Organising, sharing and safeguarding your research and records

In this article we are going to discuss ways to organise your physical records, different ways to share that research and how to safeguard your work for the future.

Organising your physical records

Like many genealogists, you may find yourself with a legacy of primary documents, photographs and memorabilia passed down from previous generations and these (along with the images and documents you are currently creating) need to be preserved for the future.

We would suggest digitising these documents and photographs where possible to provide digital copies which can be shared with family members (see below for ideas on safeguarding digital copies) thus cutting down on handling of the originals but also in case the physical originals are destroyed by fire, flood, storm, etc.

There are a variety of ways you can organise your physical records from colour based systems to organising by type and date of record and event. The main thing is to choose something that you’ll use and stick to as it’s all too easy to have stacks of paper and boxes of unsorted photos lying about…and yes I’m speaking from personal experience! See the related links section for some systems that might work for you.

Sharing your research online

Beyond the cloud based family tree tools outlined elsewhere on the course, there are other ways to share your research online and make connections with family members. What you choose will depend on your goals but there is a range from relatively simple to use blogs and webpages to more complex databases hosted online.

You can have your own personal website or blog focused on your family tree and invite family members to view and collaborate on your research while keeping it invisible to the wider world (if you want to). Providers of this type of tool include Genealone, Webtrees and WordPress.

Then there is internet based software hosted by the user on their own website, which includes The Next Generation (TNG). This approach can be useful for collaborative research but where there is a need to retain ownership and control. An example might be a one-name study where researchers from different countries maintain a single shared database. Installing and maintaining this type of software is not for the faint hearted, although there are companies who specialise in providing this as a service.

You can also share family stories and images and there are sites that specialise in this including Our Family Past and ClanWiki.

Safeguarding your research and records

You will want to store physical items off the floor and away from external walls or windows, to protect them from severe fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Ideally storage areas must remain dry to prevent mould growth and water damage – don’t store paper in an unheated garage.

Use protective plastic holders (such as polyurethane document protectors) and storage boxes (ideally acid free boxes). These protect your documents from light, dirt, dust, insects, rodents and unnecessary wear and tear. Only fold or roll items if your storage space is limited as folding weakens paper and rolling can make it difficult to view the item without damaging it.

Be sure to back up your digital records frequently as computers have a nasty habit of failing and losing data; there are a number of ways to do this and you might consider cloud based storage organisations such as BackBlaze or DropBox which allow you to upload your computer files to the Internet. This means you can access your files from anywhere you have an Internet connection but also gives you digital copies which are based away from your physical home.

You can also save digital records to an external memory device such as a USB memory stick or external hard drive. It’s best not to rely on one type of backup alone; rather use a variety of ways to save your precious digitized records, photographs and other computer files. That way if a fire destroys your home, you may lose an external hard drive but you wouldn’t lose anything uploaded to the Internet.

Dick Eastman regularly covers issues around backing up, organising and finding digital data with a genealogical focus in his invaluable newsletter, Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.

The resources in the ‘See Also’ section below can be consulted for more information on the topic.

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This article is from the free online course:

Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree

University of Strathclyde