Disaster Recovery for Genealogy: “Think About the Things That Matter Most”

Damage reports are surfacing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Today we discuss how two Texas library collections have fared, and disaster recovery strategies for genealogy researchers. I’ve got a fantastic get-started video tip for those trying to rescue documents, photos, and other family heirlooms–and the two steps everyone should take to protect their priceless genealogical collections.

disaster recover things that matter most

Port Aransas, Texas

My heart goes out to those who have been in the paths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recently. Knowing I live in Texas, many of you have asked how my family is doing. I’m happy to report that the storms didn’t reach those of us here north of Dallas. However, our daughter Hannah and her husband, while thankfully safe after evacuating from their home on the Texas shore, suffered the loss of their car and other possessions, and Hannah’s workplace was destroyed. They are now part of the relief and recovery efforts, and look forward to when they will be able to return to their home, which is currently uninhabitable. We feel very blessed that they are safe and sound, and our prayers go out to all who suffered losses.

Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Libraries

Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

As lives are secured and order begins to be restored in devastated areas, I’ve wondered how various genealogy libraries and archives have fared. Genealogy Gems listener Chris emailed me with an alert that the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas has suffered some damage. “So sad for genies!” she writes. Indeed! The Clayton is one of the top public library genealogy research centers in the United States.

Not wanting to disturb their recovery efforts with a phone inquiry, I’ve turned to Google searching and social media for a status report. The Houston Public Library Foundation states that the Clayton is among one of 10 library locations that are “unable to open due to various building damages.” The Clayton Library Friends Facebook page offers more specifics–and this hopeful report:

“Yes, there was some flooding at Clayton Library and according to Susan Kaufman, Manager, Clayton Library is closed this week. Clayton Library staff will be deployed to other libraries that are open.

Clayton Library did suffer some water damage but it was not really that bad. They just need to decide how best to proceed since they were planning on doing renovations soon anyway.”

CityofHouston.news tells us what Clayton staff may be doing at other library branches: “The services and resources that are available at your library system include free access to WiFi and computers, one-on-one assistance with filling out applications and forms, and access to the expertise of library archivists who can assist you in preserving and saving precious family memorabilia such as books, letters and photographs that may have been damaged in the storm.” 

Chris’ email encourages us to support the recovery effort for Houston’s libraries through the Houston Public Library Foundation: here’s the link she sent to their donation portal.

Port Arthur Public Library, Port Arthur, Texas. Image from library website.

Down on the coast, another library system wasn’t so fortunate. The Port Arthur Library will remain closed for months, reports the Port Arthur News. “The Port Arthur Public Library was one of many buildings hit hard by Harvey,” states an article by L.V. Salinas. “It sustained flood damage and the subsequent mold issue inundated buildings often face afterward. It also sustained substantial damage and loss of property of its books, computer equipment, archives and more.”

Crews are working to clean up and preserve what they can. High priority is being given to their historical and genealogical resources: “One of the costlier processes was the freeze-drying of irreplaceable items like genealogy records, microfilm, Port Arthur historical photos and collections. The intent, as performed by companies contracted by the city, was to prevent any further damage from taking place, kill the bacteria that’s present and preserve the items long enough for a transference of information by experts.”

The Port Arthur History Collection is proudly described on the library website; it includes a collection of historic photos that were lovingly organized by volunteers and placed in archival-quality storage. “It’s one of our highest buy testosterone medication priorities,” states a library official in the article. “It’s time sensitive, and it has to happen now….We have to preserve it now.”

Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Researchers

As genealogists, we to have our personal and precious libraries and archives. We build trees in software–some of us spending hundreds or thousands of hours on them. We may have files, books, and other research materials. Many of us are family archivists: the stewards of priceless original family documents, photos, and other artifacts. Here’s some level-headed counsel for after a disaster strikes–and here’s what the rest of us should be doing now, before another disaster.

