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Genealogy Disaster Plan

By Julie Miller, CG
The year is almost over, and already there have been numerous natural disasters that have hit close to home: the tornadoes in Northern Colorado, the floods in the Midwest, and the wildfires in California.

Watching the people on the news who have been affected has been heart-wrenching. Many folks have lost everything. Some of their possessions can easily be replaced, such as clothes, appliances and dishes. But what about all those things that cannot be replaced? I look around my house and see the wedding quilt made by GreatGrandma Ivy, the baby photo of my mother, the file cabinets of family history documents and notes. No amount of insurance money could bring those items back.

There is a precaution to safeguard your family history should disaster strike. I recommend creating and implementing a written genealogy disaster plan. My written disaster plan is divided into two sections: Preparations and Evacuation Plan.

Five Preparation Steps:

  1. Cite each source precisely and accurately. Many of our sources are copies of documents. With the proper citation, most document copies can be acquired again.
  2. Evaluate documents, photos and artifacts, and prioritize according to importance. All irreplaceable items should be sorted out. Duplicate copies of extracted documents can be made and placed in the file where the document was originally stored. Originals should be stored using archival safe supplies and containers. Containers need to be clearly marked, readily accessible and compact enough so they can be easily picked up and carried. A list of the containers, contents and locations should be recorded within the disaster plan.
  3. Scan documents and photos. Start by scanning new documents when they are obtained. Then work on one file folder a week. In no time all your research will be scanned.
  4. Make backups of computer files. I have a Maxtor external drive on which I weekly, sometimes daily, back up my files. This is a good way to prevent the loss of files because of a computer crash. However, it is in the same room as my desktop and would not help if my house was destroyed. It is essential to have a backup that is off-site. There are several options for storing backups outside of your house. I would recommend using two of the following methods:
    • Send genealogy files to family, either through-mail or on CDs or DVDs. The relative should live out of state rather than down the street. If sending the files electronically, compress the file first to reduce the size.
    • Set up an e-mail account that allows you to store messages online, then send the files to yourself.
    • Save files on CD, DVD or flash drive and keep in a safe deposit box. This also is an option for items for your most valuable items, such as family Bibles and old documents.
    • Use an online backup service such as Mosey.com. Backups should be done periodically.
  5. Determine a safe and accessible storage location. Things that should be considered are the structure of the house, location of the house and the risk factors for disasters. If you live where you are more likely to be hit by a tornado than threatened by a wildfire, you might want to store your items in a climate controlled basement.

Evacuation Plan

This should be a step-by-step plan of what to do in various circumstances. The plan should be detailed, since you will be extremely stressed and will likely forget what should be done. Include a list of things to take, their exact location in the house, and possibly even a map. I’ve divided my plan into two groups.

Grab and Go: This plan is for those situations when you must leave or go to a certain area of the house immediately and can only take what can be carried with two hands. In these cases, there isn’t much warning, like a tornado. I have only two items on this plan’s list. My laptop and one file folder. The file folder contains genealogy material and important items, such as insurance papers, credit card information, bank account numbers and copies of personal vital records.

Watch and Wait: This plan is for those situations that might give several hours or days warning, such as a wildfire or flood. With more time, you will be able to take what fits in your car or truck.

Copies of the disaster plan should be kept in several locations of the house, preferably one on each floor. They should be easily accessible and all members of the family should know where they are kept. Practice the plan to make sure it works. Update and review the plan at least yearly.

Of course, personal safety should always come before material items. But if there is time to protect your family history, having a well thought-out plan of action will preserve your genealogy legacy for many generations. If you would like a sample of a genealogy disaster plan, I’d be happy to share it with you.

Editor’s Notes: Julie is a speaker, certified genealogist, professional genealogy researcher, and writer. She has lectured at our society on numerous occasions. E-mail her at julie@jpmresearch.com. From Julie Miller & Dick Eastman’s Online Newsletter.

From the Larimer County Genealogical Society Newsletter, Volume 28 Number 6

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