Almost 4 years ago, I moved my family from Cincinnati, Ohio to Redmond, Washington so that I could join Microsoft.  Since we have two young children, and a small family, the move has been really hard on the grandparents.  But as our first Christmas out here approached, I came up with an idea that I’ve been repeating each year since.  Last night, I tweeted about this idea and the tweet went a bit viral, with hundreds of retweets (thanks largely to Scott Hanselman, I’m sure).

Like many families, we take thousands of digital photos and we store them on an HP MediaSmart HomeServer.  Every year for the last 4 years, I sit down the weekend before Christmas, copy all of the year’s pictures from the HomeServer to my PC, organize them into folders of 4GB, burn them to DVD, and then send them to the grandparents as my Christmas gift to them.  What they don’t know (until now anyway), is that the gesture isn’t completely selfless.  As succinctly expressed in my tweet, those disks are my off-site backup of our family photos.  And we’re talking 2300 miles off-site, so I consider myself pretty well covered.

Here are a few details for my process, in case you decide to pick up this routine too:

  1. Organize the photos into folders with the year, subfolders with the year-month, then subfolders again with year-month-day, and file names that have date-time stamps.  (I store these on our HomeServer).
  2. When copying the folders in preparation for the year’s disks, always include December from the previous year, so that photos from the previous Christmas are included in the set.
  3. Split the photos into groups of ~4GB, and burn the groups to disks.  This year I had 7 DVDs.
  4. Deliver the disks to the grandparents, and ideally copy the photos to their PC and add them to the screensaver.

My wife and I have agreed many times that in the case of a disaster, our family photos are what we’d miss the most.  Having all of our photos archived at the grandparents’ offers us a bit of reassurance that we’ll never lose them.  And you cannot imagine how much joy the grandparents get when they watch the photo slideshow.  We’ve spent several hours sitting together watching the screensaver.

In the days of Angry Birds, this is what I call killing two stones with one bird.  Merry Christmas!