For many of us, the biggest threat to the safety of our family history information may not be papers yellowing with age or photos fading in the sunlight but instead the possibility of our computer crashing or our phone dying a painful death in the washing machine.
These days nearly everyone keeps important family information such as photos, scanned documents, GEDCOMs, and other files on their computers, digital cameras, cell phones, and tablets. While most people recognize that documents and photos are fragile, it’s easy to forget that electronic files are just as fragile, only in different ways. In fact, in some ways, electronic files are more at risk. While the old tactic of “store and ignore” might work for papers or photos, it doesn’t work for electronic files. With technology constantly changing, anything left alone for more than a handful of years is going to become difficult to access or read—something you’ve experienced if you’ve ever tried to access files on an old floppy disk.
Two main tasks can save the day for your electronic files: organizing and backing up your information.
Before you can back up your digital information, you have to figure out what information to back up. “Without organization, there is no preservation,” says Chris McAfee, head conservator of rare books and manuscripts at the BYU Library. Follow these simple steps to make this overwhelming project conquerable.
- Centralize your information. You might designate your computer’s hard drive as the place to gather all information. Then transfer photos from your camera or phone as well as email family letters or even important photos from Facebook to your computer.
- Decide what’s important, and get rid of what isn’t. While many genealogists face the problem of too little information about distant ancestors, today we often run into the opposite problem—too much information. If we don’t take steps to manage our thousands of photos and emails, they can become too cumbersome to be useful. That’s why a cleaning purge now and then is important. After all, posterity doesn’t need 20 photos of your kids on the beach in the sunset. One will probably be enough.