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Tap Forms Case Study: Digital Family History Archive

Hey There,

One of my customers wanted to respond to my "How do you use Tap Forms" blog post, but in a much more comprehensive manner than a simple comment to that post would allow. So without any editorial interjection, I provide to you Tom Bird's case study on how he uses Tap Forms for a Digital family history archive.

Great stuff Tom!

By Tom Bird:

Case study: Digital family history archive

I am building a digital family HISTORY archive, which I intend to be interesting to my relatives, children, and other descendants. I have mostly photographs, but also a variety of one-page documents including marriage certificates and kids' work at school. All of that can be scanned. I also have some longer texts and text-photo combinations that go in PDFs. To date, I have 1200+ items organized in the archive on my hard disk, and in a website version. Eventually I'll work my way out of my family's paper past into the recent digital past, and start drawing items from my hard drive: iPhoto collection, audio, and video.

When I started in 2012, I looked for software dedicated to family history archiving, in part because I thought such software might come with advice, or at least built-in conventions, about matters like file formats for longevity, useful tags for searching and sorting, desirable annotation of family history archive material, and so forth. Failing to find any such software (then or more recently), I have sought strategic and technical advice from archiving and archivists' websites, have used general-purpose database software to handle information about the archive, and have made things up as I went along.

For a general-purpose database, I started with Bento, which I had been using for various small databases and which seemed to have all the capabilities I needed. When I had recorded about 400 items in my archive, I finally noticed that Bento was jilting me, so I explored the Base component of the cross-platform, open-source LibreOffice, which I found clunky, for lack of a better term. Then I noticed and tried Tap Forms, which I chose mostly because of its crisp presentation and operation and ease of use, starting with the migration from Bento.

So far, my "master" archive holds large, lossless, uncompressed TIFF and PDFA-1a files suitable for printing at 300 DPI, plus some simple text and a little audio. That resides on my hard drive, backed up to two other hard drives. In Tap Forms, I use form "Artifacts" to record for each artifact a bit of the who, when, where, and what information, plus the filepath and filename in the master archive. As I enter that information for an artifact, I also import the image file into TF's image field (which puts a much smaller JPEG copy into its image folder), or I attach smaller, non-archival versions of the PDFs (thus putting copies into its attachments folder). A few dozen records store both an image (as a come-on) and an attached file (for a fuller presentation).

That gives me a searchable-sortable working presentation for the screen, but not for printing. Moreover, I can use Tap Forms to export a CSV file of the data about the artifacts, plus the related media in their folders, all of it fitting on a DVD. That's the platform-independent, software-independent "traveling" version of the archive. With that DVD and a piece of database software comparable to Tap Forms, my intended user can very soon have a working copy of my archive, suitable for viewing on a screen.

In addition to form "Artifacts," I have a form "Persons" for recording a little information about each of the people named in connection with the artifacts. I understand that with Tap Forms I can relate the two forms and do a bit less work, but that also would tend to draw me away from platform- and software-independence, and would require me to escalate my assumptions about the technical skills and equipment of the eventual users of the archive. So I keep forms "Artifacts" and "Persons" in flat (unrelated) files.

I use a few other forms to document the archive and keep track of what I am doing. Form "Archive_information" is a collection of the Web sources, and of selected information from the sources, on which I have drawn to make decisions about my archive. Form "Archive_vocabulary" defines all of the fields in forms "Artifacts" and "Persons," and all of the pre-defined values used in some of the fields. Form "Artifacts_projects" helps me keep track of my archiving projects (for example, an album of 60 photos), from selection of artifacts, to scanning and processing, to entering data into form "Artifacts," to uploading the artifacts to the website version of the archive. That's just a little information on each collection, plus a list of check fields.

I appreciate the easy switching between the Single Column List View (for filtering, browsing and viewing artifacts) and the Multi-column List View (for checking the consistency, completeness, and accuracy of my data entry). TF's search functions are all I need, and I used saved searches frequently, both in building the archive and in searching-browsing it.

One Response to “Tap Forms Case Study: Digital Family History Archive”

  1. Penelope says:

    Really interesting post. I am trying to do a project with a village history (a small UK village with an industrial past). Who lived where & when (& why). I started on Custodian in about 2000 – which was Access and horrid!! Though we have lots of family trees on Ancestry (where we can connect with families researching) it is the photographs, stories round people that need to be collected and organised before those who know them are not longer around. Aperture was wonderful with people, places, Albums storing photos (Tiffs at high quality & low quality images to share). We have all the census info (& 1939) as csv / excel / google sheets. Also lots of pdfs where many villagers are listed (connected to organisations, their family etc etc). Will definitely look at Tapforms to see if it can do more than record the location of electronic files (Artefacts) but link information for family, house, business or organisation history.

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