By Paul Lindner
“And so it feels like she is slipping away from me a second time: first I lose her in the present, then I lose her in the past. Memory — the mind’s photographic archive — is failing.”— Julian Barnes, Levels of Life
I lost my sweet, vibrant, lovely wife Julie to breast cancer last December.
Determined to not lose her a second time, I turned to over 27 years of personal and public archives to create a memorial site. Julie’s escapades and adventures would not be forgotten. Fortunately our journey began online, over email.
Back in 1992, Julie and I met on a mailing list, GRUNGE-L. I noticed she was from Minnesota and so was I. Asked if she’d be up to see some music. She said yes and six months later we were married and off on our adventures. Over that first year we sent each other more than 2000 email messages.
The day before Julie died, I turned to those archived emails. Through tears, I read our early messages to her. I knew that despite being unconscious she could hear my voice and relive those moments with me.
As I sat down to write her obituary, I shifted to a new role: Historian. I began by collecting old text messages, voice mails, and emails. Old SD cards and phones in drawers augmented photo backups. I scanned old photos; friends and family sent what they could find.
But there was more online, some in public archives. The earliest was Julie’s Usenet newsgroup postings. Some are available in Google Groups, but the Internet Archive had many more at https://archive.org/details/usenet. I found posts by Julie in a number of groups, CINEMA-L and alt.music.alternative to name a few. To really recreate the experience, I displayed them on an 80×24 retro-terminal green screen:
Then there were the bands she loved whose works were out of print. Some, like The Sycamores, had contact info online. But I had to turn to the Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA) to find information about The Wonsers. (Thank you Jason Scott and John Gilmore for saving this and the rest of IUMA!)
And as I dug through email, I remembered Julie loved the “Future Culture” mailing list, and often shared the cultural and technical ephemera she found there. I subscribed to the list so I could let them know about Julie, and found her messages to the group. Julie started lurking in 1993, finally introducing herself in ’97:
Oh yeah, my name is Julie Lindner. I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota. But, have spent the last year and a half living in Geneva. This seems to be a very interesting group of people. I expect it will be a pleasure to get to know you.
She didn’t post much, but she did earn the title of “Goddess of Tacky Postcards” for three of her entries in a competition to find the most tacky postcard. She sent in her best and they ended up on a web site “Future Culture goes Postal.” It’s gone, but it was archived.
The archive is incomplete, but luckily Julie’s second and third entries survived. (The first was probably so tacky that it was unarchivable!) Finding these really captured her wicked sense of humor and brought back a special time in our lives.
The list also featured an orange jumpsuit-wearing member named Captain Cursor aka Taylor. We never managed to meet Taylor, despite moving to the Bay Area. But his archives remain and they provide so much context for my own orange jumpsuit—a gift to me from Julie.
I was very happy to find even more websites kept alive by the Internet Archive:
- SomaLiving.com – In 1999 we bought a Loft sight-unseen except for the brand-new ‘virtual tour’ technology.
- That loft building had its own site: lighthouselofts.com containing photos and a history.
- It was there that I built a personal, partially lost, website inspired by Julie’s tattoo:
And finally, through the Wayback Machine, I learned that the memorial site julieslife.com was built on hallowed ground. Turns out I’m not the first to use this domain. There were two other Julies with two wholly unique and treasured lives. The Internet Archive contains the full history of both of them:
- In 2002 another Julie had a personal site inviting you to “waste some space.”
- In 2012, Julie Nelson took over with her blog: Life Called “The Chronicle of a Peace Corp volunteer serving in Azerbaijan.”
In this way, archives become much more than just data. They allow us to witness, corroborate and remember what happened with an accuracy no human could ever achieve. Each e-mail, each photo, each song, and yes, each tacky postcard ensures that I won’t lose Julie a second time.
So for all the Julies out there, I am thankful for the Internet Archive. Survivors and Historians are eternally grateful that the Archive is there to augment our own fallible memories, ensuring that our loved ones are never lost to time.
How to create a memorial website:
After we published this, readers took Paul up on his offer to lend a sympathetic ear or to offer advice. Some wanted to know how they, too, could create an archive to remember a loved one now gone. Here are some basic steps from Paul:
I have yet to write the definitive guide to gathering archives and creating memorials, but I can provide some pointers.
1. Getting access to Emails is a key first step. Most people have emails from the web sites they use, so this will help you identify other web sites; plus you can view the sent messages to put together a timeline. This (older) article covers getting access:
2. Consider exporting the data from the account. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft all offer a way to get a download of all user data.
3. Look in the email for web sites that the user used. These could be big ones like Instagram or MySpace or smaller forums. If you can access these sites you may also be able to export data. Often the data export is in the same place as the account closure. Consult this guide for a set of sites:
If the site is defunct they this is when you would want to use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. If you have the URLs of the account you can go to https://web.archive.org/ ; enter the URL; and view the captured pages. For example you can try Julie’s twitter account by entering https://twitter.com/jflindner and browsing the captures.
4. Now that you have all this data you will want to publish it in some form. This generally involves creating a web site. There are specific sites devoted to creating memorials, though many of them only offer simple photo galleries. I used Google Sites to create mine, but in all cases be prepared to spend time learning how to get the best results.
5. If you scan photos or documents you can augment your web site with that too. I know it’s been a few years, but check if there are old camera memory cards or old phones sitting around.