Paper degrades, photos fade and all physical records are subject to damage from fire or flood.
With inexpensive scanners available, it is possible to digitize all old paper records. While it can be time-consuming, it isn’t insurmountable (I teach people how!). Almost everyone now carries a high-quality digital camera with them in their smart phone. Even a bad photo of a document is better than a document ensconced in storage and unavailable to others. It’s better to get some sort of copy before losing the document altogether.
So, you scan all your photos and important documents. You’ve got them all neatly organized and stored away in your computer, ready to retrieve when needed.
How do we manage all those records once they are scanned? How do you share these records? What happens if you computer dies?
“Everything is Impermanent” according to Buddhist teachings. Paper records do seem to be more solid than computer records, and in some ways they are more durable. However, digitized information has the advantage of being copied any number of times without any degradation. And, if stored properly, will last indefinitely. I’ll explain later why this does not go against the truth of impermanence.
Information about our ancestors
FamilySearch.org is a genealogy website where historic records, such as documents, photos and letters, can be connected to ancestors. In addition to storing records you might upload, it provides access to a huge library of searchable scanned documents, such as censuses, birth/marriage/death records and a wealth of helpful advice and information to assist in your genealogical research.
From their “About” page:
Free to All
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides FamilySearch free of charge to everyone, regardless of tradition, culture, or religious affiliation. Originally intended for Church members, FamilySearch resources help millions of people around the world discover their heritage and connect with family members.
So, ancestor-connected source documentation can be easily posted on FamilySearch.org.
Some information may be better posted to a more general storage area. This might include larger items, such as books and videos, especially if the item pertains to a larger number of individuals. Such a repository will allow many people to search and use this information.
Fortunately, we have such a repository in Archive.org.
The Internet Archive
You can post almost anything on the Internet Archive. Anyone with a free account can upload media to the Internet Archive. While I would advise avoiding flagrant violations of copyright law, you can post most genealogical information there.
You can also search for past websites. The Internet Archive has a “Wayback Machine” that captures huge numbers of web pages (525 billion web pages at last count) so it may be possible that the information you want preserved is already saved there. You can even instruct it to save specified pages via their “Save Page Now” function.
From their About page:
The Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, the print disabled, and the general public. Our mission is to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge.
Their funding model and mission make Archive.org one of the most durable websites on the Internet. I trust that they will be there and have a growing collection of documents I have placed there.
I will continue to add other sites as I find ones that seem to be long-lasting.
- StoryCorps Archive – add oral histories via their app.
- YouTube – For video storage – it’s hard to image them going away, yet as a commercial entity, they could disappear.
For any commercial sites, including any I list above, check their continuity plans. Any could fail. Remember that at one time, MySpace was the biggest social media website online, and most of their content is now lost to history.
So, since digital copies are exactly like the original, and we can move these copies to any number of storage systems, we get close to impermanence – at least as impermanent as we can achieve. All these systems will eventually go away, hopefully not soon! I trust that archive.org and FamilySearch.org will be here longer than I will be here.
I hope all future generations will contine this preservation work.
Our job now is to preserve what we have and to put it on these (at lest semi-permanent) systems.