timelessCollecting Multimedia for an Interactive Family History

The following information is aimed at collecting multimedia from a family but there are many guidelines here that would apply to collecting for other purposes.

Collecting multimedia for your interactive family history from relatives is an art and a science. It is an art because each one of your relatives will be motivated differently and it is a science because you will need to be methodical.

Please work out any cost sharing issues in advance.

Set out to create advocates-- relatives with computers who understand the potential of multimedia. Direct them to the demos at this site. Hopefully, your advocates will be spread out geographically. They can serve others as a local resource and encourage contributions. These advocates may also assist you when it comes time to proofread your interactive family history CD.

If you or someone else in your family is doing genealogy on the computer you definitely want to arrange to send a GEDCOM file to be used in the Reunion® player.

After collecting your advocates, do a mailing to everyone. The mailing answers the questions why, what, who, where, when and how. Why? because multimedia is the ultimate way to record your family's history. What? is multimedia; words, images, sounds, and videos. Who? is a list of people that your project includes. Where? is your snail mail address, phone number and, if you have one, your e-mail address. When? will be your deadline for submissions. How? is insured snail mail, e-mail or better yet, personal delivery.

Sounds & Videos

Genealogical Data

interactive CD


In your mailing include examples of words. Write your own biography. Assure people that they can do a "good parts" version if some have hurtful memories. Multimedia is not constrained by the rules of genealogy. "Snippets" are another alternative. These are memories in point form. Stories are another wonderful contribution. Resumes are valuable historical documents. Poems, letters and journal entries are other possibilities.

Include a list of prompts to help relatives get started. Here is one:

Please keep your childhood, teen, adult and retirement years in mind as you reflect on these prompts: family, children, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends, school, teachers, classmates, work, business, religion, pets, firsts (socially acceptable ones only please), funny incidents, vocabulary, habits, health, accidents, mischief, entertainment, celebrations, houses, rooms, places, travel, bikes, vehicles, unusual events (fires, storms...), hobbies, interests, talents, pleasure, deaths, funerals, weddings, volunteering, politics, clubs, sports, parties, recreation, clothing, seasons.

One of the many books of prompts is _To Our Children's Children: Preserving Family Histories_ by Greene, Bob and Fulford, D.G., 1993, New York: Doubleday. It has "questions designed to elicit answers that will form the patchwork of a fascinating history."

Assign writings for your deceased relatives to a relative who knew them best. Assure the writer that they are not expected to do a detailed authoritative biography. Ask them to write about what the deceased relative loved.

Whenever possible allow the individual control over their own interactivity. Children are great at writing their own biography and are keen to hear and see themselves. They may very well be your best advocates so don't overlook them.


A photo may be worth a thousand words so create a cover page for your mailing. Consider the people on your list when you do your mail out. Try to include at least one face that they will recognize and be inspired by. Encourage your relatives to look outside the cover of their photo albums too. Artwork, collections, graves and other images can become photos.

Please ask before including sensitive photos that your relative might not want used. Once again, your interactive family history is not constrained by the rules of genealogy. If the divorce was nasty, it is possible to omit the ex-spouse from the individual's or the whole interactivity. Asking politely, but directly, will get you an answer.

Emphasize that all photographs MUST be identified. You may know the individuals intimately but a baby picture is a baby picture is a baby picture. If you are writing on the backs of photos state this explicitly and explain why. (Digitell Legacy Productions requires a four character code.) Use a Stablio or similar pencil when writing on photos. If you don't have a Stablio be very aware of the pressure you use when writing. Preservationists will explain why you are never to write on the back of a photo but the benefits outweigh the costs from our viewpoint.

Sounds and Videos

Sounds and videos need to be really short. It is these two forms of multimedia that consume the most space on the CD. Unlike firewood; collect what you need and then divide it in half and then divide it in half again. (Firewood is doubled and then doubled again. Our home has wood heat so we know this rule well.) Just 30 seconds of one video can eat up 20mb of a 650mb CD. Think along the lines of a fast paced commercial.

If a relative is sending unedited tapes have them reset the counter to zero at the beginning of the tape, record the counter at the begin and the end of the clip _plus_ write a detailed description. Some of the new VCRs don't appear to have a counter but suggest in your mailing that your relative check the manual for the "display" feature. Digitell Legacy Productions requires cassette tapes, CDs or VHS tapes.

If you have antiquated media-- reel to reel, beta, fragile old cassette tapes, etc., approach the audiovisual department at your local college. If they can't help you they may be able to direct you to a business specializing in conversions.


When you set your deadline explain your reason(s) for the deadline. You may be aiming for a reunion or you may wish to distribute the project as a Christmas gift. If you are preparing the multimedia for Digitell Legacy Productions you will need time to code and organize any multimedia sent to you before sending it on to DLP. Also leave yourself enough time to do a reminder mailing. Six months seems to work well as a deadline.

When you list the people your project includes, star your advocates as resource people and include their addresses and phone numbers. Make sure you include spouses. It may be the spouse who makes the contribution.

Make your snail mail address and, if you have one, e-mail address obvious. Place it on as a foot note and on the envelope. Keep all multimedia in its package until you have coded it so it can be returned to its source. When you code it, write the codes on the outside of the package as a record of who sent what.

It is imperative that all snail mail be insured. This should be stressed at least three times in your mailing and stamped on your forehead whenever you talk to someone. If the package is insured there is hope it can be traced. Without insurance, there is no hope. Return all the multimedia by insured mail if it cannot be delivered personally.

Genealogical Data

If you don't have a genealogy program, look for someone among your close relatives who does. When everything else is ready to go, Digitell Legacy Productions will also want any genealogical data in the form of a GEDCOM file; this is all your genealogical data for all your relatives, not just the ones contributing multimedia. Check in the genealogical program under "File" for "Export GEDCOM." The exported file can be attached to an e-mail.

Once you have collected and prepared all the multimedia reward yourself. Present and future generations will treasure your timeless "digitell" legacy.

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created 1998 refreshed Apr. 2006
Digitell Legacy Productions, N. Carswell