It’s only a week until a crowd of genealogists, family historians and a wide array of geeks converge on the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City for the RootsTech Conference.
Attendees from around the country (and the world) are honing the questions they want to pose to the experts. One question that many participants want answered is, “What’s the best way to preserve family stories and pass them on to future generations?” The answer is multi-faceted.
If you have older living ancestors, by all means record them telling their own stories. We’re big advocates of recording interviews. We’ll be speaking at RootsTech on the topic Digital Recording Tools for the Family Historian.(Stop by Room 255E on Thursday at 1:45 if you are attending the conference.) Capturing the voices and images of ancestors is of infinite value. Video recording is great if you have the equipment and skill to do it, but recording an interview with a simple digital recorder is great too. We always recommend that you create a written transcript of either type of recording. Voice recognition software like Dragon Naturally Speaking is a great tool for transcription.
However, most family histories go back well beyond the memories of those ancestors we are fortunate enough to be able to interview. When that happens many genealogists decide to preserve their research in a family history book which will allow them to pass the family stories on to future generations. Digital printing, print-on-demand, and online bookstores like Amazon, have made it easier and less expensive than ever before to publish a family history book. For a lot of family historians who want to get a book into print the question is, paper or e-book? One thing to consider when deciding is the reading preference of your audience. Which format would they prefer to read?
Don’t overlook the importance of preservation whatever you choose to do. New technologies like digital video and e-books are great, but they are subject to a problem the New York Times described as data rot. Dag Spicer, curator of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley described the problem in this way:
Data rot refers mainly to problems with the medium on which information is stored. Over time, things like temperature, humidity, exposure to light, being stored in not-very-good locations like moldy basements, make this information very difficult to read.
The second aspect of data rot is actually finding the machines to read them. And that is a real problem. If you think of the 8-track tape player, for example, basically the only way you can find 8-track cartridges is in a flea market or a garage sale.
We had a client ask this week if we could help him recover data stored on 3.5” floppy disks. We couldn’t, but we’re helping him to find someone who can. To stay ahead of the technological curve Spicer advised that you change the way your data is stored to the newest, most up to date format available every five years.
The Library of Congress still advises archivists that paper is the archival medium. Spicer observed, “Some paper we have has lasted thousands of years. If Moses had gotten the Ten Commandments on a floppy disk, it would never have made it to today.”
There’s a lot to think about when you consider what’s the best way to preserve and pass on the stories of your ancestors. Sometimes it’s best to hedge your bets. Creating both a paper book and an e-book is an example of doing just that.