No matter whether you’ve spend months or years doing your LDS family search, and digitizing all of your materials, The question is have you taken your research to that crucial step forward by future proofing your research materials. Future proofing your materials is simply a means of preparing it for the evolution and advances in technology. You can also future proof your materials as a way to eliminate or at the least minimize any negative consequences, such as losing your information, and open yourself up for more research opportunities for your LDS family search. You may be asking yourself what can happen if you don’t future proof your information. This could mean loss of data, and not making it accessible to future generations.
If you are a professional genealogist, it could mean loss of business; however, if you are doing your own LDS family search, this could mean missing data in your family tree. Imagine finding important information for your family tree, but not backing it up onto data that can be easily accessed by today’s technology. Another thing to consider is what will happen if the digital age goes dark. How will you access your data if this happens? There are many things to take into consideration when you future proof your genealogical information. For instance, with the constant changes in technology, a paper copy of a family member’s birth, marriage and death notices will last fifty years, where a digital jpeg or PDF file containing the same information may become obsolete in ten years or less.
With the technological enhancements, come the changes in file formats, and the progression of programs that can open these files. When a company decides to develop a new program or file format, they easily forget that people still use the old ABC formats; therefore they forget to add an ABC format converter to the new program. Other developers see the advantages of making improvements to technological advances, and follow the first company’s example. File formats becoming obsolete, isn’t the only problem you have to face, but, you have to make sure you save your information on a specific media that isn’t obsolete itself. Instead of saving your information to floppy disk, you could same it on flash drives or external hard drives for easy access.
Don’t forget to upgrade your software and hardware. Although it is often easy to forget to upgrade applications or install updates especially if you have to pay for the upgrade. However, if you don’t keep your software up-to-date, you will run into a phenomenal expense later on when you have to buy a completely new version of the software you are running. It is important to upgrade your hardware, as I have previously suggested. It is best to avoid falling back on the formats and methods of data access you found comfortable in the past. Please note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you must have the latest and greatest gadgets at your disposal. It is better to use the latest updates of the technology you and your fellow genealogists are currently using, by finding alternatives to obsolete software and hardware at little or no out of pocket expense to you. The trick is to make the upgrades or get the updates when they come out, so you don’t run into trouble or unnecessary expense down the road.
Many people already future proof their materials by scanning documents and photos onto their computers. However, there are a few factors to consider when you future proof your research materials. Make sure you have scanned all your photos with a minimum of 300DPI resolution, and documents, and saved them in accessible formats such as PDF, TIF, JPG, or Microsoft word .doc or .docx formats. If you have slides, or home made videos, you may want to find a service or a store that can transfer them for you. Many large discount or retail stores and pharmacies offer this service in their photo departments, and there are other resources available on the Internet and through your local photo shop or studio.
If you have audio files on cassette tape, reel to reel, eight-track tape, CD or DVD, you may want to purchase an inexpensive audio to MP3 converter. You can also talk to other genealogical researchers and work together to share this type of equipment. In regards to CDs and DVD’s, be sure to back them up onto flash drives or external hard drives, as CDs and DVD’s don’t last as long as you might think.
Once you have transferred your data to accessible formats, keep your software and hardware up-to-date, there a few points to consider. Instead of using proprietary formats such as .doc or .docx, use RTF or TXT files for your documents, use JPG, or BMP formats for photos. It is not always necessary for you to compress your files, as this can cause you to lose data. You can purchase external hard drives that start as low as $59 for 500 gigabytes of storage. You can also use free storage space offered by such web sites as drop box, sky drive, or iCloud. These are just a few of the countless methods for future proofing your genealogical information.