Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good Evening from San Antonio

I'm in San Antonio having just finished managing registration for 2 back-to-back conferences, one in San Antonio and another in Austin. Both conferences went very well and now I'm taking a few days vacation to "rest and relax". The weather in San Antonio is beautiful. When we arrived on Saturday it was very hot, but a cold front moved in Sunday and has kept temperatures in the mid 80s and humidity at a reasonable level. I've met a few people here who are evacuees from hurricane Ike. The ones I've met are staying at hotels in the area. Most left after the hurricane so they know how their homes weathered the storm. Most said they left due to lack of power, water and functioning toilets. The most heart-warming story was of a family at the Marriott Rivercenter who had a home in an area where nearly all of the homes were destroyed. They left before the storm so they did not know what had happened to their home. But that evening their 13-month old daughter took her first steps there in the lobby of the hotel and was going everywhere. Dad was crying and telling everyone who would listen about his daughter's milestone. He was so proud of her and it just made you feel good to how proud he was of her.

Speaking of being proud, I have to say right now I'm very proud of my 16-year old daughter. After having fought with her for years about homework, she has made an incredible turn around so far this school year. She is a junior and enrolled in a new high school as we've never liked her other school. We told her she had to prove herself and show us that it is worthwhile to drive her across town to attend this new high school. So far she has done just that. For this first month of school, she has done her homework every night without us reminding her and currently is standing at 7 A's and 1 B. Compared to 3 F's at the end of last year this is a huge improvement. Way to go Taylor!!! Keep it up and we will have serious discussions about a new cell phone and letting you get your driver's license.

The power of the hurricane and the damage done reminded me of how easily we can lose records of not only our daily lives, but also those who came before us. Gone are photos, family letters, official documents, etc. Today there are many official documents to tell the stories of our lives, but in history there was not so much documentation. Take for instance my mother's brothers and sisters. My mom had 6 brothers and sisters born about 25 years before her. Most of their births nor their deaths (all before they were 5 years old) were ever recorded. I've only been able to discover the names of 3 of the 6 children (Albert, May and Hubert). What is more strange is that 4 of the 6 were supposed to have been 2 sets of twins but other than a picture of my grandmother holding one set we have been unable to find official or unofficial documents of 2 sets of twins alive or dead. We've only been able to locate 1 birth certificate (for Albert) which does not indicate that he was a twin. Apparently my mom's surviving brothers (my grandmother had 7 more children after the first 6 died), do not know the names of those first 6 brothers and sisters. None had any idea of the names and there is disagreement among them about how many were twins and how many boys & girls there were. I recall my grandmother telling me a little about those first children, but I was only 12 at the time and don't remember everything she told me. I thought she told me that there were 3 sets of twins (1 set of boys, 1 of girls and a set of boy and girl). My mom is sure there were only 2 sets and then 2 individual births but the sexes are accurate so 3 boys and 3 girls. We just can't find the proof yet. We know where 3 of them were buried according to their death certificates, however apparently they did not have carved headstones and we've been unable to locate their actual graves in the cemetery.

So this brings me back to how easy it is to lose even official documents. As most genealogists know, courthouse and halls of records have been destroyed in fires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and other natural and unnatural disasters. I know I would be heart-broken if I were to lose the family history research I've done. Much of my work exists on my laptop in either my family tree file or as jpeg or pdf files. Even though I've made many copies of my FTM genealogy file on flash and backup disks, all of these reside in my home and a fire or flood would wipe out all of those files. I've posted my family tree file to so at least I could recover the electronic file. I wish to suggest to everyone right now that you make backups that are kept away from your home or office. I now have an online backup service ( which I use to back up my computer documents automatically every single night. For most of my hard copies of documents, I've made an electronic copy to that I can recreate most documents. I do not have any original documents in my files so I don't have a need to keep those in a safe or safety-deposit box, but if you have those you might consider such protection. At the same time, let us not live so much in the past that we forget to document our current lives and enjoy them before they pass us by.

So to recap, here are some ways to protect/save your family history:

Use On-line backup services like (this is not an endorsement, just a service I use)Make backup disks on CD/DVD/external hard drives and store in location away from home
Make digital scans of original documents and keep in separate location, maybe with those backup CDs/DVDs
Publish your family history online via own website or sites like
Print a hard copy of your family history file (Ahnentafel report is a good format to print lots of details) and store in safety deposit box along with original documents. Be sure to use acid-free paper to ensure long life of the information
Make a pdf copy of the same family history report and include it in your backups
Decide who should receive your family history collection should something happen to you
Share copies of your family history file with other family members
Make a digital copy of your scrapbooks to share with family members

My last suggestion is that you make a GEDCOM copy of your family history electronic file. GEDCOM is the "industry-standard" and can be opened and read by most family history software programs. However, while GEDCOM may be the standard now, in 5-10 years that may no longer be the case. If you put away your family history for a few years, it is important to open it and save it in a current format every couple of years just in case the software program you use goes out of date and production. Imagine in 10 years trying to open a file built with your favorite family tree software which went out of business 8 years before with no updates available. Also make sure that the media on which you copy you file is still in use. Just like the 5" floppy disk, CD's will soon no longer be the media of choice.

CD to make a backup of your family history file - 50 cents
Making a digital copy of your scrapbooks - $5
Printing a hard copy of your family history file at Kinkos - $25
Recovering your family history information after a catastrophe - Priceless

Wishing you a wonderful evening!

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