still do that. But it is scary to think of the only copy of said slides being out of our hands even for that.
For the 1200 or so slides my Dad had, I picked up a Wolverine F2D 20MP slide scanner. Key features are that it works quickly, writes the images to an SD card that can be imported just like an SD card from a camera, and the results are of good quality.
It does all that. Quite well. And very quickly. You can get higher quality by spending more and going with a computer connected device, but it isn’t nearly as convenient.
In scanning all of the images, it also catalyzed some wonderful conversations with my father as he relived some of the memories contained within.
As it turns out, my father has one of the single largest collections of slides from a single MASH unit in Korea that I’ve been able to find. Over 200 images of his time in Korea. Once I’m done capturing them, we’re going to donate this treasure trove of documentation to one of the historical preservation groups focused on the Korean war.
This is an image from the slide scanner. A slide from ’53 in Korea, specifically.
Pretty good for a slide that has been shoved away in a box in an attic or a corner of the garage in Midwest weather for 60+ years!
Beyond the aforementioned obvious, this post is really to encourage you to preserve the past. All those documents? The slides? They mean little to anyone but the family, but they surely mean a lot to the family.
And, while you still have the chance, sitting down to talk through the events of your elders is a tremendous way to learn much of your history.