One of my favorite blogs is The Signal, the digital preservation blog of the Library of Congress. A hot topic there centers on personal digital archiving, and much of that relates to family history and genealogy.
The LOC’s Mike Ashenfelder, who writes online articles about personal digital archiving, digital preservation leaders and developments in digital preservation, writes on preserving personal genealogical collections in a digital age.
The popularity of genealogy websites and TV shows is rapidly growing, mainly because the Internet has made it so convenient to access family history information. Almost everything can be done through the computer now. Before the digital age, genealogical research was not only laborious and time consuming, it also resulted in boxes of documents: photos, charts, letters, copies of records and more. Online genealogy has replaced all that paper with digital files. But the trade-off for the ease of finding and gathering the stuff is the challenge of preserving it.
About genealogical databases, Ashenfelder writes:
that relational databases are the engines that drive digital genealogy. Databases make it possible to quickly search through enormous quantities of records, find the person you’re looking for and discover related people and events. And when institutions collaborate and share databases, statistical information becomes enriched.
And, considering some demographics of family history aficionados, digital estate planning now a popular topic. What happens to our digital possessions after we die? And what can we do to preserve them? Getting your digital affairs in order offers much practical information.
National Hispanic Heritage Month, in the US, celebrates the culture and traditions of Americans with roots in Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. It is observed from September 15 through October 15.
First observed as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, it was expanded in 1988 to cover the 30-day period.
Some 14% of the US population – more than 42.7 million Americans – have an Hispanic origin, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is considered the largest ethnic minority in the country.
Tens of millions of Hispanics emigrated from Spain. Some came directly to the US and countries south, some first went to the Philippines or the Caribbean Islands and then arrived here. Spain was in the Caribbean and Mexico long before the English were in what would become the US. The state of New Mexico was settled by the Spanish in 1598, and they were in Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565.
Tracing your Hispanic heritage may not lead directly back to Spain, but may go from the US to many other places, including Europe, Africa and even Eastern Europe. There may be many surprises along the way.
Think about it. All those websites with genealogical records (birth, marriage, death, military service and more). Don't forget that Twitter is now archived at the Library of Congress.
Occasionally, I do a search on specific people. To my great surprise, a reference to a prestigious state event our daughter participated in during her senior year in high school popped up. Nothing I didn’t already know, but to actually see it in print – and we are talking some years ago – was quite exciting. I’d use it as an illustration, but she wouldn’t talk to me again! In any case, it has been saved to our family tree for future reference.
So, what will our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren find out about us after we are long gone? I’m sure there will be interesting items, funny things, perhaps somewhat embarrassing things … and what about all our Tweets available online?
Marcelo Gleiser’s blog post for National Public Radio illustrates this development rather personally when his stepmother died.
The Internet offers a kind of passive immortality, the kind acquired through the accumulated storage of the many interactions an individual has with the World Wide Web, leaving his or her mark. It's not necessarily the writing of books, or the proving of theorems, or composing ballads or symphonies. (Although those would be there as well.) Just the Facebook or Twitter account, the mention in a newspaper or magazine article, the speech that was recorded in someone else's Google+ page, an exchange of recipes, even an obituary.
Researchers of family history are in the business of preservation. We hope to preserve not only our own personal documents, but we may also be involved in a larger community project that aims to make content more widely accessible to genealogists and family historians around the world.
One needs only to look around to see digital content everywhere. No one today uses camera film; we take digital photos and videos. We don’t write real-time letters and mail them, but communicate via social media. Who buys music records, except collectors? Instead, we download digital music. What we need to plan for is how to preserve this content for the future. We also need to think about storing it and managing access.
One resource that has importantly contributed to helping researchers understand the value of this quest is the digital preservation blog – The Signal - of the Library of Congress. Access the blog here and also subscribe.
Launched a year ago, it has published 288 posts by nine staff bloggers and more than two dozen guest writers, has had nearly 270,000 page views, and garnered more than 100,000 web mentions. It has been mentioned on museum and library websites and on blogs devoted to art, law, music, genealogy (including this blog), photography and technology.
The goal of The Signal is to communicate with researchers, librarians, archivists and other digital content gatherers, and to raise awareness among everyone else with a personal or other reason to preserve content.
Preservation Week is celebrated in the US during the week of April 22-28.
Although it was created in 2010 to raise awareness of some 630 million items in institutions which require immediate care, it also focuses on protecting personal and family history collections.
Some 80% of institutions have no paid staff to care for collections; and 22% have no staff at all (paid or not) for that purpose. An estimated 2.6 billion items are not covered by an emergency plan, and are in danger from disasters.
Events and programs over the week bring attention to the fact that personal items, family history and community collections are also at risk.
During Preservation Week, libraries all over the US offer events, activities and resources that help us preserve personal and shared collections.