Thursday, July 18, 2013


I've seen these stories posted to my Facebook newsfeed just in the past
few days:

A horrendous explosion in a Canadian town takes 50 lives, destroys a good part of
the town and a collection of materials about the town's history.

Archivists work with the few fragile remnants of the disastrous 1973 St. Louis,
Missouri National Personnel Records Center fire.

Teenagers vandalize local cemeteries across the country, destroying headstones
that date make centuries.

A library in Watertown, Ma. faces protests over the decision to remove local
histories from its History Room collection to make room for the archives from the
now closed Watertown Arsenal.

The loos of life is of course the most tragic aspect of those stories, but collectively
they also are proof of how easily things that are of importance to genealogists and
historians can disappear.Nothing is immune. All sorts of things both natural or
man-made can wipe out centuries of history or commit it to new locations that are
hard to find. In the most extreme example, if climate change theorists are right,
archives, libraries, museums and cemeteries near our coastlines eventually will
wind up under 25 feet of water. Even a 5 foot rise might mean taking a boat to the
NEHGS instead of the subway in a flooded Back Bay section of Boston.

Which is why I think blogging also serves yet another function, that of preservation.
Every time we post a document's image, or a photograph of an ancestor's grave, or
quote some paragraph from a book in our blog, we're helping to preserve that information.
Now I know it's not on as grand a scale as what FamilySearch, Ancestry, and other sites
are doing, but it's still something. I'm certainly not wishing calamities befall any of
those institutions but as we all know, a little backup can't hurt!

This is also why I believe in sharing what I've found, whether here on one of my blogs
or on one of my private trees.Besides, I don't want to take what I've learned with me
like some hoarded treasure when I shuffle off this mortal coil. (( I don't think I want a
pharaoh-style tomb with all my binders, cds, thumb-drives and my laptop buried with
me.  Although if it came into fashion we'd really have genealogists digging up the past
in cemeteries.))

So the next time you debate whether or not to post something in your blog or to have
a private or public family tree on line, remember you aren't just sharing, you're preserving.

And also, remember to cite the sources!

1 comment:

John D. Tew said...

Bill: I absolutely agree that blogs are a great way to preserve genealogical information whether it is a photograph, document image, biographical data or what have you. I have commented on my blog in the past about the preservation aspect of posting photos. Wide dissemination is not merely sharing -- it is a means of preserving the photograph by increasing its numbers dramatically and thereby increasing the odds of its survival! This is one reason I will NEVER understand the position that some people in our community take with respect to very old photographs of long-deceased ancestors or relatives. Sadly, some take a proprietary view of such photos and become outraged at the downloading by others -- and not just at lack of courtesy in failing to credit the originator of the posted photo, but because they actually believe they have an ownership right in the antique photo. My position is, "Oh really?? Did you take/create the photo or are you merely the fortunate recipient because others saved it and passed it on to you?" Posting is sharing AND preserving it for others who also might have just as legitimate a family connection to the subjects in the photo as you do. Blog posts of photographs and other materials serve a very real and important function of preserving as well as sharing.

And this raises the issue of preserving the blogs themselves! Heather Rojo (and others I am sure), have given this thought and have taken steps to increase the likelihood of preserving their blogging efforts by putting them into hard copy books via Blurb and other similar services. Heather mentioned this on her blog and I am in the process of following her lead. I think other bloggers should consider doing this too.