Protect Your Family History from Disaster
If you had to evacuate your house and only had minutes to get out, what would you take? The boxes of photos in the back of your bedroom closet? The photo albums on the coffee table in your family room? The computer in your study? The genealogy files in your basement? In a disaster situation you often won't have time to grab much, and generally won't have time to go looking. You may not even be home when disaster strikes, which leaves you no time at all. Important pieces of your family history, even those that had survived for centuries, could be gone in an instant.
Back Up Your Computer Files
In the age of the Internet people have come to rely on their computers for everything from online banking to digital photo storage. The downside of this reliance on technology, however, is that catastrophes such as fire, theft, computer viruses, and hardware failure can cause you to lose years of hard work or irreplaceable memories in an instant. Don't make the mistake of believing that it won't happen to you. It happens more often than you might think. But the results don't have to be catastrophic if you back up your genealogy files and digital documents on a regular basis.
There is a wide variety of backup options available, and with technology changing constantly it's probably best to explore these online. CD-ROMs work for small files, and most people already have a CD burner in their computer. For video or large photo collections, you'll want to look at DVD burners, USB flash drives, and external hard drives.
For small, occasional offline backups of important files, such as your family tree file, sign up for a free e-mail account through a service that offers online e-mail storage and e-mail the file to yourself. At the time of writing, Gmail (offered through Google), Yahoo! Mail, AOL, and Microsoft's LiveMail all offer anywhere from 2GB to unlimited storage of online e-mail. That's enough space to store plenty of documents and photos.
Online backup services offer another easy method for backing up your precious computer files and digital photos. You can store your data offline, away from your home where a disaster might strike both your computer and your backups at once, and use automatic scheduling of backups so there is no more forgetting to back up your files. Cost is a factor in such services, however. ConsumerSearch recommends the best online backup services (
Duplicate and Distribute
Sharing your family history like this is one of the best ways to assure that nothing important is ever lost. Make copies of precious photos and documents and mail them off to family members. Send relatives a GEDCOM of your family tree file. Create a genealogy website for disseminating your research. Upload your photos to an online photo-sharing service. All of these steps take a little time, but will ultimately safeguard your family history from potential disaster. Your family members will appreciate the gifts as well!
Don't Overlook the Hidden Dangers
Light, temperature, moisture, pollutants, and the odd bug or two all threaten the survival of family heritage. The solution doesn't have to be complicated, however. Basically, it's a matter of making the time to transfer your photos, documents, wedding dress, family bible, and other family heirlooms into archival-safe boxes, albums, and storage containers. Once they're appropriately packed, they just need a safe home. Find a spot in your house that maintains normal indoor temperature year-round and is generally dark and dust free, such as a closet shelf, a storage trunk, or even under the bed. If you're in a flood-prone area, keep things above known flood levels. You should almost always avoid the attic, basement, and garage because they tend to experience large variations in temperature and/or moisture.
Information and supplies for proper storage and preservation of family photographs and documents are easy to locate online. Experts at the National Archives answer questions on storing photographic prints, when to remove photos from an old album, and how to safely attach photos or memorabilia to album or scrapbook pages on their Caring for Your Family Archives web page (