The Archive Lady: Protecting Genealogical Records from a Disaster

This week at Abundant Genealogy, Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, explains how to develop a disaster plan for genealogy to prevent record loss.

The Archive Lady: Protecting Genealogical Records from a Disaster

Becky in California asks: “I live in California and the wildfires this year are horrible. Thankfully I don’t live in the areas where the fires are located, but it got me to thinking about my genealogical records and how I would protect them from a disaster like a fire. Can you give me any advice?”

Becky has asked a great question that every genealogist should ask themselves. “How can I protect my genealogical records from a disaster?” Across the globe there are natural disasters and manmade disasters that happen all the time. Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes and flooding are just a few of the disasters that could affect a genealogist and their valuable records.

Whenever there is a disaster that destroys property, I am reminded of how important it is to preserve our family records so they are not destroyed, but, in fact, saved. We have lost so much in the past due to disasters, for instance:

  • On November 9, 1872, The Great Boston Fire started in a dry-goods warehouse that spread fast in windy weather, destroying nearly 800 buildings. Damage was estimated at more than $75 million dollars. The fire could be seen in the sky as far as 100 miles away.

Ruins after the Great Boston Fire of 1872

Disaster preparedness is something that every archive plans for and reviews on a yearly basis. If archives are preparing their facility and records for a disaster, shouldn’t genealogists do the same?

Disaster Planning - Are you a home archivist?

I have long said that genealogists are also “home archivists.” Most genealogists don’t work as archivists, but they do have some of the same responsibilities that archivists have. These include:

  • Collecting original records
  • Collecting original photographs
  • Receiving donated records (from family and distant, new found, cousins)
  • Organizing and preserving records

Create a Disaster Plan for Genealogy

Would it not be important to preserve these original records and have a disaster plan in place in case the unthinkable happens? It would be difficult to explain an entire disaster plan in this column, so here is an example of a Disaster Preparedness Plan from the New York State Archives that you can use as a guide: http://www.archives.nysed.gov/publications/preparing-worst-managing-records-disasters. This plan describes the steps necessary to anticipate, prevent, plan for, and recover from a disaster affecting records in any format.

Many of the steps in this plan are ones that the genealogist or “home archivist” can implement to protect and preserve original records, photographs and artifacts in their possession. The main idea is to be prepared and keep your records in a state of preparedness in case of a disaster.

Some of the most important steps that can be taken to protecting and preserving our genealogical records are:

  • Digitize the most important documents and photographs in your genealogical records collections so that if the originals are destroyed you still have the copies.
  • Store the digitized records on a hard drive or thumb drive and then get it out of the house. Give a copy to a family member, place a copy in a safe deposit box or even give a copy to your neighbor. This way if the originals are destroyed, the copies can still be retrieved.
  • Store genealogical records in archival safe materials like file folders, boxes and sleeves so that they are protected from the effects of disasters and hopefully can be saved.
  • Share your genealogical information and digitized records online in an family tree or in a cloud based program so that if a disaster strikes and destroys your original genealogy research, you can find what you have completed.

None of us knows when the next fire, tornado, earthquake or flood may happen to us or our home. But we can prepare and plan ahead to save and preserve our genealogical records.

Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. Archival tissue paper and boxes can be purchased at any of the following online archival stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.

Disaster Planning QuickGuide

NEW! Legacy QuickGuide: Disaster Planning for the Genealogist http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1905

For more information get my Legacy Family Tree Quick Guide: Disaster Planning for the Genealogist
http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1905

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

©2017, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.

About the Author

Melissa Barker

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.