Courtesy of

This past Christmas weekend I was re-introduced to a medium of family history that may have gone out of style. No, I’m not talking about my own use of outdated published materials (yikes!) or any of my attempted genealogical gleanings (snore…) or even my possible faux pas in giving dad a DNA test for Christmas.

Rather, I am referring to a medium of family history generally associated with oral histories and a medium where we (almost…) never actually hear anyone speak! This year, that nearly forgotten source of family history arrived just before Santa Claus, after dinner, and amid the wrappings’ clutter. It’s a medium that is being re-told to and shared with me through the eyes of the next generation.

You see, several years ago a couple of things started to disappear around our home. This is no big deal, as part of this disappearing act is my own doing, for I have (gleefully) been giving away “old stuff.” So when my son and daughter-in-law (a Millennial and a Gen-Xer) asked about the rolls of old 8mm “home movies,” I gladly obliged. Many of the old films, along with the projector, had been cloistered in differing hall closets for forty years (or more). I had no problem letting go of the Bell and Howell and all the what-nots that went with it. After all, who wants to watch old home movies?

Vintage 1947 ad courtesy of

A once fashionable way to preserve memories, “home movies” quickly grew into an industry of silent ennui and a wonderful way to chase away anyone who had overstayed their welcome. Home movies long ago gave way to the Beta-max (I think!?), the camcorder, VHS tapes, etc., etc., until ultimately we now capture all our moments on our cell phones to “post instantly.” Yep, no need of those dusty old cellulose reels.

Dessert had just been served when my daughter-in-law, an astute and even visionary young woman (the Gen-Xer), announced to our family gathering that she and my son (the techie Millennial) had been working on a project for quite some time, and while not finished, they very much hoped we would enjoy their “work in progress.” She directed our attention to their HD television screen, and with little more introduction than this, the old Bell and Howell projector reincarnated itself into a new life. Yes, there “they” were – right where I’d left them – my grandmother waving to me from the Honolulu airport of Christmas 1989 and my old family dog “Wally” protectively riding herd over a bunch of kids again. How our hearts did stop!

My son explained that it has been his and his wife’s focus to gather together these old home movies, piecing together segments of life from each of their respective families. Their goal is to transform these film documentaries into a modern format – basically, to some sort of a thumb drive, I think (but don’t quote me!). Further, they are putting this project together with the idea that they will be asking for our help in identifying the players on the stage – as so many of the characters in these old movies have passed “silently” on, and really aren’t known by too many folks anymore.

My son explained that it has been his and his wife’s focus to gather together these old home movies, piecing together segments of life from each of their respective families.

So just when you think that the family history is going to heck with no one caring or carrying on – think again. While it might not always be told they way we would tell it – with census records, pension affidavits, and death certificates – our family histories may be preserved and told in different ways by the next generation. Indeed, why shouldn’t a new generation record and keep a portion of the past in a different way? As we once did ourselves, they are finding their own ways to preserve our past.

I’m not sure what motivated my kids to do this, but I admit to being pretty proud of them for it. And yes, I know that there are a lot off commercial companies out there that will do this for a fee. It’s a great service to employ, I’m sure. However, the idea of my son and daughter-in-law lovingly going through those old 8mm films themselves, cataloguing and digitally preserving the data and identities of the ‘stars’ involved in each of them, well, to me it’s what family history is built on – the personal aspect. (I will sneak in a few of their Ahnentafeln when they aren’t looking…)

It’s been a tough year with a good deal of sadness for my family. I have high hopes that we will come out of it in 2018 – perhaps on the better side of it all. I do have to tell you, though, that on Christmas Day, while following each other home, my son’s car broke down on a busy highway.

There we were: great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, children, and babies, in-laws and outlaws, all on the side of the road. It was quite the Christmas Day event for us warm-blooded Californians, with even the tow truck sent to rescue us breaking down along the way. We all knew then that we would laugh about it someday. For me, I was reminded about the old Bell and Howell, and couldn’t help but wish I’d had it right there in hand to bear witness to our silly motorcade of multi-generational memories in the cold!

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

15 thoughts on “Intermissions

  1. How did your son and his wife transfer your old home movies? I have reels of my mom’s home movies and am not sure how to make them “digital.”

  2. Wonderful post, Jeff. Perhaps it will motivate me to dig out my father’s old 8mm films and look into digitizing them while I can still remember most of the “stars”.

