Tuesday 2 April 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 3: Going Paperless

Like many people, I have gone increasingly paperless in my day-to-day life and in my genealogical studies. When we first moved to a condo several years ago, I no longer had the room for walls of bookcases or filing cabinets. We are now back in a large house, but over the past few years I developed the habit of not keeping a lot of paper files, other than a few I need that contain important personal or financial papers.

And, of course, those special family memorabilia and historical documents that are preserved in binders.

I admit I still have and purchase printed books, mainly because I find them useful in much of my research. It is often handier to be able to, firstly, read and mark up pages with yellow high-lighter or turn down the corners where there is information I will want to find later. My old schoolteachers would roll over in their graves to know I desecrate books that way, but these are mostly used books I acquired on the Internet for little cost and will undoubtedly be thrown away at some point when I am finished with them or finished period.

My current bookshelves do not take up as much space as my photo albums did. These are now consigned to plastic bins in our storage space. I have not got the heart to throw them out yet even though they have all been scanned and put online where family members can pursue the pictures (blog post Digitizing Memories 7 March 2017). One of our children might toss them in the future but that will be their burden.

A future project will be to describe the provenance of all my important keepsakes. Hopefully that will help our family to decide to keep them for posterity and future family historians. I believe it is important to collect items used by family members and to preserve them. But they need to have explanations about who owned them and what significance they might have to our family’s history.

Of great importance in keeping digital files is making sure you don’t inadvertently delete them or lose them in a hard drive crash. I have had that unfortunate experience in the past and it took some effort to reconstruct my genealogy records. Luckily, I had most of my files and folders on a separate storage device and was able to secure a family tree from another relative, although it was a few years out-of-date.

The use of CDs, DVDs, USB memory sticks or another hard drive has been important in preserving data in the past. Having the information on other devices, whether stored in your own home or with a friend or relative, offers protection against fire or other loss. Keeping duplicate files in more than one place, at least one of them outside your home, may be important to insure they are safe and accessible. The older technologies offered easy solutions to preserving the data, but their life span is a problem. Storage devices should be checked regularly, or just routinely replaced.

In my post of 4 March 2024 (Leaving the Past to the Future 1: Organizing Your Information) it should have been obvious that all the files I keep on my computer are digital. But what I did not mention is that I keep a copy of them in the Cloud. 

Since my last computer crash a few years ago, I have kept my files in remote computer data storage. That includes all manner of files from typewritten to scanned documents and audio/visual files. Once there it can be retrieved and shared.

The commercial service program I use (Carbonite) copies files constantly.  As of March 11th, I have 363,840 files backed up (43,080 new ones just this month). It does cost a bit (Cdn$134 per year) but worth it to insure against losing some valuable information in the future.

I can retrieve parts or all or the library at any time, no matter where I am or what device I am using. Storage is secure, password protected, although I can also invite others to access the data, like my daughter who assists me with my IT activities.

For more about being a paperless genealogist or looking for advice and help on how to do it, just do a Google search for “paperless genealogy” and be amazed at the information you find: blogs, books, presentations, newsletters, magazine articles, technology, etc.

I will talk about paperless research sources and techniques in another post.