Thursday, May 15, 2014


SD Fire
Images like this are very difficult to watch.  As of today no lives have been lost.  But, when a home goes up in flames it is devastating.

As I sit here for the past two days, watching 9 fires burn in my home county, San Diego, it has brought some thoughts to my mind.

I see a lot of discussion on the several Facebook groups which I follow, regarding paper vs. digital files.  These are the comments I read all the time.
  • “I’m keeping all my paper files because I don’t trust computers.”
  • “I like to hold a piece of paper in my hand as I’m doing my research.”
  • “I feel more comfortable using pen & paper to make notes.”
  • “I prefer having paper copies of all my family group sheets.”
  • “I print out every census record and other document I find online.”
  • “You never know when or if those records will still be online when you need them.”
Sound familiar?

Who among us hasn’t thought those same thoughts at least once?  I’m not here to ridicule those who like their paper files.  Not at all.  BUT, I want to say to those people......

PLEASE, make digital copies of your files and keep them on several different medias. Or at the very least make paper copies of everything you have and store them at another location.

Most of us live in areas where we are subject to one kind of natural disaster or another.  Be it floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fires or something else.  When the time comes to leave your home in a hurry it is much easier to grab your computer, back up hard drive, laptop, flash drives, CD’s etc. than to try to decide which paper files you can take.  

Having been in the local fires in San Diego County in 2003 and 2007, we have had to evacuate.  We lost part of our barn and nearly our home in 2003.  There was no way I could fit all the plastic tubs of scrapbooks, photos, family files etc. in the space we had in our truck and car.  Let alone grabbing financial records, the fire safe, any photos hanging on the walls, or other precious keepsakes.   I had to make some very tough decisions.  Thankfully, our home was spared.

Here are a couple of links to the Cedar Fire, which was in 2003 and the worst one for us.
Cedar Fire - Worst in CA history

I do keep the originals of vital records I’ve sent for and other documents I’ve obtained at various courthouses or libraries.  They are kept in binders. However, they’ve all been scanned or photographed and saved digitally.  I have 3 small archival plastic bins with family photos (again all have been scanned).  Yes, this is truly all of my paper files and two of these pictures are of my genealogy books.

Here are photos of those items.  These are the extent of my paper files.  Several of those binders in the photos will be cleaned out and combined this year.  One of my many projects.  

(Click on any image to enlarge it)
Pic 1    Binders 2   Books 1
Books on my shelf   photo bins in closet

We all work so very long and hard, over many years, on our research.  

Don’t lose it all.  

Here is a great Facebook page that is all about “getting organized.”  THE ORGANIZED GENEALOGIST.  And another great page that is all about technology for genealogists.  TECHNOLOGY FOR GENEALOGY.

We all learn from one another and genealogists just love to share their failures and their successes.  Those two Facebook pages I mentioned has all of that and more. 
Here is my system for saving my digital files.
  • Primary computer is a desktop PC with a very large hard drive.
  • I also have a Toshiba laptop to which I copy all of my files via flash drive or Dropbox.  This serves as a partial backup of my desktop computer.  I don’t transfer photos to the laptop due to space considerations.
  • I have two Passport external hard drives that I backup to.  They measure 5" x 3" and can literally fit in your pocket.
passport drives
  • I save my Legacy database files to Dropbox in addition to the other places I’ve mentioned.
  • I also save my Legacy database files to a couple of flash drives.  Although flash drives are, in my opinion, the least reliable.
Are all of those devices likely to fail at the same time? NO!

Please let me know your thoughts on this subject. Or share your experiences if you’ve had to evacuate or, heaven forbid, lost your research.

Happy hunting,

Michigan Girl
Copyright ©  2014   Diane Gould Hall


  1. Also a San Diego resident, I watched the fire coverage (fortunately with no threat of evacuation from our home) and thought about what to take should the need arise. I started pulling my family research material off shelves, emptying the closet, etc. As I looked over all the boxes, bins, and binders that I had assembled, it dawned on me that I had not included boxes of pictures and memorabilia from another closet along with 15 volumes of photo albums assembled over the years along with bins of current family pictures nestled comfortably under the bed along with. . . . Well, you get the idea!! And all this was BEFORE I gathered important papers, clothes, medication, etc, that we would need to have.
    This made me realize that I had to do SOMETHING---so I have started with Vol. 1 photo album--scanning pictures (tagging them all is a whole other project!), discarding all those "extra" pictures of waterfalls (from who knows where?), mountains (yes, we have seen lots of snowy mountain scenes), zoo animals (I mean, really . . . we all KNOW what a giraffe looks like!), etc. Yes, this is tedious work when I could be doing other research . . . .however, what good will all the research do me if everything I have worked so hard to assemble goes up in smoke???!!
    Thanks, Diane, for this post and the opportunity to share

    1. Thank you for your comment. It is an eye opening experience when you begin to gather what you want to "save" and realize much of it cannot be taken. Not enough space, to enough time? Whatever the reason. Or, heaven for it, you aren't at home when the tragedy occurs. Devoting time to digitizing and then backing up on several different media is time consuming. I still have much work to do. However, it's time well spent. Whether it's one day a week or one hour a day, it will get done.
      Thank you for stopping by.


I look forward to reading your comments. If you have any connection to the people mentioned in this blog, please let me know. I write about mine and my husband's ancestors and would welcome new information or meeting a new cousin or two. Thanks for visiting and come back soon.