October 29, 2011

Dick Eastman's Tips for Preserving Your Genealogy Data

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Dick Eastman, author of Eastman’s Online Genealogical Newsletter, speak at the Ohio Genealogical Society’s fall seminar. This was the first time I’ve heard one of Dick’s presentations, and I really enjoyed his discussion of technology and data preservation. He’s prompted me to think harder about how to store my family history information. Here are some of the points I took away from the seminar:

Dick Eastman at OGS

1. Conservation is an ongoing process.
How can you make sure your genealogy data is still readable by future generations? Dick told us that ink jet ink, toner, and photocopies will all fade within 50 years, so you can’t rely on what you print out from your computer for long-term storage. Handwritten notes using acid free paper and ink pens will last longer, but are time-consuming to create. Microfilm will last but is becoming obsolete. So the best way to preserve your data is to create digital files, then make multiple copies of those files on different media.

2. The keys to preservation are to back up and diversify.
Dick recommends backing up everything you create (files, photos, videos, blog posts, etc.). He stressed this key point: Make multiple backups, to different media, and store them in different locations. (I can’t help but think of the old adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”) As technology evolves, migrate your data onto new types of media. He advocates a minimum of three ongoing backups:
  • an external hard drive connected to your computer
  • a flash drive or DVDs, stored off-site (not in the same home as your computer)
  • an online backup storage service (such as Mozy, Backblaze, iBackup, Carbonite, or CrashPlan) 

3. Cloud computing provides flexibility for both storage and sharing.
Dick defined cloud computing as the sharing of resources across the Internet. Examples include Gmail, Hotmail, Google Docs, Flickr, Picassa, Evernote, and Dropbox, to name just a few. With cloud computing, you can preserve and share your data as you wish. The benefits of putting your data “in the cloud” are that you:
  • remain in control of your information—you can choose to make it all public, share pieces of it with select people, or keep it all private
  • can easily find matching information from other people
  • receive security through off-site back ups 

4. Genealogy data can be put in the cloud in either shared or proprietary formats.
Shared genealogy sites work on a collaborative basis, pooling your information with others’ to make one giant tree. Examples include Ancestry’s One World Tree, RootsWeb’s World Connect Project, We Relate, WikiTree, Geni.com, and others. Proprietary sites keep you in full control as webmaster. Examples are The Next Generation, WebTrees.net, and owner-created websites. Dick stressed that while the choice of format is up to you, it’s important to get the information up there.

5. Wikis encourage collaboration between researchers.
Dick defined a wiki as a website that allows anyone to add, delete, or revise content via a web browser. Using a wiki for genealogy has several benefits, including simplicity, hyperlinked text, and inclusion of photos and media files. Moreover, most of them are free. Dick personally uses a wiki, WeRelate, for his genealogy data. Wikis such as his Encyclopedia of Genealogy and the FamilySearch Research Wiki have the potential to be tremendous resources for information on a wide variety of topics.

6. Online everywhere is a reality today.
The term “computer” now includes smart phones, iPads, tablets, e-readers, and similar devices. Keeping your data in the cloud allows access from multiple devices no matter where you are. Applications specifically built for mobile devices are becoming increasingly common.

Dick’s presentation gave me a lot of food for thought. Right now I’m doing pretty well with the back-up situation, thanks to my true life adventure with hard drive failure. I use a hard drive back-up at my desk, take a back-up copy to another house periodically, and subscribe to Mozy. But my genealogy data is stored mainly on my computer, not in the cloud. This hasn’t been a big issue for me because I can access it easily wherever I am with Reunion for iPhone and iPad. I do have some data entered into my Ancestry Family Trees, and my first step may be to expand those. I like that I have the option to make my trees public or private. Still, I’d like to explore some of other sites Dick mentioned. I’ve already found the FamilySearch Research Wiki helpful.

While at the seminar, I found out the Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly had printed my article, “Jacob Roush, An Eminent Man: Building on a Published History,” in its Summer 2011 edition. What a thrill to be published for the first time! I’m excited that this, too, will help preserve my work.

Where do you store your genealogy data? What do you like, or dislike, about the various formats for sharing and collaboration? Have you found something you think will work well for long-term preservation? I’d like to hear your thoughts. 

Related posts:
My True Life Adventure in Hard Drive Failure
Roush Family Ancestry
Jacob Roush, 1803 Ohio Deed


  1. Congratulations on being published, Shelley! That is great!!

  2. You always have the most detailed information. I will be attending a presentation by Dick Eastman next Saturday but would never be able to take the detailed notes that you have. Bravo.

  3. Thanks for sharing the great tips. I try to save things in multiple formats and hope that something lasts over time--but time is a constraint when it comes to saving information in several ways and I don't do as well as I'd like.

  4. Oh! Congratulations, Shelley, on being published in the Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly!! That's a wonderful feeling. In the academic world, you'd be on your way to tenure!

    Thank you for conveying all these tips about backup! I think about that subject a lot. Around here my hubs is the King of Backup (like the external hard drive and similar devices). But I'm doing backup, too, with our Ancestry.com tree (700 so far, not all of them fully sourced!!!), and Dropbox. Also archiving personal letters. But I had not thought of DVDs in another location! I'm going to send your blog link to hubs. One more thing I do: Find a younger family member, who likes genealogy, who can "tend" the multiple digital files when I'm gone!


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