- Only records saved are remembered
- Take notes and organize them
- Teach what you learn to others
- Keep an index of record locations
- Store data using desktop utilities
- Make backups to prevent loss
- Backing out to previous versions
- Catastrophic loss
- Share records with those you trust
- Store records on the internet
- Publish Family Histories
Only records saved are remembered
Do you want to be immortal?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but very few of us will make it to immortality without first dying. So the only way to become immortal in this life is to write down and preserve the things that are important to you. It’s not total immortality, but there are writings we still have available that were written thousands of years ago in Sanskrit. So that’s a little longer than a single life time.
But seriously, one of the problems you’ll face if you spend any serious time in Family History is to remember what you’ve already done. You may be working on one line of your Family Tree for a while when life happens, and you can’t get back to it for a period of time. Then when you do get back to it, it is difficult to remember where you were at the time. There are several issues with starting up again:
- What has been done?
- How far did you get when you were stopped?
- Where do you go from where you stopped?
Not only should you gather and organize records, as discussed in prior articles, you also need to be sure you save what you are working on and keep notes of where you are at. This way, it will be a far simpler thing to pick up where you were at and continue from there.
If you do not save your data and you do not save a pointer back to where you were at on your current project, you will not remember it or will have a difficult time finding it when you get back to it. A good practice is to create a log of your activities by date and activity. Any time you need to get back to what you were doing, you can refer to the log and see where you left off and what happened before that time.
Take notes and organize them
Just as in school, when you take training courses, read articles, or do Family History, it’s a good idea to take notes on what you learned and what you did. The only difference is that these are notes you’ll want to keep after the end of the school year.
And just like taking finals at the end of a semester, it’s a good idea to review your notes and create a summary of the things you learned. The review and summary will help solidify your knowledge and help you remember it better.
But there is another reason for doing this. As you summarize your knowledge, create an index of what you learn and use it to store further training ideas in a file under the topics that are important to you. You may have already done this if you read the article on Organizing Yourself, but you may want to include additional folders just for training.
If you are storing the information on a computer, you’ll also need to create an Index into the training materials, so in the future when you forget something and need to get back to it, it will be easy to find. I personally name Index files on my computer with names starting with an @ or a ~ symbol, that way, they’ll be sorted to the top of the computer folder and will be easy to see, instead of searching through the whole folder.
Teach what you learn to others
There is also another technique to help you remember. It is a way to reinforce your learning and better store the information in your memory. The technique is called “teaching.” Yes, teaching. You learn best when you have to teach others what you learned. It makes you concentrate, not only on understanding the material, but also on organizing it in your mind in a way that makes it understandable to others.
I once took a challenging college-level computer class, the kind that I was told that many computer majors had to retake. I got lucky and found another student from Brazil that needed help. Right before we would take tests, he and I would get together and go over our prior homework to help him understand enough to do well on the test. One time I waited for him for over an hour and was starting to get very concerned he wouldn’t show up, because I knew I needed the time to teach him just as much as he needed the time to be taught. Luckily he did show up, and I was able to help him out. I am thankful he did and also that I was able to help him during the semester because I was able to get an A- out of the class, and I doubt very much I would have been able to get that kind of a grade without having taught someone else.
When you give to others, you also are blessed.
An ironic twist to this story is that the class was on data storage in computers (loosely related to what we’re talking about in this article).
Keep an index of record locations
One part of saving your data is to be able to get back to the data after you save it. It will do you little good if you can’t get back to it when you need it. Above, we talked about how to organize data in a computer by creating an index that points to the data. But it is also a good idea to have an index on paper in a manila folder for the data and training materials you store on paper in your filing cabinet. My grandfather gave me boxes of raw data in the form of xerox copies and notes. However, this was all a bit confusing as I didn’t have a context of what he was doing until as I was going through the boxes and trying to organize them, found a note pad with an index on it. At that point things started to make a little more sense. I will use his index in the future to discover where he was when he stopped, and where I should go from there.
You can think of your collection as a mini-library. You need to find the best way to organize your paper files and keep them organized in the future. Saving data is more than just putting it away somewhere.
