American Family Archives | 8mm Home Movies & Films

Part 6:

Rescuing and Revitalizing (and Sharing!)
8mm Home Movies & Films

(subtitle: the story of Crumble Dust and Goo)

Why I Gotta Do This:

A Journey into Ancestry, Genealogy, Family History, Antique Photographs, Disorganization, Dysfunction, Chaos, and One Man’s Search for Archival Salvation

As mentioned in a previous blog, doing a preliminary sort gave me a general understanding of just what the heck is in my “family archive:” snapshots / 35mm slides / 8mm home movies / photo albums / framed images / letters, correspondences and documents / newspaper clippings / genealogical information / fabrics / antique toys / and other junque.

Now that I have a sense of what’s what, I need to prioritize and decide what I would like to start exploring. Notice here I didn’t say “work on,” as it truly is more of an “exploration”—with a hint of time travel—rather than “work”. (OK, OK, yeah, its “work,” but its really cool work, so like that.)

Instead of jumping into the most populous and perhaps most obvious category—family snapshots, that is—my priorities are actually driving me toward the 8mm home movies. This is because 1.) these films make up a relatively small number of artifacts, which makes them a good starting point; 2.) many of the films are identified with regard to when they were made and who is in them (me, my parents, and my then-young siblings, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, space aliens, for example); and 3.) perhaps the biggest reason is completely altruistic—a significant motivation for organizing and archivally preserving this collection in the first place—as its for the benefit of others in the family and our subsequent generations going forward. Case in point:

8mm home movies, family archives, archival supplies
Yikes! When did THAT happen??? Seems like only yesterday….

My sister turns 60 years old in the fall, and I can’t think of a more unique gift to mark such an occasion than a couple of DVDs of all our old home movies. I vaguely remember watching these films with my older sister and my younger brother back in the 1960s, when the old man would drag out the projector, set up a rather rickety and cantankerous home movie screen, and thrill us with what we thought at the time were pretty boring scenes from our then-recent childhoods. NOW, however, with both of our parents chillin’ out in the Land of Not Around Anymore, our own children in their 20s, and all three of us “kids” rapidly approaching 60 years old (yikes!), these films have undoubtedly increased in personal meaning and value.

8mm, home movies, archival
My sister’s 60th birthday is coming up. The perfect gift? Its gonna be DVDs created from all our old home movies from over fifty years ago when we were just kids. Perfect!

Its my job now to rescue these films from their attic tomb, revitalize them by sending them out to be converted into digital files, and then burn them onto high quality DVDs for my family and those of my sister and brother. The original films will be kept (of course!), identified and safely stored away in the finest archival materials, while the digital files will be backed up and thus ready to be migrated onto whatever future digital platform our descendants will be using. I’m busy workin’ on designing that new platform as I write this, folks. Yup. Its going to have a seamless interface that will be compatible with all human users; it will hold 10,000 terabytes of information; and it will be both microscopic and super easy to replicate. Yeah, you guessed it: its customized DNA. I still have to work out some bugs, though, as all 206 of my beta testers turned into brain-eating zombies. Stay tuned, as I’m gonna either be the richest, most successful digital platform designer ever, or I’m gonna cause the zombie apocalypse. As a precaution, maybe you should go live in your basement for a few years. I’ll let ya know when its safe to come out.

Ahem, anyway, saving my family’s home movies all starts with me, and since it’s such a time-sensitive project, one that offers tremendous rewards for our entire family, I’m on it so here goes….

archival preservation, films, home movies
Some of the 8mm home movies of my family from the 1950s and 1960s, as they were found buried in the Attic of Doom.

When encountered recently, after a zillion years in storage in the attic, this is what my extended family’s entire motion picture / home movie archive looked like (see red box). Neglected and shunted to the netherworld of only the vaguest of recollections, these movies have not been seen by anyone in almost 50 years. That’s half a century, folks! To add insult to this injury, by storing these irreplaceable films in the attic for years and years I have risked their very existence. Well, that changes now.

