As a life-long Midwesterner, I know that when the weatherman puts you in a high-risk zone for dangerous weather, you pay attention. It’s gonna get ugly. So yesterday morning when I woke to that big red high-risk bubble over Illinois and Indiana, I knew we had to hit the ground running. The little closet in the basement (our small, but concrete surrounded safe room) had to be cleared of storage stuff so that three humans, four dogs and a cat could fit in there if needed. The Emergency kit needed to be checked. The calls for high winds meant that everything in the yard needed to be secured or stored. Preparations needed to be made in case of a power outage. And all needed to be done by noon when the weather was predicted to get heavy. So much to do, so little time.
As the sirens sounded, I ran around grabbing things like my purse and charged cellphone, I glanced around my office. What about the Howley tintypes? They’re in the Howley binder, but no time to grab them. What about all the other original photos I have? They’re all in separate binders. There was no time.
We headed for the basement, with dogs and cat in tow. As we sat there listening to the wind and rain lambasting my house, I was grateful to have my husband and daughter with me and worried about family and friends who were also in the path of the storm. But my thoughts kept turning to those pictures. And what about the box of photos I recently ran across from when my daughter was little, that I still have not scanned?(I know, I should know better.) So many precautions that I know I should have taken, but didn’t.
As I was going through the pre-storm preparations, there were a lot of other families going through the same ritual. I was one of the lucky ones. When the sirens stopped and the winds died down, we came up to find our lives unchanged. Others weren’t as lucky.
Some lost loved ones, and even more came up to find their homes, their belongings, and their family treasures all gone. This morning’s news showed photos and documents belonging to people in the affected areas turning up in yards up to 100 miles away. (Friends in Indiana and Illinois, if you find any of these personal effects, there is a Facebook page set up where you can post images of documents, photos, and even pets that have been found. Just be sure to block out personal information like Social Security numbers and don’t post sensitive documents.)
It was a wake-up call. Sure, I go through periods where I do back-ups, but as I think about it now, there are some clear holes in my disaster plan. Here are some things to consider in preparing your family history for a disaster.
One thing at the top of my list is to gather the really important treasures (like those tintypes my mom recently gave me for our Howley ancestors) in one archive-quality box. I don’t want to store these things in my basement. It’s unfinished and temperature and humidity conditions are more stable here in my office. It’s going to mean prioritizing, but I can easily grab one box and take it with me when a disaster is threatening. Much easier than going through all of my binders looking for treasures. Now’s the time to do that prioritizing. Not in the hours before a storm.
Digitize with High-Resolution
I do have high-resolution TIFF images of treasured family photographs and documents backed up to an online storage service. Copies of records and photographs can also be found in my online tree, although at a lesser resolution. I should make sure that I have everything saved at that higher resolution.
Another step I need to take is to share copies of the high-resolution pictures and documents with families on DVD so that there are more copies floating around. That way even if the real thing gets destroyed, the image isn’t lost forever.
I need to get scanning. While I do have a lot of pictures in digital form, when I was cleaning out my bedroom closet recently, I found the aforementioned box of old pictures that need scanning. Hmm, perhaps this would be a good job for the teenager who’s always in need of cash.
It’s probably time to do an audit of what I have, and on what medium. Also, how long ago were the back-ups created? Depending on use and the quality of the medium, images saved with technology in common use even 10 years ago may be at risk. I also want to think about how easy it will be to find technology to read that medium down the road. (Think floppy disks. Enough said.)
Time to Get Started
The time to get started is now. Who knows what the future has in store? As I go through things and make sure I have good quality scans, once they’re backed up online I can start saving them to DVDs for family. And with the holidays around the corner, that will be a good time to share them.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those who were affected by the storm.
What is your disaster plan? Please share your ideas in the comments.
About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
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