Store data using desktop utilities
As you collect more data, it will become more difficult to keep it organized and readily available. In addition to storing paper artifacts and indexing them, you’ll probably want to store the data itself in a computer format other than just a simple index of the records you have. This is when you’ll want to invest in a desktop software package. Most Family History desktop software is reasonably priced and allows you to control the data and how it is used. Over 100 vendors sell these packages, but you can see some of the top vendors in the industry by going to Seekerz.net > Tools > Utilities. In the future, we plan to evaluate and compare these packages or refer you to evaluations others have done so you can make an informed decision.
Whichever package you decide on, it should be able to:
- Store, modify and delete individual and marriage information,
- Import and export data in at least GEDCOM format,
- Store pictures and documents by person,
- Calculate Family Relationships (e.g. 3rd cousin once removed),
- Create and print reports,
- Allow searches,
- Display related data (e.g. Family Group and Pedigree structures),
- Store complex relationships (e.g. related members of blended families),
- Show descendants as well as ancestors,
- Backup and Restore data,
- Repair corrupted database information,
- Give you help search capabilities.
The above are only the base functions your package should have. Many have other bells and whistles including:
- The ability to sync data with web services.
- Create multiple formats for reports,
- Keep research notes and logs,
Make backups to prevent loss
One of the more obvious ways you can save data is to make copies of it. For paper, this means making a physical copy of the document and storing it somewhere other than your own home. That way, if something happens to your home, you’ll have the backup copy.
The same issue happens with computer files. After making significant updates to your Family History File Artifacts, always remember to back them up to the latest type of backup media. My father was working in a professional office and took my advice to always back up his data to a floppy disk. This was fortunate because the computer took a hit and lost everything on its hard drive. After the programmer restored the software, he was able to simply restore his data and he was up and running. The other professionals in the same office had to reenter all of the patient information by hand, as they had not taken that precaution. It cost them quite a lot of money to do so.
It’s always a good idea to have a copy of the backup offsite in case there is a fire or other natural disaster. The more copies of the data, the better the survivability of the data. Just make sure that those copies go into trusted hands. Family History data can be used for identity theft.
Backing out to previous versions
One of the things you’ll want to do if you have a Family History desktop tool is to keep multiple versions of your backups, meaning that over time and as you add data to your personal database, take snapshots of that data as a backup at a point of time, and remember to keep all of those snapshots available, don’t delete them.
Why would you do this? Well, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, oops, no this was for real, I started merging data that my Mother found from many different sources other than our own, into my own lines. I had gone quite a way on this merging project when I finally realized that every time I merged someone else’s information into my own, I had to decide who had the better data, my version, or the other distant relative’s version. And after having done this several hundred times, I realized that I didn’t know and couldn’t prove the veracity of either version.
This was a dilemma; any decision I would make was just a guess with no proof of either version. I knew I had to start over from where I was before in order to know what data I’d worked on and had verified and what data was sheer blue sky guessing.
Luckily I had kept prior versions of my backups and was able to easily get back to the point before I started the merging process. If I hadn’t of done the backups and kept them, I would never have been able to back out all the hundreds of spurious merges that I’d done with good intentions, but bad results.
Keep backups and keep all your versions of them.
So why all the precautions? Isn’t this going a little overboard?
Well, I’ve already shown at least two excellent reasons above, but let me tell you a lesson I learned the hard way. We had a lightning strike near our home many years ago and lost a motherboard on the computer and several floppy disks that were sitting on a metal filing cabinet. Luckily the floppies didn’t have critical data on them. But both they and the motherboard had to be replaced. If they had had critical data on them, we would have been in a much more difficult situation than it turned out to be.
So catastrophic loss is always possible and since that time I’ve tried to be a bit more careful. Remember that some backup media are less susceptible to electronic surges than others. Flash drives are nice but can be impacted, along with computers, but CDs and DVDs are optical, not electronic and make a better backup media when dealing with lightning.
