There are so many ways for us to share our photographs. The problem with photos is that there are never enough to go to everyone who wants them (or who may want them in the future!) and they can cost a lot to print. Here are 5 ways my family has used to share our image
collections electronically.

1. Picasa Web Albums www.picasaweb.google.com
I’ve got a variety of my own albums on Picasa. It’s like having an electronic photo album that can be shared with whomever I want. My best friend, Patty, and I took a trip to England a number of years ago and we each took about a billion photos with our cameras. When we got back to our respective homes we both wanted a complete set. What I really appreciate about Picasa is that I can upload and organize my photos and add in descriptions or titles. The
album can be shared by a url address that I can email, or I can just keep them for myself. An added benefit is that I have a backup of my photos just in case something happened to my computer.

2. A family web site
This is a new one for me. A friend and colleague told me that she’s created a web site for her family. I love the idea and have started one for my own family. In case you’re my family and you’re reading this, it isn’t live yet! We will be able to communicate with each other, share family stories and photographs. The site is password  protected so no-one without a
password will be able to access it. I am using www.Weebly.com to create the site. The
domain name (URL) cost me about ten bucks for the year. The downside is that, as
easy as I find Weebly to use, there is still a learning curve and it’s taking a while to upload the photo albums. The reason I’m using this instead of Picasa or Tumblr is that I want to encourage dialogue and photo sharing between families. As we have about 4 generations of computer-savvy aunts, uncles and cousins, this seems like the way to go.
3. Tumblr.com
My sister-in-law uses www.tumblr.com and it’s a great way to share stories and images. She sent us the link and told us the password for the site. We are spread out over Canada and the U.S. and with busy lives, it isn’t always easy to keep in touch by phone. This lets us check in to see what the family is up to.
4. eBooks
Our family has a variety of personal books that we’ve created to share photos, recipes and family stories. Although I love this option, it is limiting in that you still only have a finite number of copies. I did a recipe book last year and printed a copy for each family. Each family has growing children who will hopefully someday want a copy. Rather than print another copy of the book, the program I used provided me with a pdf version of the book that I can share as many times as I want. The one I used was available from www.Blurb.com
5. DropBox.com
On a bit of different note, www.DropBox.com is more of a file-sharing option using cloud storage. Unlike the other options, this one doesn’t have an option for creating albums and such. On the other hand, I love it for just sharing photos between friends and family. You create a folder and then invite others to join. You are not required to share folders, but you can. I’ve used this to scan and share with family members  some of the photos I’ve got from
Grandma. You should be careful, though, when copying files to DropBox folders. Because it sets up like a folder on your hard drive, you need to make sure to copy and not move the files. Once they are in the folder and you’ve invited others to it, they have equal access and could delete or move your images, too. On the positive side, when my last laptop started dying, I was able to back it up to DropBox and subsequently move all my files to the new one.  

You will note that I have not included Facebook. While I do sometimes share photos and I certainly like to look at them, I have not reached a comfort level with FaceBook’s policies. That may be because they do seem to change with some regularity. I’ve also heard rumours that once an image is posted on FB, they then have the right to use the photos as they deem fit. I don’t know if it’s true but the possibility gives me pause for thought. Also, unless you are pretty comfortable updating the settings, you may be sharing your photos with the global community and not just your family!

 
Picture
Why? Why would I need to do all that typing when I’ve got all this paper? That
might be the question you’re asking yourself. The answer is pretty simple when
you’re considering how to share your bounty with others. Having your information
stored electronically makes it so easy to share. There are other reasons, too,
not the least of which is ease of use and the organizational benefits, but I’m
concentrating on why it’s so handy for sharing.

Picture
Once your information is stored electronically, there is so much you can do with
it to share with others. I think the most common thing that people think of is
charts of family trees. Most of us have seen the tree that starts with a single
name at the top or bottom of the page and then branch out to the parents,
grandparents, etc, etc. While these can be really lovely compositions, the
amount of information included generally relates to how much room there is on
the page. Depending on the genealogy software you use, these can be created
right at your computer. From there, you can print the chart or send it out
electronically to your family. I created a 6’x4’ chart for a client here in
Calgary and took it to a local printing company. The cost was very reasonable
and we were all thrilled with how it turned out.

