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Preserving family memories at the holidays is fun and easy with today's technology, such as videotaping and digital cameras. Helen Comer | The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger

Collect 'powerful' reunion memories on film, paper, computers

By GWENDA ANTHONY | The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun

For the Futrell family, a picture is worth a thousand words.

And when the "gang's all here" at Thanksgiving and Christmas, cameras are whipped out and "flashes start going off in every direction," laughs Norma Futrell, considered the grand dame of holiday entertaining for her Jackson, Tenn., family, which includes up to 30 people by the time Christmas dinner arrives on the table.

There might be newfangled ways and high-tech gadgetry to preserve holiday memories, but for Futrell none beats a roll of film to capture a "Kodak moment."

For families accustomed to meeting and greeting far-flung aunts, uncles and cousins during summer reunions, autumn and winter holidays offer a more intimate time to reunite with parents, siblings and grandparents.

Sharing the memories becomes a cherished event. Many families still enjoy their photographs, but now videotape or hand out CDs with the photos from last year, or create scrapbooks for holiday gifts.

Veteran scrapbook folks often keep a room and a table for their projects.

The books have acid-free plastic inserts so that the photos will not change colors from contact with the plastic.

The cost can be very low, ranging from a basic scrapbook for less than $20 at Wal-Mart to those purchased at specialty shops costing about $40 with extra embellishments.

Video camera lovers prefer filming the family and playing it back on the television the next year.

"This is a pretty much a digital age," agrees Bob Leonard, who co-owns Special Moments Video Production Service of Paris, Tenn., with his wife, Marianne.

He suggests letting a professional capture those special moments on videotape or DVD "unless you have the time, money or the right equipment."

Still, if people want to do it themselves, his best tip is to use a tripod.

"It offers better quality. You don't want to carry the video camera on your shoulder for everything."

Like many video businesses, Leonard's firm also takes home movies and transfers them to video and makes photo montages of special events.

With today's computer graphics, families can take photos on digital cameras, scan them onto a computer and create a video scrapbook that can be opened and viewed on the computer, or printed out. There's a Web site devoted to the process:

There are nearly 500 types of digital cameras on the market now, ranging from Canon, to Nikon to Kodak.

The newest digital cameras range in cost from $50 to nearly $5,000 and scanning in the photos is easy, says Lyn Williams of Jackson, Tenn.

"I put photos on CDs. At the last family gathering, we created a Power Point (Microsoft software program) presentation with old photographs, and I transferred that to a videotape with other reunions. So it was like a history. And then we followed that up with a couple of year's highlights."

"Year before last, we put the Power Point presentation on CDs, and they could run that on their computers. That was the first pass at it," he says.

"This year, we put it on a VHS tape because some folks weren't computer-literate," he says. "DVDs will be next on the agenda."

A simple point-and-shoot pocket camera, a digital, would be $50 or $60, says Williams. He owns a Nikon D1X, a $3,500 to $4,000 professional-quality camera.

"Obviously, it's more like a 35 millimeter only better quality and you can take that straight to computer or CD from the cameras, which is the advantage," he says.

"You can also get camera phones that they're pushing now and stay in touch, but that's not what I'd be interested in," he says.

It won't matter that people might not want to have to fix their hair and dress before opening presents on Christmas morning and calling the family across country.

"My wife said she was reading something that said by 2006 most people will be buying camera phones because that's what will be available," he says.

But for people who don't want to get caught up in the high-tech world, a photograph is still the simplest means of preserving memories.

"I would suggest that all families start a holiday photo album to share at those special times," Julie Powell says.

Last Christmas Eve, her family gathered at the home of her grandmother, who had been diagnosed with cancer. The illness had inspired them to collect pictures and put them in an album.

"I can tell you that album never sat down. It was always in somebody's hands," says Powell, a Creative Memories consultant. The company helps people compile scrapbooks of pictures and other mementos.

"Photographs capture emotions and memories. They help people make a connection to the past that they can pass on to future generations," explains Powell, who also teaches sports management at Union University.

"Preserving memories is a powerful thing for people do. It makes you realize how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away."