  3. I found a reel of 8 mm film a number of years ago that my mother had put in a box in a closet. I had the film put on a CD so could see what it contained. The film quality wasn’t great, probably stored poorly, but it was great to see. It was from the summer of 1939, and included me as a baby being passed around to my father’s family members in Marion, Kansas, about a hour away from where I was born. Among the group were my grandparents, and it is the only record of them I had seen with them in motion. Others in the film we’re running around trying to escape from being filmed, a movie camera being a oddity at the old homestead. My father was the youngest of 10 kids, so I was the last grandchild, and was just age ten when my grandparents died. This film brought back some early memories of visits to the family farm, and was able to share the CD with cousins and aunts and uncles.

  4. I am working on that project for our family films right now. It is time consuming no doubt. But hopefully future generations will appreciate the effort.

  5. I did this a couple years ago turning 8mm films into dvd’s and an Mpeg-4 file, which allows for editing. I found a company online that would do it for me so it became very easy. I don’t remember how much it cost – not so expensive that I would not do it, but it was worth having someone else do the work and preserve the film. We now have old family films available to family members who are spread far and wide as well as a conversation between my parents when dad was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed by the Japanese.

    I googled, “turn your old 8mm film reels into dvd” and found several companies willing to do the work for you.

  6. Somehow my parents never went through the home movie phase. But from the 1940s to the 1980s or maybe later, my dad took approximately 10,000 35 mm slides. I for one loved “slide shows. I remember the night I was visiting, when another visitor asked for a specific slide show. The boxes were labeled, and on a high shelf in my folks’ closet. The guest was “helping,” and a bunch of boxes tumbled down, their latches burst, and slides slid all over the hall floor. Somehow they got shoved any old how back into the boxes, and never did get sorted properly. That was the end of the slide shows. Both parents are gone now, and the boxes of slides have been divided among the three siblings. As my mother used to say, “Your father loved landscapes.” We only want the ones with family in them, so we don’t want to pay the commercial outfits to put them on CDs or thumb drives so we can sort out the 20% we do want to save. So they sit there, though I did take a crack at sorting once. His labeling system wasn’t on each picture, but on the top of a set of pictures, so it’s really a mess. I wish a grandchild would ask for them for such a project as your kids are doing with the home movies, Jeff.

    1. Our family also skipped the home movies stage. I thought that I had the world’s largest collection of slides til I read this post: now I have to brag that I have the world’s SECOND largest collection! I can’t “weed them out” because some of the most treasured are pictures taken either just before or just after The Big Shot.

  7. I agree with you Jeff. For our 50th wedding anniversary my son took all of our old 8mm movies as well as later camcorder videos and put them together for a showing at our party using my laptop and a projector on a large movie screen. I still have it on my computer and look at it often.

  8. Several years ago my uncle’s home movies from 1940’s through 1960’s were converted to VHS. Now I must convert them again into another format. I don’t want to lose these moving pictures of our family. There are a precious few seconds of my mother with my 11 month old brother on her hip. My father is swinging me, age nearly 3, in circles. Fourteen months later our father died. Even though we have lots of photos of him, these seconds of seeing him move are priceless (and always bring me to tears).

  9. Wonderful post! My aunt did this before a family reunion a few years ago. She had to use a service, but she chose the films that were identified as wedding and anniversary parties, figuring – correctly – that they would have the largest representation of the family from the 40s and 50s. It was amazing to see my great-grandparents on the screen – I had only ever seen still pictures of them. It was the hit of the reunion, and nearly every cousin there ordered their own copy to share with their children!

  10. Great article!! I would encourage anyone to check out the services that do the scanning for you – then you need to do the identifying. The younger generation will finally show interest in “real people” and hopefully your seed will sprout and bloom into the genealology that you have invested years of your life researching.
    BTW – at least scanCafe only requires that you purchase 50% of the slides they scan. You can select those online and ignore the blurry or unidentified landscapes.

  11. Jeff what a treasure! My Step-Father Stanley Snider didn’t do movies he did slides. My fondest memories were watching the slide shows after diner with God Parents. Sad to say I haven’t found any of the slides I figure my Mom got ride of them after Dad passed. How ever I did find many slides on my Husbands side. Now all I have to do is set up a Light box and look at them, very easy to do by the way. Light and glass and you have it. Your a very lucky man so far no one in my family is interested in family history.

  12. I am the gen-xer son and used the wolverine movie maker pro. They arent cheap but easier and more reliable than pushing them through a film projector. The videos come out sped up, so you neex to slow down the framerate to about 16 frames a second once exported.

  13. When cleaning out my mother’s house in the early 1980’s, I brought home 32 reels of my dad’s 16 mm home movies which he filmed starting in 1937..My gr grandmother was in them. Carefully editing the brittle film with a splicer, I took them to a company that converted them to VHS tape plus gave copies to my 2 sibs. Then came CD’s. So took those 4 VHS tapes which were converted again to CDs in the 90’s. So much clarity is lost. Now I’m at a loss as to what to do next. Any suggestions?

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