How to Preserve Your Family History—10 Minutes at a Time

How to Preserve Your Family History—10 Minutes at a Time

by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby

With the holidays fast approaching, did you know you have a prime opportunity to preserve your family history, 10 minutes at a time?

Protecting this precious history doesn’t happen by accident. This became clear as I researched and wrote my new book from Arcadia Publishing, Calhoun County, which showcases the stories of small-town and rural Iowa life through the eyes of those who lived it. 

As I asked friends, neighbors and local museum volunteers to contribute vintage photos for my book, I heard too often, “I’d love to help, but we don’t have those photos.” Some images succumbed to fires, while others were destroyed in flooded basements. Sometimes photos and documents were thrown out in a housecleaning frenzy years ago.  

That’s why there’s something special about the old photographs, letters and documents that survive. I’m grateful to the people who preserved stories of the February day in 1934 when Bonnie and Clyde robbed the Knierim bank. I’m also thankful to the anonymous photographers who took pictures of major events in Calhoun County, such as President Taft’s 1911 visit to Rockwell City, and the time when the Babe Ruth, the “Sultan of Swat,” played golf at Twin Lakes Golf Club following a batting exhibition in 1940.  


Top Five Tips to Keep History Alive:

I was able to include all this and more in Calhoun County. Along the way, I discovered five key things you can do to preserve your own family and local history in as little as 10 minutes at a time: 

1.    Exchange family photos and stories rather than gifts. During the holidays, have adult family members bring copies of family photos they think other relatives might not have. Then take a few minutes to share the photos and reminisce. Include the kids and young adults in these conversations, whenever possible. 

2.    Protect photos from the elements. Take 10 minutes to note which favorite photos displayed in your home are original images. Replace these photos with copies of the original images to protect the originals from fading by the sun. Store the originals in climate-controlled areas where humidity and temperature stay fairly constant. Also, store these photos in acid-free boxes and acid-free albums with non-PVC plastic pockets and no adhesives. 

3.    Print your photos. Think of how quickly technology changes. When was the last time you used a slide projector or VHS cassette tape, for example? Make sure your digital photos can stand the test of time. Schedule 10-minute work sessions periodically to select digital photos you’d like to print. Then make time to print them using high-quality inks and photo papers. Also, consider printing your digitized images in a photo book, which can be compiled online and printed at a surprisingly reasonable cost. In addition, use an external hard drive or cloud system to back up all your digital files. 

4.    Document the details. It only takes a few minutes to include key information that makes a photo meaningful for future generations. Use a soft lead pencil or photo-archiving pen to note who is pictured in each photo print, list where the photo was taken, the date (or at least the approximate year) the photo was taken, and a bit about the event depicted. 

5.    Go high-tech. Download apps like StoryCorps ( to help collect your family history via your smartphone in a matter of minutes. Also, use your phone’s voice recorder or video camera to record your family’s stories. 

Remember, there’s no time like the present to capture the past and preserve it for future generations. All it takes it 10 minutes at a time. 


Darcy Dougherty Maulsby’s ancestors came to Calhoun County, Iowa, in 1889. Five generations of Maulsby’s family, including Dougherty Maulsby and her brother, have carried on a heritage of farming, caring for the land, and supporting the local community. Along with running her marketing and communications company, she serves on the board of various Iowa agriculture groups and Central School Preservation. Learn more about her book, Calhoun County