09 July 2014

Obsolete Tech -- what genealogists and family historians need to know!

Thanks to a post on the Technology for Genealogy Facebook page, I just read When Irreplaceable History Lives on Obsolete Tech (Popular Mechanics). Make sure to read the full article – it has 2 pages. This is very very important to genealogists as many move towards paperless systems and also are the “family archive” for kept stuff in various media formats.

We have seen so much “new tech” that has come, conquered, and then become obsolete in our lifetimes!  Ask me about the 8mm film that I converted to VHS and which I now need to convert to ???  Or, ask me about that old “deck” of my family history created on an old Apple computer of who knows what generation back in the 1980s.  I know that I have some floppy disks stored somewhere, slides somewhere else, memory cartridges in another place, mini cassette tapes, and so on.  Is the same true at your house?

As someone who is cleaning out her attic, I cannot tell you how much obsolete (and typically unuseable) tech I have thrown out this past week.  

Now imagine that your responsibility is to make sure that priceless history (stored on long ago and now obsolete tech) for an archive, institution, or nation, is preserved.  Doesn’t that sound like a headache? It is.

The article talks about various media formats, software challenges, copyright, and other issues; all extremely important to family historians.  It also mentions Marion Stokes and her collection mentioned in a recent edition of Upfront Mini Bytes and reminds us that the Internet Archive can be a wonderful home for media (video, music, audio, and texts).

And, they are telling us now that CDs and DVDs do degrade over time and that their format is facing obsolescence.  Fortunately, I back up all my “stuff” on a hard-drive and on DVDs.  I also keep paper files for many things, though as I clean out the attic, I am shredding a lot of old paper.  After all, how many boxes of bills, paper stubs, tax records, medical records, and more, does one really need to retain?  Non-sequitor and this reminds me that I probably should create a “retention policy” for my personal papers.  Have you done that?

Now let’s go back to obsolete tech and what to do about that issue.  You can learn a lot on this topic and keep informed about current practices via the Digital Preservation webpage from The Library of Congress and The Signal: Digital Preservation, the blog about Digital Preservation from The Library of Congress.

Another resource is a series of articles published on the FamilySearch Blog, Preserving Your Family History Records Digitally—Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

It’s important for us to be aware of what we are creating using what technology.  It’s important to realize that in 5, 10, or more years, those formats may become obsolete and/or inaccessible.  We need to try, as much a possible, to “future proof” any items of historical significance that we store in a particular media.  

After all, we do want our descendants to be able to share in the rich history that we have archived and are actively creating right now.

If you have found a resource that’s really helped you as you navigate the world of preserving now obsolete media, please do share that with us!

Editor's Note: after 1st posting without a title -- one has now been added

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