After a Disaster: Take It One Step at a Time

If you’ve been affected by a recent disaster, I’d like to share this fantastic, level-headed advice from Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections (Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane in 1900–the “deadliest natural disaster in American history”):

I love her compassionate advice:

“Walking into [your home after a disaster] is very overwhelming. Try to take a deep breath and think about the things that matter most to you and what your priorities are. Take it one piece at a time: after you’ve finished that one, move on to the next.” -Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections

Start your recovery efforts with whatever matters most to you, Renee says. But she reminds us that certain items are more vulnerable to destruction than others, so try to also focus on things made out of paper and photographs, then cloth, then wood. Leave your china, silver, and glassware until these other items have been stabilized.

Before Disaster Strikes: Digitize and Back It Up!

If a disaster strikes, most of us won’t have the time to grab all our genealogy research files, photographs, and other precious heirlooms. But many of these items are one-of-a-kind–unless we make them two-or-more-of-a-kind!

As family archivists, we can best preserve our past by:

  1. Digitizing it. Make high-quality digital scans of original documents and photos. Take digital pictures of three-dimensional heirlooms such as clothing, handicrafts, even quilts.
  2. Backing up your digital files. Should a disaster occur–whether storm, theft, or fire–your computer may suffer the same fate as any original documents and heirlooms in your home. So I recommend investing in an automated, cloud-based backup service for your computer.

For a few dollars a month, a cloud-based backup service will continually back up your computer files to a remote server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), you can download them again. Having a digitized version of those original Civil War letters or photos isn’t quite the same as the real thing–but it’s so much better than having them disappear entirely. And if you’re like me, your computer doesn’t just house your photos and research files. It may have hundreds or even thousands of work files, personal files, music, or video files and more.

I use Backblaze for my personal computer and to back up thousands of Genealogy Gems audio, video, and other files. Backblaze is made for everyday consumers: it’s affordable and easy to use. Do your research yourself and choose the best cloud-based backup for you (click here to read the 8 features you should be watching for).

Our Service “Happiness” Manager, Lacey, experienced first hand the benefits of having her computer backed up:

Right after our Genealogy Gems seminar in Dallas in early August, I came home, sat down to work, and discovered my laptop had died. I tried everything I could find to get it going again (thanks to Google search results) but it couldn’t be revived. Thankfully, I had both Backblaze and Dropbox installed on my computer, and I didn’t lose any files at all. I was able to get everything back! Even my Google account saved all of my settings and bookmarks for my Chrome browser, so when I got my new computer, just about everything was restored as though nothing had happened. I was SO RELIEVED! Planning ahead really paid off!

Backblaze lisa louise cooke(If you decide to go with my favorite, Backblaze, thanks for clicking here to purchase it. The modest commission we receive supports the free information I provide on this website and the Genealogy Gems podcast.)

My sincere wishes for the safety of your families–and your family history.

Episode 205

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode #205
with Lisa Louise Cooke

Genealogy Gems Podcast 205

This episode breaks two huge pieces of genealogy news and shares two great conversations:

FamilySearch ends microfilm lending:  how you can get the records you need;

RootsMagic adds Ancestry.com compatibility: sync your Ancestry.com tree to your master RootsMagic file and search Ancestry.com from within the software;

Melissa Barker, the Archive Lady, talks about visiting archives to explore original manuscript record treasures;

Nicole Dyer shares a fun family history activity idea to do with kids?do you have a family gathering coming up that could use this inspiration?

A SURPRISE IN MY MAILBOX!

NEWS

Navigating the end of FamilySearch Microfilm Lending

RootsMagic Adds Ancestry.com Sync and Search

NEW PREMIUM VIDEO!

Lisa Louise Cooke shows you how to use the free Google Earth Pro software to create your own historic map collection customized for your genealogy and family history research. By the end of this class you’ll have a permanent collection of hundreds of gorgeous historic and vintage maps from around the world, organized and ready to use for family history.

Click here to watch a free preview of this full-length video class. Genealogy Gems Premium website members can watch the whole thing: click here to learn more.

The 4th Annual Northwest Genealogy Conference

This episode today is brought to you by the 4rd Annual Northwest Genealogy Conference, hosted by the Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society, north of Seattle in Arlington, WA. Centering on the theme, “Where Does Your Story Begin?” it’s four days PACKED full of genealogy.

