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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Genealogists use digital storage devices to store genealogical information, including names, dates, places, photographs, historical documents, sources, e-mails, correspondence, family contact information, family videos, and audio recordings. The purpose of this class is to educate genealogists about building digital storage systems, addressing pros and cons of various storage mediums, and solutions for data disaster-recovery. Learn more about about virtual storage options in this PowerPoint class and this handout.

History[edit | edit source]

In technical sense, digital storage started out as punch-hole cards or strips that were fed into a computer. Then with the Eniac, the first purely electronic computer storage was available. These first ones were like RAM memory on a average computer, in that when you turned off the power, the data was lost. It was not until the mid 1950s that memory was invented that did not need a constant power sorce. 

In the early 60's, The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day saints began using computers and digital storage to store and alphabetise millions of names. In 1986' the church released the first version of it's PAF program for PC's, making it possible for genealogists to make family trees and store them on magnetic 5 1/4 inch floppy discs. 

Digitization[edit | edit source]

Digital is a numeric representation of something physical. Digitization means that a physical item is converted into a series of numbers. That series of numbers is used to recreate a likeness of that item on a computer screen.

Examples:[edit | edit source]

  • Photograph + Digital camera = Digital image
  • Document + Scanner = Digitized document or digital image
  • Sound + Digital recorder or converter = Digitized audio

Pros and Cons of Digital[edit | edit source]

Creating a long-term digital storage medium continues to be a challenge for genealogists at every level. Understanding digital processes can help genealogists avoid losing information and help preserve genealogy.

Pros[edit | edit source]

Digital storage allows the user to store mass amounts of data in a small space, and allows the users to easily share information with others. Digital items are easily edited, enhanced, or cropped.

Cons[edit | edit source]

Unlike paper copies, that, when partially damaged may be re-created and are still useable, digital data may only require a minor flaw to render all of the data unusable. Digital data has not been around for centuries like paper, so the effects of time and elements on digital data are not completely understood.

Dynamic and Static[edit | edit source]

Storage devices have different uses. Understanding how a storage device works helps the user make important decisions about how it will be used in genealogy.

Dynamic Storage[edit | edit source]

This type of storage device allows the user to work within the storage device, making changes while working within the file, and easily save changes to a file or database. This type of storage device has many advantages for genealogists, allowing one to work within genealogical databases and frequently add, remove, and change information.

Static Storage[edit | edit source]

This type of storage device allows the user to save data at a specific point in time and create a non-changing version of the data that may not be easily altered or deleted.  Examples include DVDs or CDs that can only be written to once.

Types of Digital Storage[edit | edit source]

There are only three true types of digital storage: magnetic, optical disks, and solid state, although there are several different digital storage devices created from these.

Optical Disks[edit | edit source]

Examples: CDs, DVDs, DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, CD+Rs, and Blu-Ray

Optical disks are often used for backing up, storing, or sharing information. Optical disks easily store data such as photographs, movies, audio files, and non-changing data. While optical disks are often thought of as a long-lasting solution to digital storage, the lifetime of optical disks has not been proven. Unlike profesional made CDs, in which the data is recorded onto the disc by stamping pits into the plastic, home-burned disks use chemicals that are burned by the laser. Transferring data onto new disks every 5-10 years is a good practice to preserve information.

Solid State Storage[edit | edit source]

Examples:Memory cards, flash drives, and internal storage in digital recorders, digital cameras, cell phones, Blackberry devices, PDAs, MP3 players, and iPods.

Solid state devices are a great way to quickly check, update, transfer, and share data. They provide a temporary storage solution for portable information. Solid State devices provide a quick, easy, and accessible way to gather, add, and temporarily store genealogical information until it may be organized and stored in more permanent formats.

Magnetic Storage[edit | edit source]

Examples:Hard drives (computer hard drives, servers, and external hard drives), floppy disks, and archival magnetic tape (NOT a consumer product).

Magnetic storage is often used as a long-term storage solution, often with regular backups of information. The most common form of magnetic storage is the hard drive. Hard drives help genealogists quickly add, change, locate, and share information. Hard drives are used in computers, servers, and external hard drives and are magnetically coated disks with magnetic particles. Unlike solid state devices, damaged hard drive data may often be recovered.

Data Disasters[edit | edit source]

Preparing for data disasters will also help genealogists preserve information over generations. Being prepared for a data disaster at all times is the best way to avoid one. Examples of data disasters include:

  • Device failure
  • Outdated formats
  • Natural disasters
  • Electrical surge damage
  • Electromagnetic damage
  • Human loss

To avoid data disasters:[edit | edit source]

  • Always have more than one copy of data, in more than one place, accessible by more than one person.
  • Regularly move information to current storage formats. Genealogists hold the responsibility to keep their own data in a current, readable, useable format.
  • Store information on more than one type of device.
  • Prepare for the worst. Scan all original photographs, and documents.
  • Recover immediately. If a storage device fails, or is damaged, transfer the data to a safe location and replace the device.
  • Learn from mistakes and tragedies. If a digital data catastrophe occurs, don’t allow the same mistake to happen again.

A Reliable storage system[edit | edit source]

All storage devices have benefits and specific uses. Understanding how to use these devices will help genealogists keep information safe and current. Personal storage systems should include:

  • Two or more hard drives (computer, and/or external).
  • Short-term storage elements such as flash drives and/or memory cards for everyday data gathering and transfer, regularly backed up to a hard drive or CD.
  • A secondary or static storage backup, such as virtual/online storage or regular CD backups
  • More than one location for data storage
  • Dual-person accessibility for information and file

Genealogists may store small amounts of data on a flash memory device to work with on a regular basis, and back up the information to a larger storage device, such as an external or computer hard drive. Regularly backing up hard drive data to optical disks will help prevent digital data loss.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Genealogists are responsible to keep their own data in a current, readable, and usable format.

Protecting information will help preserve family history for future generations.