Digital Preservation Library of Congress Style – Episode 75

Genealogists need to know a few things in order to create the highest-quality digital files that they can pass along to future generations. Things like:
  • best practices for preserving a variety of files types
  • understanding the best way to scan documents and photos that will endure the test of time.
  • efficient, automated file backup and storage practices that involve little or no effort.
 
Mike Ashenfelder knows a bit about these things because he worked in digital preservation at the Library of Congress for 16 years. Recently he published a book called “Organizing and Preserving Your Digital Stuff: Easy Steps for Saving Files Like the Library of Congress.” 
 
In this episode of Elevenses with Lisa, Mike Ashenfelder will share how you can apply these professional best practices to your precious files and get them in great shape.

Episode 75 Show Notes 

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Genealogists need to know a few things in order to create the highest-quality digital files that they can pass along to future generations. Things like:

  • best practices for preserving a variety of files types
  • understanding the best way to scan documents and photos that will endure the test of time.
  • efficient, automated file backup and storage practices that involve little or no effort.

Mike knows a bit about these things because he wrote about digital preservation at the Library of Congress for 16 years. Recently he published a book called “Organizing and Preserving Your Digital Stuff: Easy Steps for Saving Files Like the Library of Congress.” 

Digital Preservation book by Ashenfelder

Available here at Amazon. (Affiliate link – thank you for supporting this show.)

 

In this episode Mike Ashenfelder shares how you can apply these professional best practices to your precious files and get them in great shape.

Changing Digital Formats and Technology

Remember cassette tapes, 8-track tapes, long-playing vinyl albums, 78s, or how about even cylinders? The changing formats of audio over the years is a prime example of how technology keeps changing. And that change forces us as family historians to change too.

Large cultural institutions are faced with the challenge of continually changing digital formats and technology as well. According to Mike Ashenfelder, “it’ll continue to evolve…technology evolves.

Your digital camera takes JPEG photos for instance. My iPhone’s camera, it takes something called .HEIC. I’ve never heard of that up until we got this new camera. But it’s another contender, and there will no doubt be another one further down the road.

The point of my book is that you should save all files in the highest quality, so that you can pass them along to future generations. And yeah, there will always be new software, there will always be new files to save something might be better than .GEDCOM files (for genealogy). You never know. But basically, it comes down to saving, organizing and preserving things as best you can.”

Because file formats will continue to evolve, like archivists at large institutions such as the Library of Congress, it’s critical that family historians keep their eye on the latest standards and take steps to keep up before their current media is obsolete.

Digital Preservation at the Library of Congress

According to Ashenfelder, the Library of Congress received a large government grant in 2000 to study digital preservation and how other institutions were handling it. They pulled in other institutions and shared information. In the end, they discovered that generally speaking cultural institutions “all have the same basic practices.”

At the LOC, Ashenfelder wrote about digital preservation and interviewed a lot of subject matter experts. While there were many similarities, some details varied from institution to institution or project by project. But essentially, it always comes back to following standardized practices that ensured that files could be found. And that’s what we want as genealogists. We work hard to find genealogical records the first time, and no one wants to struggle to find them a second time on their own computer.

As we’ve discussed in previous videos and articles here at Genealogy Gems, well organized, easy to find files are more likely to be retained when passed onto future generations. If our files look disorganized and unnavigable, they run a greater risk of being tossed or lost.

Ashenfelder explains that institutions like the Library of Congress put naming conventions in place and stick to them. If you’d like to learn more about naming conventions and hard drive organization for your digital genealogical files, watch episodes 7 & 8 of Elevenses with Lisa, and my video class Hard Drive Organization.

Preserve Photos Like the LOC

Preserve PHotos

Scanning Photos

Scanning PHotos

File Formats

digital file formats

 

Metadata

Metadata for digital photos

Cloud Backup

I’ve used Backblaze for many years to ensure that all of my computer data is backup on the cloud offsite. Mike said that an executive at Apple recommended it to him as well. Get a free trial of Backblaze (thank you for using our affiliate link if you decide to try it out.)

Backblaze lisa louise cooke

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AncestryDNA Results Improving for Jewish and Hispanic Ancestry

dna_magnifying_glass_300_wht_8959Ancestry.com has improved the ability of AncestryDNA to find good matches for Jewish, Hispanic and other ancestries that maybe weren’t so precise before. Here’s the lowdown, quoted liberally from Ancestry.com’s press release:

The problem: Predicting genetic relatives among customers of Jewish and Hispanic descent and some other groups. “In DNA matching, we are looking for pieces of DNA that appear identical between individuals,” says the release. “For genealogy research we’re interested in DNA that’s identical because we’re both descended from a recent common ancestor. We call this identical by descent (IBD). This is what helps us to make new discoveries in finding new relatives, new ancestors, and collaborating on our research.”

“However, we also find pieces of DNA that are identical for another reason. At one extreme we find pieces of DNA that are identical because it is essential for human survival. At the other, we find pieces of DNA that are identical because two people are of the same ethnicity. We call these segments identical by state (IBS) because the piece of DNA is identical for a reason other than a recent common ancestor. This, we have found, often happens in individuals of Jewish descent.”

“The challenge in DNA matching is to tease apart which segments are IBD, and which ones are IBS….Most Jewish customers find that we predict them to be related to nearly every other Jewish customer in the database….Detecting which cousin matches were real and which ones were bogus has always been a challenge for these populations.”

First step toward a solution: “By studying patterns of matches across our more than half a million AncestryDNA customers, we found that in certain places of the genome, thousands of people were being estimated to share DNA with one another–likely a hallmark of a common ethnicity. Our scientific advancements… have allowed us to effectively “pan for gold” in our matches–by throwing out matches that appear to only be IBS, and keeping those that are IBD.”

