I worry about protecting the documents and photographs in my collection. At any given point in time, we hear about natural disasters that wipe out people’s homes and belongings. We all put a lot of effort into our family histories and want to avoid the pain of losing it! Digitizing is an excellent back-up tool and is also a great option for sharing.

 I’m thinking about this today because of a comment I read on-line this morning wondering about the value of digitizing records. In the back of my mind is the flooding we experienced here in southern Alberta last month - the worst in our recorded history. Downtown Calgary, an oil and gas city of well over a million people was shut down for over a week because the water threaded its way through the streets and buildings. Basements, where, let’s face it, many of us store our items, were flooded to the ceilings. If it isn’t water, maybe it’s a twister or a hurricane. So what can we do to protect our precious records and documents? 
 
Digitizing is one very clear option. It is easily accessible and can be relatively inexpensive and anyone can do it. Scanning documents and images is a pretty straightforward process. All you need is a computer and a scanner. Sometimes, all you need is the scanner! There are  companies who will do it for you if you don’t want or are unable to scan it yourself. 
 
Once you’ve got your digital collection, there are quite a few options for sharing it. Cloud storage has become increasingly popular and ranges from free to nominal fees depending on how much space you need. You can store the media on CDs or DVDs burned from your
computer. If this is your preferred method, then remember to store it somewhere else! An option I’ve just started hearing about gives clients the option to store their records on-line in Cloud Storage and include an option for heirs to inherit access to it. 
 
Future Access to Your Records
 
Something to consider when relying on electronic storage options is will you be able to access the materials in future years or decades? Paper has a proven track record of lasting for millennia. On the other hand, if you use a computer you know that the technology changes every couple of years and pretty soon something you stored 15 years ago is gone because there is no software and/or hardware to retrieve the information stored. 3½” disks are still around but do you see any drives to read them?
 
The other side of this coin is the information stored on the media. The software changes pretty regularly, too. I’ve got files stored in QuattroPro from 15 years ago that I just can’t open.
The contents are essentially gone. What I have noticed though, is that some file formats that are read by many software programs do seem to remain accessible for decades. I am thinking of txt, pdf, tif, jpg, bmp as specific examples. I think because these formats are generic, they tend to stick around longer. Text (txt) files don’t have any formatting so are readable by many programs.  Used by a variety of programs, pdf files, too, are (Adobe and NitroPro, for example) and are usually like snapshots of text. The rest are image files like those that you get from a digital camera or your phone. 
 
For genealogists, there is a very important file type, GEDCom. This is like a .txt file for genealogy software and it allows us to store our genealogy data from one software program into a format that can be opened up by other genealogy programs. If you’re using an iPad or
tablet, then you can download Apps to read GEDComs from your computer. This is a great tool if you’re out with family and want to show them your work!


 

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