Monday, July 12, 2010

Madness Monday: If I Die....

Several years ago I was talking to my father who is usually considered a bright and observant human being.  I've no idea what the topic of conversation was, but I will never forget him beginning a sentence, "If I die..." I was too caught up in the concept that he might NOT die to notice what followed.  I responded, "What if, Kimosabe?"  He maintains he was just being optimistic (and probably checking to see if I was still there).  I do love that man, but I'm not such an optimist.

I sit surrounded by the research materials of two great-aunts, a grandmother, mother and aunt who all died.  I expect I'll follow suit.  My parents entered their family trees into a software program but I spent over a decade validating research, adding sources or making corrections as needed.  I've even managed to add a few names to the trees myself.  That is real progress and if I die we will have contributed something to our family's knowledge.

But how to share that knowledge?  This blog is a first step toward getting the stories, the pictures and the genealogy out of my living room and into the world where it can be found by others researching the same families.

It's the next step that is proving challenging.  I am not going to write a book.  It would take a series and still not present the information I want to present.  For my purposes I prefer the web model.  I've been looking at some family history websites.  Two I particularly like are An American Adventure and Linda McCauley's McCauley, Lanier, Hankins, Hopkins & Taylor Families.  Linda writes Documenting the Details and has been generous in sharing her thoughts on her design decisions.

My concern is, despite archives and viral media, websites are not permanent.  That's one enormous advantage books have.  How can I assure that the information I put on the web will survive me?  A paid website would require my heirs to maintain it which seems burdensome.   Free web hosting services limit design options, are free only because they run ads and offer no guarantee they will survive.  Just ask anyone who used AOL's Hometown service.

A web search proved I am far from alone in thinking about this.  There was a Digital Death Day in California in May.  The Digital Beyond examines multiple aspects of a digital afterlife.  A recent article in Ars Technica reassured me that Google will leave this blog up unless one of my heirs chooses to shut it down (NOT a good idea, kids, unless you want to be haunted for the rest of your days).  Google is probably about as permanent a digital repository as there is today.

So what are your thoughts?  I'd love to know how others are addressing the issue.


  1. This really is a serious subject that I seem to give more and more thought to all the time. Every time I backup my computer files I wonder what will become of all this info when I'm gone. (Setting around on hard drives until all the technology used is so outdated that it can't be accessed usually comes to mind.) I have more thoughts on this subject than can fit in a comment so think I'll write about it later this week.

    Thanks for starting this conversation. I hope others will chime in because it is definitely an important question that all family historians need to consider. And thanks for the mention.

  2. I love my techy toys, but, paper rules. So far, that is my tendency, commit to paper. Deposit paper to major libraries, starting with LDS Salt Lake, followed close behind by Allen County Public Library, Allen County, Indiana. I have other libraries I donate to as well.

  3. I've thought of this, too, and paper is important. I've been spending my summer laboriously going through my home office, carefully filing and cross-referencing the papers related to my family history project, because at least if it's organized, *someone* might keep it. I have the same worry about my scrapooks, though... I've put so much work into them, but what if my grandchildren or great-grandchildren just toss them? :-(

  4. I am coming 'round to the idea that the basic research needs to be on paper and donated to at least a couple libraries as you suggest, Carol. That way if the digital files vanish into the the (n)etherworld the basic information will be available. Guess I'll have to produce some quickie books too, Linda. I've started cleaning up a streamlined pedigree file to work from.
    But I hear you, Tracy. We may have to haunt our offspring, though as the keeper of 3 generations of papers, I have some sympathy for them.


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