May 21st, 2013

Future Proof Your Family Tree

Imagine spending years to build your family tree only to find out in the future that your files are not compatible with modern technology. The challenge for present day genealogists is not so much to keep up with technology, but to anticipate future developments. You may be quite adept at utilizing the latest mobile apps and cloud computing sites, but have you future-proofed your family tree by considering how to keep your stored data compatible with what might be available or unavailable in the future?

It would be a terrible shame after spending years researching your family history, to find that the data storage system used to record your info is no longer functional or manufactured. With so many people using modern technology and cloud computing options to upload genealogical data and photos, imagine how much information would be lost or inaccessible if current platforms are replaced by more advanced technology. The potential loss of so much data could impact genealogists of all levels, from the professional researcher right down to the individual just beginning to trace their family tree.

Of course, it is impossible to completely anticipate what sort of technology the future might bring, but there are certain things you can do to avoid negative consequences while at the same time preparing for future opportunities. For instance, if you have a digital photograph that had survived for 20 years on your hard drive and a traditional framed photo, which would you choose to keep? Amazingly enough, the traditional, framed photo might be the wiser option! Because technology has the capacity to change so rapidly and drastically, present day hard drives could possibly be obsolete at some point ion the future, and you might not be able to access the digital version of your photo. You can rest assured however, that there will still be methods of scanning traditional photos to digitize them, as different as they could be from current scanners.

As technology advances, file formats change and the platforms with which they are accessed change with them. It is possible for developers to have the mentality that “no one uses that file anymore,” and so omit conversion options for that particular file type in their programs. Suddenly an entire file type is no longer accessible with modern gadgets and you’re stuck with files of that type and no way to view them. Particular media can also become obsolete. A case in point would be the floppy disk. How long has it been since you’ve accessed one?

Steps You Can Take to Future-Proof Your Data

It is of the utmost importance to constantly upgrade your hardware and applications. You might feel that it is expensive to do so, but failing to keep up to date will cost you more down the road when you need to purchase a completely new version of an application. Updating your hardware is a much better option than purchasing platforms to convert your old data files. Rather than buying a floppy drive to add to your system, convert the data on them to CD, DVD, or diskettes. An even better option is to store them on an external hard drive. Keep current with what modern genealogists are using, and look for low-cost or free alternatives when you can. The point is, not to wait until it’s too late to convert.

You are actually future-proofing your data whenever you scan a document or photograph, but whatever you do, don’t throw away the original. Try to keep as many original documents or paper copies as you can, and maker use of dehumidifiers and acid proof paper as often as you can to ensure their longevity. Whenever you do save photos and other documents, save them as JPEG, PDF, or TIFF files to ensure their digital longevity. Slides and home movies can also be transferred to a digital format, and many stores such as CVS, Walgreens, Target, and Wal-Mart offer this service at their photo counters.

If you have old cassette recordings of interviews and such, you should also have them converted to digital format. There are many home and small recording studios that can do this for you, and it is relatively inexpensive to do so. Even CD’s and DVD’s will only realistically last 10 years or so. If you have data stored on aged disks, you should transfer it to a newer one as soon as possible. As an extra-cautionary measure, back them up on an external hard-drive, or upload them to an online data-storage service.

When you’re storing any digital files, try to avoid compressing at all costs. Once files are compressed the format is often lost, and there are other issues that could prevent access as well. Back-up drives are very inexpensive these days, and you can purchase external drives with 2TB of space for under $100.

It’s impossible to be one hundred percent prepared for every possible scenario, but you can take steps to ensure that your family tree will be available to future relatives who may have technology we never dreamed of!