Preserving Family History
Preserving Your Family's History
Whatever you want to call it -- family history, genealogy, your family tree, preserving the information you gather about your family is very important. I've recently researched various ways in which to preserve the information I've come by through my own research, as well as the records and photos that have been passed on to me. My research has actually been ongoing for several years now. My problem is that the bulk of physical pieces of precious paper is running me out of my home. I'm facing the reality that the next generation of caretakers of the family records may not be willing to take on the task unless the mass of paper and photos is drastically pared down to something manageable.
Photo: Thomas A. Doxey, Spanish American War, scanned from my personal family collection.
Family Tree Maker - One of the Best Ways to Organize Genealogical Data - A starting point for keeping everything, even photos and stories.
You'll need genealogy software to get everything organized in one place. Then simply keep the original items that you want, but have the piece of mind that it's all documented and organized in your computer.
The Problem: Too Many Precious Things
An Overwhelming Amount of Family Paper
I literally have over thirty boxes of precious family paper. For the most part, the boxes themselves are safe for storage, and for the most part they are stored in a dry, not-too-hot, not-too-cold place. My problem is not only running out of space, but knowing that I can't possibly effectively process all that information. The ideal would be to preserve and curate everything. Ten years ago I envisioned myself taking each piece of information extracted from each piece of paper and photograph, entering it on a timeline (one for each branch of the family tree), and watching the stories unfold, which I would then organize and write for the rest of the family to enjoy and cherish.
Now, though I haven't given up on that idea entirely, I realize that first I need to get a handle on exactly what I have and radically cull out the wheat from the chaff. Each time I have attempted this, I get completely overwhelmed with the sorting process and quit mid box, mentally and emotionally worn out.
But then a few things happened that have helped me rise above the frustration and immobilization that thirty some-odd boxes have held me hostage to for a good ten years. First of all, it became apparent that no one else in the family is interested in taking over from me "when the time comes". They are all immensely relieved that I was interested enough to take it on in the first place. But the real game changer was getting news that I will soon have to move and quite likely downsize at the same time.
Another thing that has changed in the last ten years is technology. Yes, even twenty years ago family history could be stored in computer genealogy programs. But when I considered that I started out with eight-inch floppy disks, which then had to be converted to smaller floppies, then to CD's, I thought that the only thing that would remain constant was the actual physical paper the information was extracted from. That was the backup if everything else failed. I wasn't willing to scan something and then get rid of the original. The truth is, I'm not sure I can do that now, but I can certainly get rid of notes and copies of copies.
Here is the game changer in technology that has been made available to each of us at our individual computers. There are several major genealogy sites that can permanently store your information "in the cloud". That is the backup that can be trusted. So once you have your genealogy in a program on your computer, choose one of those sites as your "vault" in the sky. I don't recommend using more than one, though, as it will become a chore to keep them updated. That still leaves the decision of which one to use. I quickly narrowed the field to the two most solid and dependable sites. One is by subscription and the other one is free. The most dependable of the two is the free site, and I'll tell you why.
Get organized and get that paper under control! - Paper in boxes is meaningless until you make some sense out of it.
There are many tools and systems for organizing and extracting the important parts of the family data and keepsakes you accumulate.
How to trace and find more information on the ancestors you've identified.
A way to harness the information and turn it into a great story.
What to actually do with all the bits and pieces.
Preserve all that information in a way the rest of the family can appreciate.
Two Sites To Store Your Genealogy "in the Cloud"
Let's Compare and Contrast
The two sites to consider, in my opinion, are Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. Ancestry.com is a subscription site. It is pretty expensive, but well worth it if you can afford it. FamilySearch.org is completely free, and sponsored by the LDS Church. Each of these sites has up sides and down sides.
When you subscribe to Ancestry.com you can upload and share your family tree, and you can work on it and add to it as you research within the site. You can add media, like photos, documents, and stories. Although you can choose a level of security, for the most part your information is visible to others and they can grab a photo, for instance, of a shared ancestor. I recently found a photo of an ancestor who I had never before seen a photo of. However, it is not possible to upload from your Ancestry.com Family Tree back to your computer in order to update your personal computer family tree. In other words, as you make discoveries on Ancestry.com and add to your tree, you better remember to add them in both databases, your computer genealogy program as well as your Ancestry Family Tree. I know people who use only the online tree, but if they ever have to end their subscription to Ancestry.com they will have to transfer information bit by bit or lose it. I'm hoping that some day Ancestry.com will enable uploads, but to date they do not.
When you upload your family tree to FamilySearch.org, although you can view it separately as your family tree, it immediately is blended into a giant world family tree. You can also upload photos, notes, documents and other media. The whole idea is that everyone can instantly add to and take from this shared pool of family history. In order to get the most benefit from this site, you need to adjust your thinking a little, and for me that meant to open my mind to the fact that other researchers might have better information than my own. The philosophy is that the best will rise to the top. For instance, if I find my grandmother's birth date is wrong in the database, I can correct it. So what if someone who never knew my grandmother goes in there and corrects the date and it's wrong? There is an information box to state why you corrected it and the source of your information. Then someone seeing the corrections can judge whose is the most accurate information, the person who had a living relationship with the ancestor, or the one who is a distant cousin. It's important on this site to not view your online tree personally. Once it's there, it becomes a giant collaborative research project. As changes and additions are made, you need to adopt some of them into your personal computer database, and reject others. But, the potential exists for really expedited solutions to your genealogy sticking points. Before email we sent mail queries back and forth to possible "cousins" who might have information on our lines. With the FamilySearch.com Family Tree, you can instantly see the research others have done, and then decide if it fits with your research. You can still communicate with that person through email.
Is there one definitive solution?
So my conclusion is that whichever site you use, your information will be backed up and stored in the cloud, BUT, you still need to keep your working copy on your own computer and update it as you work. As yet there is no completely safe way to do it all online, while still being able to save it back to your desktop. Ancestry.com has the potential to do this, but continues to hold back the ability to "bring it home." FamilySearch.org mixes your research in with "the world's research" warts and all. There is much to gain, but you need to hang on to your own pure copy and just make corrections to it as you discover things of value to your research. However, there is one thing to note here. FamilySearch.org keeps a "vault" of your uploads you have contributed in your personal account area. What this means is that if you upload your entire family tree as of a certain date, it is stored there intact as it is before they add it to the "world family tree". If your computer crashes two months later, you can go back to FamilySearch.org and grab your download from two months previous and only lose whatever changes you made in those two months. In this way it can be considered your back up file in the cloud, safe from natural disasters and computer failures.
So, truthfully, I use both sites. The problem I haven't been able to solve is that while researching on Ancestry.com I have furiously added information to my tree on their site and lost track of updating those discoveries to my personal computer database. I need to slow down and become more methodical in my record keeping.