Picture
You can also include images in your databases which is truly amazing. If you
choose, you could include images of the people on your tree. If you’re not
printing out a family tree, maybe you want to create a report about a person and
his or her descendants, including the details
of their lives and pictures
accrued during their lifetimes. Once this information is in your database, the
options for creating and sharing are profound.

PictureAn iPad showing a Heredis screen shot.
Another way to share is using Apps available for your iPhone, iPad or tablet,
etc. I’ve tried 2 so far. GedView,
which costs about $5 ($3.99 US when I
last checked) and Heredis, which is free.

I like them
both. I love the fact that I can pop my iPad in my purse and be able to head
over to Mom’s to show here what I’ve found. A great side-benefit of the visit is
that quite often it jogs her memory and I hear all these stories. That leads me
into a whole new blog about LiveScribe, but I’ll save that for another day!
 
A final note... Once you have added your information into your database, it
can serve as a back-up for your paper
records. Of course, as with anything
stored electronically, remember to back up your work and store the back-up
off-site.

 
I worry about protecting the documents and photographs in my collection. At any given point in time, we hear about natural disasters that wipe out people’s homes and belongings. We all put a lot of effort into our family histories and want to avoid the pain of losing it! Digitizing is an excellent back-up tool and is also a great option for sharing.

 I’m thinking about this today because of a comment I read on-line this morning wondering about the value of digitizing records. In the back of my mind is the flooding we experienced here in southern Alberta last month - the worst in our recorded history. Downtown Calgary, an oil and gas city of well over a million people was shut down for over a week because the water threaded its way through the streets and buildings. Basements, where, let’s face it, many of us store our items, were flooded to the ceilings. If it isn’t water, maybe it’s a twister or a hurricane. So what can we do to protect our precious records and documents? 
 
Digitizing is one very clear option. It is easily accessible and can be relatively inexpensive and anyone can do it. Scanning documents and images is a pretty straightforward process. All you need is a computer and a scanner. Sometimes, all you need is the scanner! There are  companies who will do it for you if you don’t want or are unable to scan it yourself. 
 
Once you’ve got your digital collection, there are quite a few options for sharing it. Cloud storage has become increasingly popular and ranges from free to nominal fees depending on how much space you need. You can store the media on CDs or DVDs burned from your
computer. If this is your preferred method, then remember to store it somewhere else! An option I’ve just started hearing about gives clients the option to store their records on-line in Cloud Storage and include an option for heirs to inherit access to it. 
 
Future Access to Your Records
 
Something to consider when relying on electronic storage options is will you be able to access the materials in future years or decades? Paper has a proven track record of lasting for millennia. On the other hand, if you use a computer you know that the technology changes every couple of years and pretty soon something you stored 15 years ago is gone because there is no software and/or hardware to retrieve the information stored. 3½” disks are still around but do you see any drives to read them?
 
The other side of this coin is the information stored on the media. The software changes pretty regularly, too. I’ve got files stored in QuattroPro from 15 years ago that I just can’t open.
The contents are essentially gone. What I have noticed though, is that some file formats that are read by many software programs do seem to remain accessible for decades. I am thinking of txt, pdf, tif, jpg, bmp as specific examples. I think because these formats are generic, they tend to stick around longer. Text (txt) files don’t have any formatting so are readable by many programs.  Used by a variety of programs, pdf files, too, are (Adobe and NitroPro, for example) and are usually like snapshots of text. The rest are image files like those that you get from a digital camera or your phone. 
 
For genealogists, there is a very important file type, GEDCom. This is like a .txt file for genealogy software and it allows us to store our genealogy data from one software program into a format that can be opened up by other genealogy programs. If you’re using an iPad or
tablet, then you can download Apps to read GEDComs from your computer. This is a great tool if you’re out with family and want to show them your work!