04 October 2008

Disasters and preservation

After reading the Galveston story, I thought it might be a good idea to again remind Tracing the Tribe's readers to be prepared for disasters. No one wants to lose forever all that hard-won research. Protect your valuable documents, files and photos.

- Make sure you have made copies of your documents and photos. Keep copies somewhere else - in another state or country - by sending them to relatives in several places. Even if those relatives never look at the items, you know they will be safe sitting on a shelf in a closet somewhere and from where they can be retrieved if necessary. Make both hard copies and electronic copies (CDs, flash drives, portable hard drives); investigate online storage and back-up services for files, documents and photographs; place your family tree and photographs online in a family website (such as MyHeritage.com). Make sure you have made negatives - any photographer can do that - from important photographs and store them separately.

- Where will you store items at home? Make sure they are not in damp basements (think humidity and possible flood or other water damage) and not in attics (hot, cold and possible wind and rain damage). Top shelves of closets may be a good start.

- Protect photographs and documents in page protectors (plastic sleeves); most are hole-punched for handy album storage. Tracing the Tribe has frequently advised readers about the dangers of those old "magnetic" albums where photos are affixed permanently to an adhesive backing. Often, photos cannot be removed without serious damage. Instead, bring pages to a photographer to make negatives and prints of each image, or if you're an expert with a digital or film camera, do it yourself. Consult an archivist at a nearby museum, library or university if valuable antique photos are stuck on those pages for advice on how to liberate them, if at all possible.

- In California and other earthquake-prone states, use sticky wax to anchor small items to shelves and walls (in addition to nails and wire for pictures). Attach heavy bookshelves and cabinets to walls for stability, add shelf protector strips to open shelving to keep items from tumbling to the floor. There are also special closures for cabinets to keep doors from flying open and items spilling out.

- Store items in plastic containers (such as Tupperware or Rubbermaid) - these come in a large variety of sizes. Some have lids that clamp down, which are better than just pressing lids closed. Try not to store items in cardboard cartons on the floor, which may flood. Using transparent containers also helps you see what's where - and they float!

- Spend some time thinking about what you would grab first in an emergency, whether it's a hurricane, fire, earthquake, tornado, flood, etc. After making sure family members are safe, what's next? What can't you live without, and where can you store it for easy access in an emergency?

Sally Jacobs of the Practical Archivist blog has compiled a great page of preservation information from reliable sources here. It's called the Preservation Answer Machine - try it out. Great job, Sally!

It's always better to be prepared now when you have time to think calmly about tasks to be done. As a former Florida (hurricanes) and California (earthquakes and fires) resident, I know anything can happen and just might - usually at the most inconvenient times.

What are your best tips for protecting your genealogical treasures? Have you personally experienced a disaster? What would you have done differently? What improvements have you made to prepare for the future? Your experience may help other readers.

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