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Genealogy disaster plan a precaution worth taking
13 July 2008
The year is only half over and already there has been numerous natural disasters that have hit close to home: the tornado in Northern Colorado; the floods in the Midwest; the wildfires in California.
Watching the people on the news who have been affected has been heart-wrenching. Many folks have lost everything. Some of their possessions can easily be replaced, such as clothes, appliances, and dishes. But what about all those things that cannot be replaced? I look around my house and see the wedding quilt that was made by Great-Grandma Ivy, the baby photo of my mother, the file cabinets of family history documents and notes. No amount of insurance money could bring those items back.
There is a precaution to safeguard your family history should disaster strike. I recommend creating and implementing a written genealogy disaster plan.
My written disaster plan is divided into two sections: Preparations and Evacuation Plan.
Five Preparation Steps
- Cite each source precisely and accurately. Many of our sources are copies of documents. With the proper citation, most document copies can be acquired again.
- Evaluate documents, photos, and artifacts, and prioritize according to importance. All irreplaceable items should be sorted out. Duplicate copies of extracted documents can be made and placed in the file where the document was originally stored. Originals should be stored using archival safe supplies and containers. Containers need to be clearly marked, readily accessible, and compact enough so they can be easily picked up and carried. A list of the containers, contents, and locations should be recorded within the disaster plan.
- Scan documents and photos. Start by scanning new documents when they are obtained. Then work on one file folder a week. In no time all your research will be scanned.
- Make backups of computer files. I have a Maxtor external drive which I weekly, sometimes daily, back up my files. This is a good way to prevent the loss of files due to a computer crash. However, it is in the same room as my desktop and would not help if my house was destroyed. It is essential to have a backup that is offsite.
There are several options for storing backups outside of your house. I would recommend using two of the following methods:
Send genealogy files to family, either through email or on CDs or DVDs. The relative should live out of state rather than down the street. If sending the files electronically, compress the file first to reduce the size.
Set up an email account which allows you to store messages online, then send the files to yourself.
Save files on CD, DVD, or flash drive and keep in a safe deposit box. This also is an option for your most valuable items such as family Bibles and very old documents.
Use an online backup service like Mozy.com. Backups should be done periodically.
- Determine a safe and accessible storage location. Things that should be considered are the structure of the house, location of the house, and the risk factors for different disasters. If you live where you are more likely to be hit by a tornado than threatened by a wildfire, then you might want to store your items in a climate controlled basement.
This should be a step-by-step plan of what to do for various circumstances. The plan should be very detailed since you will be extremely stressed and will likely forget what should be done. Include a list of things to take, their exact location in the house, and possibly even a map. I've divided my plan into two groups.
- Grab and Go. This plan is for those situations when you must leave or go to a certain area of the house immediately and can only take what can be carried with two hands. In these cases, there isn't much warning, like a tornado. I have only two items on this plan's list. My laptop and one file folder. The file folder contains genealogy material and important items such as insurance papers, credit card information, bank account numbers, and copies of personal vital records.
- Watch and Wait. This plan is for those situations that may give several hours or days warning, like a wildfire or flood. With more time, you will be able to take what fits in your car or truck.
Copies of the disaster plan should be kept in several locations of the house, preferably one on each floor. They should be easily accessible and all members of the family should know where they are kept.
Practice the plan to make sure it works. Update and review the plan at least yearly.
Of course, personal safety should always come before material items. But if there is time to protect your family history, having a well thought out plan of action will preserve your genealogy legacy for many generations to come.
If you would like a sample copy of a genealogy disaster plan, send me a note and I'd be happy to share it with you.
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