Removed from a Purgatory I myself condemned them to, they are now archivally stored in polyethylene bags and high-quality archival boxes, and currently reside in a cabinet in my living room – away from the dust, moisture, and temperature and humidity fluxuations that would have eventually killed them.

Just as important, they are now all labeled with accurate content information and were sent out to be converted to digital files, which now allows me to easily share them with my kids and my siblings’ families. Through purposeful intervention these films have gone from total obscurity and threatened existence to a safely stored and valued set of heirlooms, all with just a few hours of focus (no pun intended). Here’s how:

home movies, archival preservation, family archive
8mm color home movies my old man made of the family from the 1950s to the mid-1960s. So did a zillion other families. That’s what they did. Today’s equivalent? The YouTube video. Everything that goes around, comes around.

My preliminary sort of everything in my family archive allowed me to collect all the home movies I had and address them as a unified group. All of these films were made by my father between 1956 and 1965, with the larger reels comprised of a number of smaller / shorter films spliced together.

Quick Hack: Avoiding the Crumble Dust and Goo*

*(what a great name for a band – Crumble Dust and Goo –
has a nice ring to it, don’t cha think?)

home movies, preservation, 8mm movies
The Road the Hell is paved with good intentions.

Each of the smaller films in my family archive had a rubber band wrapped around the spool to keep the film leader in place. This rubber band is both unnecessary and could in fact cause significant problems. Old rubber bands tend to either “crumble,” potentially contaminating the film with crappy dusty stuff, or “melt” and become a sticky, almost impossible to remove goo. If you’ve got this sort of thing going on with YOUR 8mm home movies then go and take these rubber bands off and throw them out. Now! Why are you still reading this? Go take the rubber bands off! Sheesh, some people just don’t listen!

archival storage, home movies
(Please click on links highlighted in blue below for more information.)

The boxes that accompanied these reels often included information that allowed me to date and place individual films. All of this information was copied onto archival paper with a pencil or an archival pigment pen which then accompanied each film reel when placed in a protective polyethylene or crystal clear bag.

home movies identification, archival storage
Keeping the ORIGINAL objects and images that make up my family archive is a very important guiding principle. In fact, its my “Prime Directive” (with apologies to Star Trek aficionados, of which I’m one. “City on the Edge of Forever” – no Romulan Birds of Prey, no Klingon Battle Cruisers, no photon torpedoes, no cloaking devices, no tribbles, no Harry Mudd, no Gorns, no M5 computer, no Doomsday Machine, but absolutely the BEST. EPISODE. EVER. Need I say more?)
(Please click on image for more information.)

The use of acid-free index cards placed between each film reel in its archival storage box (see below) allowed me to duplicate important identification information I found on a number of the original vintage film boxes. Speaking of copying important information, you know how magic markers and sharpies and their ilk smell like solvents and such? That’s because their inks are formulated with all sorts of stuff that may harm items in your archive. This is not the case with an archival pigment pen (above), which is manufactured to very high standards with different ink characteristics that will not harm most films, papers or collectibles. While safer than other markers, they should be used to mark paper inserts, index cards, polypropylene pages, box labels and such but NOT actual prints or documents, as a good pencil (please click here) is still the preferred medium for those applications.

home movies, acid-free, preservation, archival storage
Boom! My family’s original films, back from being converted into digital files, are identified, neatly and safely stored in individual polyethylene bags to prevent dust and moisture contamination, and compactly arranged in a single acid-free storage box. Boom! (or did I already say that???).
(Please click on image for more information.)

Each film was placed in an unsealed archival polypropylene bag (to allow the films to “breathe” while keeping out dust and moisture), which are available in a variety of sizes to fit whatever diameter film reel I had. These films were accompanied in their individual bags by a non-adhesive archival paper label with each film’s information written on it. These were then placed vertically in an archival hinged-lid box, separated by acid-free index cards with each film’s indentifying information also written on it with an archival pen (redundancy = good). Whenever possible I kept the films in their original boxes, as these are in fact part of each film’s individual “history.”

home movies, acid-free, archival preservation
Clean, compact, safe archival storage for my home movies. It sure bets the mess it was up in the Attic of Doom.
(Please click on image for more information.)

