Preserving Family History in the Digital Era

It seems like just about every family has a historian charged with preserving and passing down stories from generation to generation. Often times the family historian is a senior member of the family – perhaps the matriarch or patriarch. That being the case, considerations have to be made for preserving family history after that person passes on.

Preserving family history in the digital era is quite different than the way past generations have handled the task. Prior to the introduction of digital photographs and the internet, records were compiled and preserved by hand. Family historians clipped newspaper articles, organized photos in albums, wrote down family trees in family Bibles, and kept meticulous journals.

All of that is still possible in the modern era, but digital technologies have made things a lot easier. Everything from preserving old photos to keeping track of family trees is made easier and more efficient by technology.

Digital Family Trees

The family tree is one of the most important records to a historian. Today we have access to dozens of software programs that keep family trees via computer. You can track your family tree on your PC, your laptop, or even your smartphone. Family tree information can even be stored in the cloud.

One of the major advantages of a digital family tree is that it can be shared freely among family members far and wide. Anyone using the same software program can be sent the file and that’s that. Otherwise, files can be exported as PDFs and sent out.

Converting Photos to Digital Format

There are people who bristle at the idea of converting old photos to digital format because they feel they are losing something tangible. That’s understandable but consider this: a photograph printed on a piece of paper has a limited shelf life no matter how hard you work to preserve it. A digital image will last forever. It is a good idea to convert even if you are planning to keep paper copies. That way, the images will still be preserved long after you’re gone.

Distribute Family History Items

Even in the digital era, families struggle with the question of what to do with certain items when the family historian passes on. There are a couple of options. First, all the family history items can be passed on to the deceased historian’s successor. That is usually the easiest and most straightforward way to do things. But there’s a second option.

A few families we have worked with decided that concentrating all the family history items in one location is too big a risk. Everything could be lost in the event of a fire, flood, etc. So instead, they distributed the items among several family members who volunteer to take care of them. If anything does happen at one location, all the items are not jeopardized.

The one downside to distribution is the reality that not every family member is trustworthy. Determining who gets what can lead to hurt feelings and loud arguments. Heaven forbid a family member who volunteers to store personal history items somehow damages or loses them.

In Summary

Family history is an important thing to a lot of families. A collection of photos, journals, family Bibles, and so forth make it possible to pass on generations of fond memories in perpetuity. In the 21st century, technology is making things easier than ever before.

We encourage you to use technology to your advantage. Converting your family history to digital documents protects them from environmental damage and guarantees they will live on for generations. As for those physical objects your family decides to keep, do your best to preserve them regardless of who is charged with storing them.

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