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What I Would Have Done Differently To Save My Family History from Disaster

What I Could Have Done Differently to Save My Family History from Disaster

This year has been a rough one for memories around the world. We have seen natural disaster after natural disaster – tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and wild fires – wipe out countless homes and with them, entire family legacies. I wanted to wrap up the year with a few words from my team member Shastina, who herself have been affected by tragedy this year. Having a plan matters, so please listen – really listen – to what she has to say, so that you will be motivated to take the necessary steps towards protecting your own memories. It’s a heavy topic, but the Holidays have a way of putting things in perspective. So without further ado, here are Shastina’s thoughts…


Unexpected Loss

Let me start by saying, I have been writing comedy for television and radio since 2007. I went to school to study film, video, photography, and screenwriting at Hawaii Pacific University and UCLA’s Professional Screenwriting Program. I have worked professionally in Los Angeles as a writer and also a photographer. I’ve taken set photography, event photography, and dabbled in a bit of stock photography from time to time. I’ve also been a liaison for directors, writers, and graphics departments. For the last two years, I’ve been working as a freelance writer as well as photographer. I understand the impact and importance of visual media. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how important my own memories were until they were gone.

This year brought enormous hoops to jump through, despite all of my experience. The biggest one of those was when my mom passed away the day after Mother’s Day. It was unexpected, and the toughest thing I’ve ever faced. One might say that since that time I’ve been going through much grief and reflection. I have been revisiting family photos, emails, writings, videos, and my mom’s Pinterest board. Yep, her Pinterest account is still intact, and I continue to visit it because it puts a smile on my face. She was the main person I shared my jokes with, my stories, my pitches, my photos, and she was always and will always be my best friend forever. Reflecting on my loss led me to think about my own family photos, and where they all were.


Reaching out for an Answer

I knew I didn’t have all of my family’s photos. Deep down, I knew that a bulk of memories had been lost in the Lake Arrowhead fires in 2003. My grandparents and their house had unfortunately burnt to the ground along with everything they had. My resilient grandfather, who was working on our family genealogy, had lost all of his research. At the time of the fires, I was in college and not anywhere near them, so I really didn’t know how much they had lost. As time passed, I didn’t ever want to bring up the tender subject with my grandparents because it seemed too upsetting. I didn’t want them to have to relive their circumstance by telling the story all over again.

It’s taken me fourteen years to ask, and that happened last month. I decided once and for all that I was going to find out if my grandmother was able to save any photos from the fire, so I sent her a letter by snail mail. Hey, sometimes it’s the only direct way to communicate with your grandparents! My grandmother wrote back stating that almost everything was lost to the fires, and that there are only a few family photos still in existence. Not the answer I was hoping for, but it’s the one I knew was coming.


The Memories We Lost

Ever since I was a kid, my two brothers and I took photography and made videos. That’s what we did as budding director siblings. And because my parents were doing well financially at the time (production company), we had one of the very first camcorders, the latest polaroid camera, and not to forget, a projector TV. We were always at home making movies and memories. Only later in life have I begun to realize how lucky we were to be able to have the technology to create these time capsules. It shaped my childhood, encouraged me to be creative, and made me love new technology while at the same time wanting to preserve older technology, like film. Looking back now, it’s upsetting and frustrating that many of those irreplaceable memories are gone.

What I wouldn’t give to see those memories again…


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Can You Ever Really Be Prepared?

A couple weeks after receiving my grandmother’s letter, the Santa Ana winds spawned a new group of 2017 wildfires in California. The fire danger even reached a new classification, that of purple. That is one after red in the classification system – just to give you an idea. The fires affected the areas of Ventura County, Santa Barbara, and San Bernardino, to name a few. Many lost irreplaceable items, photos and memories like mine. Some lost everything. As I read the stories of people going through something that was out of their control, the renewed threat of danger brought back many feelings of my own family’s loss. Having few photos from my childhood left, I can sympathize with others who are hurting. There are so many memories I won’t ever get back, including one mysterious tape where my brothers and I captured a possible unknown “creature.” All of that is gone. If you’ve ever been through anything like that, you know how painful it can be to start all over again.

We go over emergency situations and what to do on a regular basis. We talk about them all the time. But how many of us are prepared for when it really happens? Can we ever truly be prepared? I don’t know the answer to that, but I doubt it. Our time is limited, and we may not be able to predict exactly when an emergency or disaster will hit, but there are small steps you can take before you find yourself in a life changing event. Maybe you won’t be able to prevent everything, but I encourage you do what you can to, at least, minimize the loss.


How Do You Prepare for Disaster?

There are some things that I would have done differently had I realized it sooner. It would’ve made things easier, and it would have saved some of my family history. I’ve created a short list of what I have learned from my own mistakes. Some things I should have done sooner, but other things I can still do (and keep doing). Maybe this will inspire you to think about what you can do to keep your own family history safe…

Disaster Preparedness Action List:

  • Don’t assume someone else will take responsibility for the family photos. Do it yourself.
  • Reach out to family members for memories (photos, videos, important documents, even medical info) and get copies.
  • Scan any fragile or printed photos to help preserve them.
  • Transfer all Hi-8 tapes, VHS tapes, etc. to digital.
  • Come up with a strategic backup plan.
  • Create one easy-to-move storage box that can be grabbed quickly in case of emergencies.
  • Keep recording family stories to continue the legacy.


What Can You Do Differently?

There are different levels of preparedness that vary from family to family and from situation to situation. Some people have a lot more photos than others. Some already have them saved digitally. Ultimately, you have to decide the best way to be prepared, and tailor that to your own families’ needs. I speak from experience when I say it is much tougher to rebuild from scratch instead of doing small tasks ahead of time. It can make a world of difference.

It’s easy to let a busy schedule get in the way of the things that are important to you. If you have already lost parts of your family history, you are not alone. It’s hard, but remember that you’re still here. You can always journal your thoughts as you are going through the experience. That in itself is a memory, and journals are at the top of the list when it comes to found family treasures. They paint an excellent picture for the your future family members.

Life’s unexpected surprises can catch us off guard leaving us to backtrack, and the question will come back to you asking, what could you have done differently?

Instead, ask yourself, what can I do differently now?


Editor’s Note: Thanks for sharing your story, Shastina! Preparedness is a topic that’s unfortunately a necessary part of your backup strategy, and we hope that this post has inspired you to take action with your own memories! Don’t wait until it’s too late! For more help on getting started, please visit our Beginner’s page!

What say you, readers? How many of you are truly prepared enough to face a disaster?


Featured Photo by Fancycrave

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  • Cristian
    January 31, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. The disaster preparedness list is really helpful. Thanks Shastina!

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