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December 17, 2013

Preserving Paper Treasures: What's New Today is Obsolete Tomorrow

Preserving Paper Treasures: What's New Today is Obselete Tomorrow
Obsolete floppy discs
See that pile of floppy discs beside my laptop? That's called obsolete technology. I haven't got a computer or laptop that will read them. 

I could, with a great deal of effort, get my hands on something that would allow me to look through those discs and extract any information I might want to keep. But I won't. That's way too much work and time and effort!

And this is but one example of outdated technology. At the time didn't we all figure we could digitize our documents, create our files and save them until we wanted/needed them? But that is what happens with the rapid advance of technology. We end up with important data that can't be read in 5, 10, 15 or more years from when we created it.

As genealogists we save documents, whether original or copies. We need that marriage license of our great-grandparents. We treasure the original 1918 bill for Grandpa Bob's funeral. The push is on to digitize them, to go paperless. But let's be realistic! Will we be able to read or access those treasured digitized items in 10 years or 20 years time? 

Sure we saved a copy on our harddrive but computers crash and data is lost. We saved a copy to the Cloud, that was good wasn't it? But we have zero control over cloud services and they may disappear overnight, or there could be a catastrophic failure and saved data is lost. We have copies on CDs and flash drives and external hard drives and we've shared some of those with family. We're covered, right? Wrong. CDs and flash drives might not be readable in the future, just as those little floppy discs are unreadable to most of us.

Even if the cloud with our digitized documents is still there, if you are no longer around, is there anyone in your family who knows your password or has the technical skills to get to it? 

So what's a genealogist to do? Well, first of all you should absolutely digitize your papers  and photos and save them in every spot you can think of! The more backups the better. But don't be too quick to throw out those paper originals! 

Preserving Paper Treasures: What's New Today is Obselete Tomorrow
Blanket Box of Ephemera
But where do you keep them? How do you ensure they get saved and passed on to future generations? I keep mine in a very large antique blanket box. It's about 2 feet by 3 feet and is used as a coffee table. It's full of paper documents. 

But I know that at some point in the future someone (most likely one of my grandson's wives, or a granddaughter) will almost certainly look at that blanket box and think "Hmmmm I could store a lot of bedding in here! And what's with these papers? Holy cow, do we really need to give up good storage space for my husband's great grandmother's driver's licence or her marriage certificate?" And his grandpa's death certificate!!??"    

And the papers I have treasured and saved for future generations will be tossed. So what do we do? How do we get the maximum chances that our paper ephemera will be kept by future generations?

In the next few blog posts I'm going to show you several different plans for preserving these paper documents and treasures such as Great Grandmother Harriet's baptism certificate or Great uncle Syd's military discharge papers.

You can follow these upcoming blog posts by choosing the topic "Preserving Paper Treasures" from the right hand side bar.


The Grandmother Here said...

I'm looking forward to your advice because my anti-clutter children worry me. Our ancestors just want to be remembered.

Eric Basir said...

Good message: Digitize it, but don't trash it!

AnitaB said...

I am eagerly anticipating your future posts on this subject. This is a topic that needs consideration!!

Elwyn Crawford said...

I'm with 'The Grandmother Here' and 'Eric', and also would like to suggest photographs need printing out too!

Eric Basir said...

YEs. It's an excellent article and I shared it on my networks. I always like to see these kinds of articles because we take technology and digitizing for granted—or simply too complicated to deal with. But I always tell folks to have redundancy. A hard copy of a document or image is a major part of archiving.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Eric - I agree. I believe in multiple backups and copies - and not putting all one's eggs in one basket

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Good point The Grandmother Here - I believe as you do, we should remember our ancestors

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Anita - glad you are following along, and feel free to jump in with suggestions if you want!

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Elwyn - absolutely! Our descendants are likely to have few photos of us since most of us rarely print them.

I will be writing about this in a future blog post so stay tuned!

Unknown said...

I have been putting most of the pictures & documents into photo albums as well as saving them to flash drives AND an external drive. When my mother passed away 9 yrs ago we found a steamer trunk in her basement that held a treasure trove of documents from her mother. I will never part with them.