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  • Archiving for the future

    This is a little long, so hopefully you don't fall asleep reading it....

    How great it would be if peoples of yesteryear kept good detailed (BDM)records, and utilised the best mediums of the day for our future benefit. (that cursive writing can be really hard to read!) There would be alot less confusion and information loss.


    Fast forward to today, some of us are the current custodians of the genealogical/dna data for our families. We record so much more information now than ever before. We have the historical documents, but now also photos, audio/video content, & data files (dna & family tree). We do need to be prudent in recording all the information we have compiled for future generations. I know sometimes the current generation (family) have absolutely no interest in genealogical things , but it is worth saving something for the subsequent generations who might pick up the baton.

    Being in such a digital world, what we have really is ephemeral. Everything is stored in some electronic system that is not natively accessible to the human eye/hands. With physical letter/document writing going by the wayside, and news/documents/music/video etc all going digital. Who is to say that in a number of centuries some archaeologist might dig up a past city and come to the conclusion that people in late 20th and 21st century lived in the dark ages, as very little writing or physical artifacts could be found, since it was all stored digitally. With no physical written down evidence of historical events, the past would be unknown. As digital information can be altered after the fact whereas physical formats if altered, would show evidence of being changed.

    This brought to my mind of what are the best mediums/practices to store our data for the future.

    We have text, photos, video & audio recordings, digitised documents (BDM), family tree dna data and family tree databases.

    Jump back in time....
    In the early 1990s I got a scan of a image (large for the time) which was about 6Mb in size. The problem was we only had a max size of 1.44Mb floppy disks at the time to put things on, so I had to span that one file over multiple disks just to back it up.

    As technology improved I jumped to the next available format to take advantage of size improvements.
    Zip Disks(100Mb capacity)->Magneto Optical(200Mb)->CDR(700Mb)->DVD-R(4.3Gb), now Blu-ray(use HTL type not LTH for archiving) discs(25Gb) and also use hard drives (multiple TBs). I Have personally not relied on the 'cloud' for my backup as that is ultimately outside of my scope of control.
    So as a result, I still have that digital scan from 30+ years ago.

    Through the years I have digitised my Beta/VHS/audio tapes,vinyl,negatives/photos & documents.

    In the digital world, there are still no real archival formats that last more than 30 years. I have 25 year old CDRs I can still read, 20yo DVD-R discs which are still accessible. Some hard drives that are 13+ years old. (do not rely on SSD disks for offline long term storage, as if not used at all for a couple of years the data will lose integrity due to voltage loss.)
    Unfortunately some of those backups - I can no longer read.

    Problem is that eventually the devices we use today to read all of these digital/analog mediums will become obsolete/faulty in the future, and specifications change.

    Pen and paper have not changed much, but now we are being advised for archival purpose to store information on/in acid-free paper/envelopes and moisture/light free environments.

    Video formats/codecs/resolutions have changed alot in even the last 20 years, there are some video files I might no longer be able to play as the codec is not supported anymore.

    We've had
    Video - Video Tape Player, U-Matic, Beta,VHS, Video8, Hi8 etc,gone through the different resolutions SD->HD->FullHD->UHD(4K)->8K UHD
    Audio - Wax Cylinder, Shellac(78RPM),Vinyl(33/45rpm),Reel to Reel,cassettes, CD, now streaming.
    Mono->Quadraphonic->Stereo->Multi channel surround sound.

    Video codec/container formats
    mpeg1 (VCD), mpeg2 (DVD), mpeg-AVC (h264 Bluray), HEVC (h265 Bluray 4K), VP8, VP9, AV1, Divx, Indeo, AVI, QuickTime, SWF (shockwave), FLV (flash)

    Can check out the list here to browse all of the previous formats
    https://obsoletemedia.org/media-pres...cence-ratings/


    So the point I am trying to get across, is if we are to keep the 'documents' of our time (certificates-dna-data-photos-audio-video) then we must constantly update our digital backups to keep with the times and move /update them onto the current archival formats, as all the devices we use will eventually become obsolete. We might have to scan in higher resolutions with high bit rates now, and store images/documents in standard formats that can be understood and read in the future.

    ....or get busy with a chizel and stone, as I heard that particular writing medium last quite a few years, just make sure you leave a 'Rosetta stone' equivalent lying about or they might have some initial problems understanding it.

