The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
You probably have enjoyed collecting bits and pieces of information about your ancestors and their lives. Is it possible that one of your future descendants will want to do the same for you and for your present relatives? If so, should you help your future genealogist-descendant by making sure the information about your life and the lives of your relatives will be available in the future?
For years, genealogists, historians, and others have preserved information on paper. Sometimes it is in the form of books while a less formal method is to collect paper documents and keep them in a file. Paper has served us well for centuries and probably will not disappear anytime soon. However, paper isn’t as useful or expected to last as long as it once was. Perhaps we should seek alternative solutions.
From e-journals and e-books to emails, blogs and more, electronic content is proliferating fast, and organizations worldwide are racing to preserve information for next generations before technological obsolescence, or even data loss, creep in.
First of all, many of today’s “documents” are generated electronically and may or may not be available in printed form. Most states now generate birth, marriage, and death records on a computer. Most of those records also can be obtained as a print-out upon request, however. The trend to digital records probably will continue for many more years. Within a few years, most government agencies probably will stop printing documents altogether.
A few of us have possession of treasured letters written by our ancestors. Love letters, letters home from soldiers at the front, and even the gossipy “Dear Cousin” letters become family treasures within a very few years. When was the last time you wrote a letter on paper and sent it to a relative via postal mail? How are you or some other relative preserving these valuable messages for use by future generations? I bet very few people print those email messages out and save them.
Another issue is the life expectancy of paper. Today’s paper isn’t what it used to be, nor is the ink. Years ago, almost all paper was archival quality, and high-quality ink was the norm. Many 100-year-old documents have survived and are treasured by descendants today.
In contrast, most paper produced today is inexpensive, intended for use in printers and photocopy machines, and filled with acids and other chemicals. In addition, the ink used in inkjet printers and the toner used in laser printers are not intended to last 100 years or more. Today’s printed documents probably will last 20 or 30 years and possibly even longer, but not for a century or two. If you want to preserve printed information for centuries, you need to use archival paper (which is easily found in many places) and archival ink (which is harder to find but not impossible).
Fortunately, many options are available to insure preservation of important documents and even books for businesses. I will also discuss solutions for individuals.
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