“While the problem was more pronounced in customers of Jewish and some Hispanic descents, we observed this problem across all ethnic groups.  So, all customers will see increased accuracy of their DNA matches, and significantly fewer ‘false’ matches.”

AncestryDNA results with better matches found by this method “will be available in the coming months,” says the release. They plan to email existing customers when results are ready.

“We’re Cousins?!” DNA for Genealogy Reveals Surprising Relationship

Two cousins recently chatted after learning that they share DNA. The first asked whether the second is white. “No,” she answered. The response: “Are you sure?”  

In our modern society, families are defined in a myriad of different ways. Using DNA for genealogy is certainly contributing to these

A family and its female slave house servants in Brazil, c.1860. Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view full source citation.

changing definitions, as families find themselves genetically linked across social and cultural boundaries to kin they never expected.

Such is the case for a Bartow, Florida resident who submitted a DNA test out of curiosity and found more than she expected. Through a combination of DNA testing and social media, Mary McPherson, who is white, met one of her cousins, Dolores Washington-Fleming, who is black.

Peter Williams entry in 1850 U.S. Census Slave Schedule, St Bartholomews Parish, Colleton, South Carolina. Image from Ancestry.com.

Peter Williams’ entry in 1850 U.S. Census Slave Schedule, St Bartholomews Parish, Colleton, South Carolina. Image from Ancestry.com.

According to an article on The Ledger, the two women share a great-great-grandfather, Peter Edward Williams, who was born in South Carolina two centuries ago. Peter was a slaveholder. The 1850 census slave schedule shows that he held a female slave who was a few years younger than she was. Dolores believes that’s her grandmother’s grandmother.

The two finally met this past May for the first time and enjoyed this new definition of family. I think what I like most is what Dolores’ son said about the situation: “My mom and I are fascinated by history, and this is history. We represent what the times were like back then.” It still boggles my mind just a little that we are able to use the DNA of living people today to resurrect the past, and bring depth and meaning to the present, and possibly even prepare us for the future.

I find myself in a similar situation to Dolores and Mary. My mom was adopted, and even though we have had DNA testing completed for several years, we didn’t have any close matches, and honestly, we weren’t looking. Though she did have a passing interest in her health history, my mom did not feel the need to seek out her biological family. But then over the last few months various pieces of her puzzle have started to fall into place. This is much because of a key DNA match that popped up in March.

With that one match and subsequent correspondence, our interest in my mom’s biological family has skyrocketed. Why? I think it is because our DNA match, sisters from Texas, have shown us genuine kindness and interest. They have truly shown us what it means to be family. Even though we are unexpected, even though we aren’t sure yet how exactly we are connected, they have embraced us without reservation without hesitation.

To me, this is what family is. They accept you in whatever condition you come in and do their best to make you feel like you belong. Now, that kind of welcome isn’t felt by everyone who meets their genetic cousins, and people should carefully consider whether they’re ready for unforeseen results or unanticipated reactions from DNA matches before they get started.

But what about you? If you’ve started down the genetics path, how has DNA testing expanded or strengthened your definition of family?

Learn more about DNA testing for genealogy–how to get started or how to make sense of testing you’ve already had–with my quick guides available at the Genealogy Gems store, and then contact me at YourDNAGuide.com to arrange your own personal DNA consultation.

Resources for DNA for Genealogy

DNA Quick Guides for Genealogy (Bundle them for savings!): Getting Started, Autosomal DNA, Y Chromosome DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, Understanding Ancestry, Understanding Family Tree DNA

New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love It!

Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches?

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HeritageQuest Online Gets Better With Ancestry’s Support

HeritageQuest Online improvesHeritageQuest Online is now even more worth the trip to your local library to access for free, now that its new interface is powered by Ancestry.

For the past few months, library patrons have been getting used to a new version of HeritageQuest Online. This online genealogy resource, available only at libraries or through their websites, “has a new interface powered by Ancestry, enriching the search experience and streamlining the research process,” as described by a company press release a few months ago.

“The intuitive interface provides a fresh user experience that will be familiar to Ancestry.com users,” states the release. “A new Image Viewer offers basic and advanced capabilities without any plug-in, making it easy to share images with family and friends. Image resolution…is significantly improved with the addition of greyscale and color. The Research Aids resources for learning opportunities for novice, intermediate, and advanced searchers.”

Other bloggers have commented on the improved user interface, but what caught my eye was a more detailed, mouthwatering description of all the census extras and other new HeritageQuest Online content (from its site):

  • “Now available for searching is the entire U.S. Federal Census collection from Ancestry.com including supplements (e.g., 1940 Enumeration District Maps) and several schedules (e.g., non-population schedules) previously not included for searching.
  • 20,000 city directories have been added to the existing city directories in the Book collection, increasing the size of the Books collection to more than 45,000 titles.
  • Expanded content in the Revolutionary War Collection. The entirety of the NARA Series M804 is now included here, providing access not only to the previously available “Selected Records” (Series M805) but now also to the “Non-Selected” records of each file.”

Finally, four of the six HeritageQuest Online data collections (Census, Books, Revolutionary War, and Freedman’s Bank) have “brand new search pages with limits, exact matching options, and additional fields for searching.”

Resources:

5 Genealogy Resources to Look for at YOUR Public Library

WorldCat for Genealogy: 40 Million Records and Digital Gateway

Premium podcast 125Genealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about using HeritageQuest Online and other fantastic resources in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 125. (Premium membership required: learn more about that here.)

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