A long time ago, probably 90 years ago or so, the old Jackman house burned down when the family tried to hook up the first electric line to the house. In the ashes were photos, journals, letters, and keepsakes from the early Jackman pioneers and many generations of my grandparents. Those things are gone forever, and I’ll never be able to read some of the fascinating stories that must have existed in those documents.

As a genealogist and history aficionado, I want to preserve everything about my family, and have a morbid fear of losing unique information like the things that were lost in the Jackman house fire so many years ago. But just as sad as the fire is, there are documents and photos that are sitting in my own boxes that rarely get looked at, except for once every 5-10 years or so. I have some amazing documents that I have inherited that shouldn’t be locked up in a box in the garage, where some inevitable act of God or man will eventually destroy them.

As a product of the Internet generation, I also want to share all my fascinating family information with the world. But where to post the information? If I post it on some site I host myself, they will likely be lost when I forget to pay the hosting bill, or when the company inevitably changes policies or rules or ownership in the next few decades. I need a place that will give my documents the widest exposure, with the best chance of survival for decades and even centuries to come. The solution I’ve found is Archive.org.

An Internet library and repository supported by a variety of charities and organizations, Archive.org is one of the best places to store this kind of family data. It has free storage, universal access, redundant data protection, multiple storage sites, and a commitment to make as much information available to everyone for as long as humanly possible. In short, I trust them way more than I trust my garage.

Grandpa C.W. Allbee, whose only written history is a short smallpox diary found last year.

So I’ve begun uploading family documents to Archive.org as soon as I find them. A year or so ago I found a handwritten account of a time when my great-great-grandfather contracted smallpox while working for the railroad in Colorado and was quarantined for weeks to an abandoned home with an old prospector as his guard and guardian.  It was full of wit and charm, and portrayed this man in a light I had never seen him in. Nobody alive had ever heard the story! So I scanned it in and typed up the story, and created a PDF that contained both the transcription and the original images. The I uploaded it to Archive.org as the Claudius Wilbur Allbee Smallpox Diary.

The main page gives a short introduction that I wrote, and some statistics. To the left side, you can view the book in a variety of ways. You can download it, read it online, get a version for the kindle or eReaders, or a variety of other formats. All I had to do was upload the document and Archive.org did the rest. Simply amazing. And as of this post, 27 people have downloaded this document to their computer, while likely many more have had the chance to browse the pages online. Way better than sitting in my garage!

To date, I have published the following documents on Archive.org that are not available online anywhere else (click on the title to go to the Archive.org page):

  • Brooks Field Photographs – Early photographs of Brooks Army Airfield the first Army airfield ever created, from my great-grandfather’s time there in WWI. I haven’t found any photos online that display the operations and construction of the airfield as these do.
  • Photo Album and Family Bible of the Janney Family – A photo album and family bible that somehow got into my family’s possessions, though they are not relatives of mine. I suspect that they were obtained by a great-great-aunt who never had any children or family of her own, but had several close friends who she cared for at looked after. After posting this, a descendant of the people in the photos contacted me and I was able to send him the album and bible. Amazing connection!
  • 1969 Picture History of Everett Milton Allbee and Katie Cranage Allbee – This book was obtained by my great-grandmother who was trying to see if this family were close relatives of her Allbee line, which they weren’t. She kept the book anyway, and now I’ve been able to post the book online, 43 years later.
  • Cordell Records – A Virginia Family – Another small booklet of genealogy obtained by my great-grandmother, though not related to our family. Over 600 downloads so far.
  • Wade Family History – A very short set of typewritten pages that give biographies and genealogical information on the Wade family.
  • 1924 Alamosa High School Yearbook, Printed Edition – My great-grandmother’s yearbook from Alamosa Colorado.
  • 1924 Alamosa High School Yearbook, Scrapbook Edition – Another version of the yearbook with more pictures, and other items from the city and the school.
  • Holdrege Duster Student Newspaper 1925-1926 – What a find! Copies of these early student newspaper from Holdrege High School were in my grandfather’s belongings, but were kept by his aunt. A souce of interest for the little town of Holdrege, Nebraska, and the high school students there, I’m sure, as there have been almost 80 downloads of the issues so far.
  • Stella Smith Reed’s Scrapbook – This is more personal than the rest, but it includes local newsclippings, and notes on who visited the home, how many potatoes they harvested each year, and family history information. Who knows what someone might find in there that will help them find ancestors or enrich their understanding of local history?
  • Album Views – The Isle of Man – A tourist photobook I found, passed down from my ancestors who moved to America from the Isle of Man. Back when the emigrated, this was probably the only way to keep good photos of their homeland and native country. I haven’t found the book mentioned anywhere else online, so it’s possible this is the only one left in existence.
  • Mothers Day Booklet 1933 Alamosa Colorado LDS Branch – Decades before this line of my family joined the Mormon Church, they lived in Alamosa Colorado, which had a heavily LDS population. Somehow my great-great-grandmother received this mother’s day booklet from the Mormons. An interesting look into Church outreach at the time, and an interesting parallel for those of us who eventually joined the Mormon Church.
  • Mrs. Nebraska 1956 Pagent Program – My grandmother participated in this pagent, and the program offers a fun view of the time period, along with advertisements. As an aside, the woman who beat my grandmother went on to win the national competition, and the event was recently reported on by an investigative journalist.

See how cool all this stuff is? Old newspapers, historically significant photographs, family biographies, old family stories – these are treasures to me, and should be shared with others. The fact that these documents have been downloaded over 1000 times (and viewed online many more times) in the short time they’ve been uploaded just proves to me how important it is to get this stuff out there!

Okay, have I convinced you that this is important yet? Good. Next time we’ll go over how can you upload your family stories, history, photos, etc. It’s easier than you think!

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