Cover Story: Digitization saves old memories with new ways

Four Memory Lab volunteers in the office

By Gerald Hay

One of Linda Cain’s fond memories is captured on an 8mm movie reel showing her riding Black Beauty, a rocking horse, when she was a 3-year-old girl in 1955.

Darlene Jerome plans to preserve a partial book of sugar ration stamps from World War II that was left to her niece. The name of her niece’s mother, who died when she was 12, is on the book.

Her husband, Darryl Jerome, still wonders about a mystery picture that was found in four pieces and hidden behind his grandmother’s framed picture.

Marsha Bennett treasures love letters between her parents, then single, during World War II and her great-grandfather’s 130-year-old immigration papers.

All of these family keepsakes have been, or will soon be, preserved by digitization in a free Memory Lab beginning April 3. The do-it-yourself scanning lab will be located near the Johnson County Genealogical Society desk at the Johnson County Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th St., Overland Park.

The project is modeled after the Memory Lab Network created in libraries across the nation, beginning in 2018 by the DC Public Library and funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The network now has 17 partners.

If certified by the network, the Johnson County Memory Lab will be the first in the Kansas City metro region and the state of Kansas.

The Memory Lab is a partnership with the Johnson County Library and the Johnson County Library Foundation which purchased the scanning equipment for public use. Johnson County Genealogical Society members will voluntarily staff the lab and assist residents with using the equipment.

The Jeromes, Cain and Bennett are among the volunteers and early Memory Lab participants in their training to use the various scanning devices.

Jeromes: Old photos

Wedding photo and letters ready to be digitized

Darlene Jerome has digitized most of what her mother left in a shoe box of pictures and has made several heritage books using the pictures. She now has a lot of pictures and memorabilia, including theration stamps, belonging to her niece that she wants to digitize for her .

“Digitizing a box of photos or slides allows you to use the pictures instead of just letting them gather dust in a box in the basement,” Darlene Jerome said. “You can share them via email, put them on a family webpage which I have done, create a heritage book, create a slideshow on the computer using pictures of your ancestors, and the list goes on.”

One picture is of her paternal grandparents. It turns out that her grandfather, William, had a second family in central Missouri after he suddenly disappeared. His first family never knew what happened to him. His second family was unaware of his first marriage.

“The family story was that ‘He took the cattle to market and didn’t come home,’ leaving a wife and three children,” she said.

Her grandfather (William) married her grandmother, Mary, a few months later and lived in southwest Missouri. He never divorced Virginia, his first wife. However, she filed for divorce about 10 years later when she remarried.

By digitizing her grandparent’s picture (William and Mary), Darlene Jerome was able to share it with cousins from that side of the family. Many of them live in California and did not have a picture of their great-grandfather.

While one family mystery was solved, Darryl Jerome has an unsolved who-is-it photo torn in four pieces and found behind his grandmother’s picture.

“The picture is a mystery. Surely a family member, but who? Grandmother’s picture was a studio portrait taken about 1903 when she was 18. Based on the style and original tint, I believe the mystery picture was taken in the 1860-1870 era,” he said.

Darryl Jerome thinks digitizing old pictures serves as an important way of preserving memories and the family history even with some unknowns.

“The originals are too easily lost or damaged,” he said. “Pictures have a vivid way of telling our, and our ancestor ’s stories, showing the environment and lifestyle, and explaining who we are.”

Cain: Old home movies

A Memory Lab volunteer digitizes old items

Linda Cain’s father left a family treasure trove of many photographs and a box of home 8 mm home moves of family gatherings. She wants to digitize the reels of film before they become too brittle to view and share.

“We frequently had movie nights at home long before VCRs were invented. Those nights were always fun,” Cain said. “I plan to share these with my cousins and the younger generation, too. It should bring back memories for us and we will be able to revisit those great times we had together with our parents and grandparents who were all gone now.”

One of the first home movie she digitized was the family gathering at her paternal grandparent’s house on Christmas 1955 when Cain is shown riding Black Beauty , a holiday present. Her grandfather died of cancer a few years later.

“That Christmas Day is the only thing I remember about him,” Cain said. “The movie is a treasure.”

She also has a collection of photos going back to when her grandparents were children in the early 1900s and many documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, school records, military records and naturalization certificates.

Cain even possesses her father ’s drawings and receipts from building the family home around 1958.

“He designed and did much of the construction himself with the help of neighbors and friends. There are also movies of the construction. So, I hope to do some type of video with all that,” she said.

Bennett: Old letters

Photo of a pilot and a journal ready to be digitized

Marsha Bennett inherited her father’s military records, including his flight logbook as a naval aviator and about 100 handwritten letters between her parents during WWII before they were married in April 1944. Her father was one of the first enlisted men at the Olathe Naval Air Station. Her mother lived in Kansas City while he served as a naval flight instructor.

In the letters, he provided updates on his training and the various bases where he was stationed. Her mother shared news from the home front as well as plans for their wedding.

“They both gushed all over each other, expressing their love and admiration and how much they missed each other,” Bennett said. “Interesting to see my dad put his feelings into words and my mom to talk about the attributes of their future kids.”

Bennett’s family archive includes handwritten letters and postcards from her grandmother and four sisters who wrote to each other in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

“The letters were written on scraps of paper or whatever they could find and front and back,” Bennett said. “The handwriting was beautiful and so were the words they chose to communicate.”

She also values a photocopy of her great-grandfather’s naturalization application when he immigrated from Sweden to the U.S. in 1892 and settled briefly in Minnesota before coming to Kansas. The application was signed by Charles Lindbergh’s father who was the deputy clerk of the district court of Morrison County, Minnesota, on Oct. 23, 1893.

“I would like to digitize soon as it is fading and can probably enhance it for a more readable copy to share with my cousins,” Bennett said.

Her grandfather was a founder of the Kansas City Restaurant and National Restaurant Associations. He and her father operated a popular restaurant in Kansas City across from the Union station for about 40 years.

She has recipes and menus as well as photographs of Hollywood Movie Stars from the golden era that hung in one of the dining rooms. Bennett wants to digitize the images and share them with the Kansas City Public Library as a part of the city’ s history during the heydays
of train travel and before TV dinners and staying home to eat became popular.

Bennett also values handwritten recipes from her grandmother and mother with plans to put them into a family recipe book.

One unusual keepsake is a seascape oil painting made by one of her great-grandfathers in 1915 on a window shade instead of canvas just before he died.

“He was a house painter, but this was an interesting yet dark painting,” Bennett said. “He was divorced from my great-grandmother which I think he regretted as I have a letter written by him to her that year when he still wants to be with her.”