But note that different media have different strengths and weaknesses. CDs and DVDs are excellent protection against electronic spikes but are take more physical space and can be scratched. And with the advent of internet cloud storage space and movie streaming services recently, fewer personal computers have optical disk drives on them. Flash drives are less bulky and can even be put on your key chain as a way to keep your data with you when you travel, but again, they can be erased by electronic spikes. CDs, DVDs and Flash drives have about the same shelf life, about 10 years. The reason for Flash drives, as explained by an Electronic Engineer, is that they are supercharged capacitors and will lose the charge over time.
Just remember that with any media, you’ll probably need to convert it into a new media over time to preserve it. This can normally be done by storing it on a computer and writing it to a new media. But lacking that ability, you can buy a special device to convert the old format to digital, then back it up to the new media. For example, if you want to convert a Super-8 video (yes, I know that was a movie camera storage technology that is very old) to a Flash drive, you may need to get a special device that can still read Super-8 and convert it to a more current format before storing on the flash drive.
There are also devices that can scan slides, photos, and other physical media into digital format.
Share records with those you trust
As mentioned before and I will reiterate, don’t give your personal data to just anyone. Even the information on your parents and grandparents can be sensitive and cause you problems with identity theft. Just remember all the sites that now ask you questions in addition to your user ID and password? These are questions that supposedly only you would know, but many of them originate in information that can be found in your personal Family History database. Only give this information out to trusted relatives and or consultants.
State and Federal governments have recognized this issue and have put in place laws to protect personal information, especially on web apps. For example, FamilySearch WILL allow you to enter data on yourself, your parents and your grandparents, but WILL NOT allow others to see that information until one of two things happens, 1) the person dies, 2) today’s date is greater than 110 years after the birth date of the person in question.
Not too many people live longer than 110 years old.
This way, personal information can be protected from others while allowing you to enter it in while you are still alive; and I assume you do want to enter it in while you are still alive.
Store records on the internet
This brings us to our next topic, storing your information on the internet.
The reasoning behind storing your Family History data on the internet is that if something happens to your personal version of the data, it is still available somewhere else. Note that all large organizations that store data, also back up that data. They are concerned about the loss of data, as it could cost them millions of dollars to recreate, along with loss of client confidence, etc. They additionally have stronger anti-virus capabilities than individuals do, although recently, even some of the bigger businesses have been hacked.
But again, the more copies of the data, the better the survivability of that data. Most computer memory storage these days have built-in redundancy of three copies of the data at any given time. This way if a disk pack fails catastrophically, the data on it can be reconstructed with data stored on the other devices, by simply removing the failing disk pack and inserting a new one and bring it on-line with the others.
Just be sure that you are as concerned about the loss of data, as are big companies, and you’ll be fine when the loss happens. I can guarantee you that given enough time, something WILL happen.
We have talked about many ways and methods of saving data above. There are many more, as I’m sure you could guess, and I’m sure that there will always be new and improved ways to do backups. Just be sure that the media you use can be trusted. Currently, I personally do not trust the Cloud. I am concerned about any situation that cannot provide security and privacy. Frankly if you store data on the Cloud, you have no idea where it is physically being stored regardless of what they say about privacy and security.
Publish Family Histories
I’d like to mention one last way to store your data. Storing Family History data on computers and backups is nice, but susceptible to electric outages. For that information you want to make visible regardless of the power grid, you might want to think about getting together with a Family Organization and publishing a physical book. (Yes, I know physical books are becoming antiques. But antiques can become quite valuable.) My Wife’s Fathers line has an organization that has published at least 4 books with literally hundreds of descendants of a common ancestor. This was a tremendous help to me when tracing the family back and identifying relationships.
Family Organization books can have lists of descendants, family stories, autobiographies, etc. It is up to you. My Mother’s line decided to ask the Grand kids to submit whatever they wanted to be incorporated into a Family Book before the death of all the children. I was amazed to find things that were totally unexpected in the book. I even found a couple that traveled the high seas in a trimaran sailboat for over 10 years, up until they had to abandon ship in a storm off the cape of Africa.
You may also find some interesting stories in your own Family Organization. Give it a try!
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