Scanning my life: A decision to digitize a family's papers brings smiles and heartache

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Published: Monday, July 16 2012 4:06 p.m. MDT

Our take: Kathleen A. Hughes recounts her experience digitizing her family history, and the information she found in the process.

My daughter, Isabel, was home alone three years ago when a fire raged through hundreds of nearby acres of brush. Our neighbors in Rolling Hills, Calif., were packing up their valuables and getting out.

Isabel, then 15, panicked: What should she pack?

She tried to call but couldn't reach me. Flustered, she ran to my office and grabbed every folder marked "Insurance."

"What's an umbrella policy?" she asked my husband breathlessly, finally reaching him at work.

"Just get out," he said firmly.

A friend picked up Isabel, who carried the insurance folders to safety. Firefighters finally contained the blaze and only a few homes were damaged. As I watched the news coverage the next morning from Washington, D.C., I realized my answer would have been this:

Quick, get the 32 boxes of photographs and the 39 photo albums from my bedroom bookcases. Then grab the four cardboard boxes of family papers that are down in storage. Please — very important — take all the framed photographs off the walls.

Read more about Scanning My Life on online.wsj.com.

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