Friday, April 11, 2014

Safely on the Other Side

After indulging in a soul-purging bout of histrionics, I’m happy to report that the real me is back. With a new computer.

Now begins the long process of migration from one computer to the other. It’s beginning to sound as complicated as moving one’s household from one building to another. Ultimately, the new toy will become the work horse, and the old desktop will be reserved for off-line-only use of my old Family Tree Maker dinosaur database. That way, I’ll still have access to my old records, in case I discover a glitch that doesn’t make itself immediately apparent in the new, transferred, version.

Going through this experience brought two things to mind. One is that we see things—especially “modern” conveniences—as if they will be “forever.” Another is the realization of how fleeting our records preservation efforts really are. While each may seem to be one and the same, the impact from these two thoughts ricochets off in different directions.

The issue with blithely pressing forward, confident in the always-ness of our current technological advances, is that today’s “new” is not always going to be status quo. Thus, we tend not to make allowances for what will someday, inevitably, go away. And when that someday arrives, we find that we have heavily invested our time and effort into building a reality upon a foundation that—we could see it coming if only we had looked—has already crumbled. In the face of this, incremental patches to “just get by” for another brief season become the very mindset that initiated the downfall. The incremental changes should have been pro-active, addressing the future, rather than rearward-facing—like driving forward via rear-view mirror—and making do for the time being.

Yet, the transient nature of our preservation efforts—no matter how stalwart we may think our systems are—is future-shock scary to me. All the archival systems we’ve developed over the years, the preservative efforts, even the tedious, diligent copying of manuscripts over the centuries by monks and other advocates of preserving mankind’s wisdom: they are no more solid than the one step they are from the age at which their medium crumbles from natural age. While we as genealogists urge each other on to “tell their story” and pass these details from generation to generation, we are humbly beholden to a chain of events which is still only as strong as its weakest link.

I can’t help but think of all the effort that contributed to the world of knowledge stored in one of yesteryear’s digital worlds, GeoCities. Remember GeoCities? It’s non-existent now, except—thanks to the foresight of those seeing it in an anthropological, historic sense—in an academic, test-tube display. If that was the only trigger saving that massive digital collection from being vaporized “into the ether,” what is to become, in some unnamed future, of Blogger, or Linked-In or YouTube—or forums, for that matter?

We think we can’t find adequate records of our ancestors from the 1700s or beyond because, we say, not that many records of the common people were kept. What will people be saying about us, three hundred years from now? Will they assume—because they can’t access them—that we, too, left no records?

And yet, on the opposite end of that spectrum, I’ve always taken comfort in a little book I once heard about. It was a book of instruction, written by a father for his daughters. Somehow, it managed to be passed down not only from that first to second generation, but to subsequent generations for, now, centuries—all because someone cared enough to preserve it. It was a personal document that someone saw as important enough to keep—actually, to publish as a book to share with a wider audience.

While technologies change, fashions shift gears, and people’s fickle interests waft in and out of focus, all it takes is overlapping sequences of two-person teams to preserve any specific record—one person, determined to pass a message from one point in time to another, and second person to receive that message and value it enough to turn around and then do the same.

It’s just that now, with the constant change in processing mechanisms, that relay race seems to have become more of an obstacle course.


  1. You bring up something that has been an issue for me for a long time - "archival" and how to do it - many regulated activities (FDA, FAA, and so on) require one keep records for a long time ("forever") and with the even of electronic versions - this has become something of a challenge - keeping paper is relatively simple - if an annoying and at times expensive - but how long will CD and DVD formats be readable not to mention the data file formats on them?

    I've found that the simpler the better when it comes to data archives - text files with comma separated values (csv) files to "endure" (for all of 30 years now! while other formats have "long gone"). Printing family trees on to paper seems to me to be very difficult - and the format is not really "up datable" when you find the inevitable error...

    XP has a "Files and Settings Transfer" tool - and later Windows Operating Systems have improved version of this tool. Its a help but not a cure.

    1. Iggy, I'll be slowly working my way through all those XP tools to help migrate over what can be salvaged of all my programs. This will take a long time.

      A PhD type buddy of my husband recommended we seek out a solution via Apple--the idea seemed plausible enough--so we had even tried that route (though I'm a firm believer in the PC side of cyberlife). As it turned out, the idea wouldn't have worked, but in the meantime, the "genius" with whom we were consulting advised, "Oh, just print out your data."

      He simply just didn't understand. It's not that easy. It is like trying to untangle nested systems and networks of relationships that are organized by the program itself.

      As you say, paper will store, and the "technology" to comprehend reports printed on paper will be with us for as long as English is still English and human beings still have eyes.

      In the meantime, I guess the key is to be flexible and always adapting to the "next best thing" coming at us down the pike.

  2. I am glad you got a new computer...I am certain you will get it all figured out. Would an online storage spot like Dropbox handle your files? It is a free download:)

    1. Far Side, you had mentioned Drop Box preparation for our trip, so we have a storage place for photos in the cloud while we are traveling. I am certainly going to look into that.


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