  • #2
    Wahski, thank you for this! It is good advice. You should send it to some of the genealogy magazines (print & online) and websites, as I believe they might publish it as an article.

    Personally, I have done some of the things you mention for archiving, but not all. Scanning and digitizing are partially done for my family's photos, films, and records, but in no way are complete yet. Will it ever be done? It can be an overwhelming endeavor. Identifying photos and other items, with dates and who the people are who are in photos, is also important; this is best done when those who would know are still living. How many of us look over old photos later and say, "I wonder who that was?" A friend? A rarely-seen, little known relative?

    It's important, too, to archive the originals of our materials, as some people seem to think, "well, I've scanned them, no need to keep all these albums of photos (etc.) around." Yikes! But such original items do present their own storage problem. As you point out, the digital versions must be updated to current formats as time goes on. Things like old documents can be preserved (using a conservator if necessary), and black and white photos will probably outlive some digital storage (if it is not updated constantly). Film, videotape, and color photos will not age well, so need to be either digitized (and maintained per your advice) or stored in optimum conditions.

    The passing on of the original materials is another problem. I have experienced and heard of other situations where what we genealogists consider very valuable papers, letters, photos, were simply dumped in the trash and not passed on. Many times this happens not too long before someone else in the extended family starts searching for those items. Let's face it, most people have other priorities in life, and are not aware of (or interested in) what might be important to genealogists. It is hard to identify who to pass these items on to, since many come to be interested in genealogy later in life, when the older caretakers and researchers may have died. But we need to at least identify an interim caretaker who will keep our important data and items safe, until the next genealogically oriented person comes along.

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    • #3
      Wahski that was a comprehensive post, nice one. Yes, I agree that we need to update our means of preserving our memorabilia. If I only knew about how the digital world would help preserve our family photos and videos then I should have done it long ago. I am quite sad about how our photos years ago - it has moisture in it and it destroyed the photos and the film as well.

      Thanks on this post. And KATM is right. You can share this, it would be a helpful article in preserving our memories and history.

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      • #4
        raspchide, if possible, check with relatives or friends who may have copies of the lost photos. I have found some this way. You might find some posted on Facebook accounts of relatives (although FB compresses photos, so the quality is not as good as the original digital image uploaded). But that would at least let you know they have a copy.

        I even had one DNA match who was so kind as to send me a digital scan of a photo of one set of my great-grandparents (which I never thought I'd see, even after fruitlessly asking other known relatives if they had such photos). Another DNA match sent me photos of three of my immigrant grandfather's sisters, including two as children. Both happened to be 2nd cousin matches to me at MyHeritage.


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        • #5
          Originally posted by KATM View Post
          raspchide, if possible, check with relatives or friends who may have copies of the lost photos. I have found some this way. You might find some posted on Facebook accounts of relatives (although FB compresses photos, so the quality is not as good as the original digital image uploaded). But that would at least let you know they have a copy.

          I even had one DNA match who was so kind as to send me a digital scan of a photo of one set of my great-grandparents (which I never thought I'd see, even after fruitlessly asking other known relatives if they had such photos). Another DNA match sent me photos of three of my immigrant grandfather's sisters, including two as children. Both happened to be 2nd cousin matches to me at MyHeritage.

          So happy to hear that you have seen your great-grandparents even though its in picture. Hope I can find too, will do as suggested. So excited to bring back the memories

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          • #6
            Yes, making digital copies of pictures and then continuing to store both does keep volumes but if either one ends up damaged there is a secondary copy. Sometimes the old papers and pictures can be donated to library archives in order to be stored and then can be used for research by future generations. A local photography studio here did that with their original negatives from 1890-2000 when one generation retired and the next did not continue the business. Luckily for us we have that to be able to access a like new photograph from 100+ years ago. I found my mom's 1 year photo listed in the indexed negative list and one set of grandparents' wedding should be in there too. When my uncles were going through some of what my other grandparents had stuffed away in boxes there were pictures of several of the ancestors (6 2nd great grandparents, 7 3rd great grandparents, and a 4th great grandparent and his second wife). But yes, there were way too many pictures that are unidentified. Having the pictures and storing them are good, but if nobody knows who the picture is of or what the significance is then it does become a different problem. Having a plan for storing and archiving to pass on to future generations is necessary though and what form of media is used is an important consideration.

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