Lastly, I placed an adhesive backed label holder on this compact yet personally valuable box in order to facilitate its storage and ease of retrieval. When all was said and done, I had all my previously neglected family home movies identified, cataloged, stored and, quite importantly, copied. This allowed me to burn the DVD copies I wanted for dispersal to family, and gave me the ability to endlessly migrate the content of these movies as technology changes, all the while with the peace of mind that the original films were safe and correctly cared for.

High Quality DVD Disks & Archival Storage Options
for My Digitally-Converted Family Home Movies*

*(as well as my entire collection of entertainment, software, photo and music CDs)

home movies, archival DVD, archival storage
High quality DVDs are important to use, as run-of-the-mill DVDs one might find in a typical office supply store are relatively cheaply made and not “built” for long-term storage and data integrity. Such average-grade DVDs can degrade, delaminate, and otherwise cause havoc with your digital files, things that high quality DVDs are engineered to avoid and prevent.
(Please click on image for more information.)

As mentioned, one of the key reasons I converted all my family films to digital files was to be able to easily create multiple copies of these fantastic windows on the past in order to share them, specifically with my sister for her 60th birthday. I found a number of companies on the Internet that specialized in this conversion process, and once my original films were returned and archivally stored I set about making DVD copies for myself and my siblings on high quality archival DVD-R disks. Just as important as keeping my original films safe, I also looked into a variety of archival storage options available for these newly-minted family DVDs.

archival DVD, archival CD, preserving DVDs
DVDs in individual two-sided archival enclosures. Quick and easy solution for inexpensive storage. This DVD? Why its Scorsese’s award-winning 4-hour rockumentary on Crumble Dust and Goo. It stars Liam Neeson, Meryl Streep, Kenneth Branagh, Ben Kingsley, Katherine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Al Pacino, and William Shatner (as “Kevin”).
(Please click on image for more information.)

archival DVD storage, archival CD storage, home movies
Storing a large numer of DVD and CD disks in archival pages.
(Please click on image for more information.)

home movies, archival DVD storage, archival CD storage
Elegance, archival protection, and easy retrieval were important factors to consider when I was picking out DVD and CD storage options. This is all of the above, and practical and handsome to boot. So, like that. (Please click on image for more information.)

archival DVD storage, archival CD storage, home movies
This was the answer to my bulk archival, acid-free, indexed(!) storage needs for ALL my other DVD / CD / software / photo CD disks – high quality metal edge box kits specifically designed for just this purpose. Yup, “easy feeds the bulldog,” as they used to say. (Please click on image for more information.)

So, now that all of THAT has been addressed. I have the PERFECT B-Day gift for my sister and, of tremendous importance, I have my family’s archive of home movies safely copied, stored, and available at the touch of a computer key. None of that would be the case if I hadn’t seen the importance of addressing my family archives in the first place, and nothing can match the satisfaction of this first real step into the cool world of saving, reliving and fondly sharing my family history. I can’t wait to show my kids. I’m sure they’ll hoot and howl at all the Squaresville 1950s/60s styles my parents liked—and seeing their dad as a dopey punk kid—but that’s half the fun!

So, in keeping with my desire to get some of the easier things off my plate, my next mini-project is organizing and archivally preserving my folks’ and grandfolks’ 35mm color slides. That should be a hoot, too.

On, then, to…

Step 7: Slides – Identification, Organization, Strategic Printing,
and Archival Storage

(BTW – got a question thus far? Got a particularly challenging archival / preservation / presentation / organizational / storage nut that just won’t crack? Don’t know what’s what re: your personal archive or collection? Post a comment or contact us. We’ll get ya through it!)