Genealogy: How to preserve your own digital materials

How to preserve your own digital materialsBy Barry J. Ewell

Our photo albums, letters, home movies and paper documents are a vital link to the past.  Personal information we create today has the same value.  The only difference is that much of it is now digital.

Chances are that you want to keep some digital photos, e-mail, and other files so that you—and your family—can look at them in the future. But preserving digital information is a new concept that most people have little experience with.

Keeping Personal Digital Photographs
Perhaps more than any other kind of personal digital information, photos have rich personal meaning. And photos are unique: if they are lost, the information they provide can never be replaced.

You will want to keep at least some of your digital photos for a long time. Focus attention on organizing your important photos by placing them into related groups.

Archiving Tips

  • Identify where you have digital photos
    • Identify all your digital photos on cameras, computers and removable media such as memory cards.
    • Include your photos on the Web.
  • Decide which photos are most important
    • Pick the images you feel are especially important.
    • You can pick a few photos or many.
    • If there are multiple versions of an important photo, save the one with highest quality.
  • Organize the selected photos
    • Give individual photos descriptive file names.
    • Tag photos with names of people and descriptive subjects .
    • Create a directory/folder structure on your computer to put the images you picked.
    • Write a brief description of the directory structure and the photos.
    • Make copies and store them in different places.
  • Make at least two copies of your selected photos—more copies are better.
    • One copy can stay on your computer or laptop; put other copies on separate media such as DVDs, CDs, portable hard drives, thumb drives or Internet storage.
    • Store copies in different locations that are as physically far apart as practical. If disaster strikes one location, your photographs in the other place should be safe.
    • Put a copy of the photo inventory with your important papers in a secure location.
    • Check your photos at least once a year to make sure you can read them.
    • Create new media copies every five years or when necessary to avoid data loss.

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