There will be well-known and respected keynote speakers, including our friend and genetic genealogist Diahan Southard, speaking on DNA; Kenyatta Berry of Genealogy Roadshow fame, speaking on Caribbean research and using slave schedules in research; and Daniel Earl speaking on Putting History in Your Family History.

Starting off with the Free Day Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Peggy Lauritzen will address beginner’s issues in her Genealogy 101 presentation, which is also a good refresher for the more seasoned genealogists.  There will be such great genealogical information for all levels, AND it’ll be lot of fun!

Between classes take a chance to meet a distant cousin with the “Cousin Wall”. Participate in the genealogy-related scavenger hunt, the Wednesday evening meet and greet and the Friday dress-as-your-ancestor day, and much, much more!

Go to www.NwGC.org for details and to register. Check it out now — registrations are limited, so it’s good to get in early. It’s August 16-19, 2017. It’ll be a great show: don’t miss it!

INTERVIEW: MELISSA BARKER, THE ARCHIVE LADY

Melissa Barker is a Certified Archives Records Manager, the Houston http://www.honeytraveler.com/buy-antibiotics/ County, Tennessee Archivist and author of the popular blog A Genealogist in the Archives and bi-weekly advice column The Archive Lady. She has been researching her own family history for the past 27 years.

Preserve your own family archive

Items in danger include original items in attics, basements, etc.

What to preserve first? The most precious and original items you have!

Restoration tips:

  • Clean documents and photos with archival sponges. Lay the item perfectly flat. Gently place a finger or hand to hold it steady. Work with the sponge from the center outward, in small sections.
  • Keep two-dimensional items as flat as possible.
  • Encase fragile items in Mylar sleeves (buy from archival supply companies).

Image courtesy of Melissa Barker and Houston County, TN Archives.

Visiting an archive:

  • Call ahead! Don’t trust the operational hours from the website. Ask about parking ? it’s often very limited. Ask ahead about access to archival items of interest.
  • Archive etiquette: Follow the rules. Be courteous when working with staff.
  • Museums, societies, archives, and libraries may all have collections in back rooms you can’t see?but you can ask for them.
  • Vertical Files – in folders in cabinets
  • Manuscript Collections – underused in genealogy! Ask for finding aid.
  • Loose Records – the working papers of a court case, for example
  • Unprocessed Records – not yet incorporated into the official collection

Tips for using your mobile devices in archives:

  • Ask for procedures for taking photos with your own device. There may be rules against this or a use fee.
  • Capture the source information by photographs: cover page, page number, folder, box number, manuscript collection name, etc.

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users

Get the app here

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus audio content for this episode comes from Melissa Barker, the Archive Lady,  with more about finding and using original manuscript records in your genealogy research. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/lisa.

 

INTERVIEW: NICOLE DYER

Nicole has been researching her ancestors and delighting in their stories for the past 15 years. Nicole volunteers at the Tucson Family History Center teaching a family history story time group for young children.

Read Nicole’s blog post here

Lisa suggested the free program Jing for video screen capturing: https://www.techsmith.com/jing.html

(Full disclosure: this podcast blog contains affiliate links. We will be compensated if you make a purchase through our link. Isn’t that an awesome way to help keep the free podcast free?!)

Visit Animoto here and start a free trial

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.

 

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: A FAMILY HISTORY MURDER MYSTERY!

Get the book here.

Journalist Helene Stapinski’s new family history memoir:

Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy

A story of poverty and power, love, tragic decisions, and a courageous and desperate woman’s leap for a new life across the ocean

Murder in Matera continues to unravel a past Helene explored in her fantastic first family history memoir, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History.

Find a whole list of fabulous family history-inspired reading at the Genealogy Gems Book Club!

Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer

Lacey Cooke, Service “Happiness” Manager

Family History Episode 34 – Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished June 3, 2014

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh34.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1

Did you know there is a gem of a genealogical resource right in your own backyard? Well, at least in your own neighborhood—and also in just about every neighborhood where your ancestors lived. The public library is one of the most underestimated sources of genealogical information around! It’s free. It has better hours than most government-run agencies. There are staff with research skills, knowledge of their locale and knowledge about their collections. I have invited Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to join us here on the podcast.  In this episode she’s going to give us the inside scoop on the unique genealogical resources that are tucked away in public libraries just waiting to be discovered.

What’s at the library?

Each library has unique materials for its locale. Examples include:

  • City directories
  • Maps
  • Obituary indexes
  • Partnerships with local societies and clubs, and organizations (access to databases)
  • Unique library expertise

TIP: Check with the public libraries in each location where your ancestors lived TIP: Genealogy holdings vary, and often have to do with what local constituents want.

TIP: Get involved and make requests at your local library if you want more genealogy resources.

How to prepare for your visit

  • Determine your questions ahead of time and gather the appropriate ancestor information to take with you.
  • See if they have a genealogy area on the website. There are lots of things on the library website that are not in the catalogue (special exhibits, digitized images, and databases)  Don’t just jump straight to the catalogue.

Search the online catalog and identify the books and resources you want

  • Look for the geographic area, not the person’s surname (town, county, geographical area)
  • Use the Advanced search – “you don’t have to be an advanced researcher to use the advanced search!”
  • Don’t use the word “genealogy” in your search.  It’s pretty useless.

4 more tips from Lisa and Patricia

Email in advance – ask some questions ahead of time:

  • Is the website up to date?
  • Reconfirm hours of operation
  • Parking?
  • What’s the best time to come for more service?
  • Is wi-fi available?
  • Do you need change for copy machines?
  • Are there any special collections you should know about?
  • Do they offer orientations?

Plan a group visit: Some libraries will make special accommodations for a group visit. Ask if they will provide a tour geared to genealogy. And they may have a meeting room where you can have lunch or meet. It’s a small investment in time and money to make sure that you’re going to get the most of the time you’re going to spend there.

Get their expertise! Librarians don’t just know the collection, but they also know research strategy, collection contents, all the questions that have come before, and local area resources.

Phrase your questions for success: Pose questions in terms of a query. For example: “I’m trying to find evidence of someone’s death during this time frame. What materials do you have that may help?” (Don’t just ask specifically for obituaries or government death records—they may not have one but they may have other resources you’re not thinking of.)

Tune in next week to Episode 35 to learn more about researching at the public library, like tips for advance searching those online card catalogs, thinking like a librarian, unique collections at librarians and the types of questions you can ask your public library staff.

Family History Episode 38 – How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 1

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished July 1, 2014

family history genealogy made easy podcast

with Lisa Louise Cooke

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh38.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 38: How to Start a Genealogy Blog, Part 1

Have you ever thought about starting your own genealogy blog? Or, if you have, have you wished you could get some expert tips on making it better? In these next few episodes, we’re going to talk about sharing your research and/or your thoughts on the research process by blogging. But even if you don’t plan on starting a blog anytime soon, I know you will enjoy the seasoned genealogy blogger I’ve invited to start us off. The Footnote Maven’s passion for genealogy is contagious, and you’ll enjoy her sense of humor, and words of wisdom.

I caught up with the Footnote Maven at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. She has been blogging for quite some time now and has much to share on the subject. Her two very popular blogs, FootnoteMaven and Shades of the Departed, are widely read by genealogists everywhere.

In this episode, she shares:

  1. specific tips for getting started, how she prepares her blog posts
  2. what she would have done differently if she could start all over again
  3. 9 tips for getting readers to leave comments.

But first, a Mailbox Moment:

A reader writes in to comment on Episode #36 and questions regarding Family Tree Maker and Ancestry.com. He sends this link, which shows how to use both websites to search for a female who has married. As you suggested, entering the Birth Name in the database, but how to locate that person using Family Tree Maker’s Web Search feature at Ancestry.com. This specific example is for a census record, but other records can also be found using this same technique.

Family History Blogging with the Footnote Maven

According to her website, a “footnote maven” is someone who is dazzlingly skilled at inserting a citation denoting a source, a note of reference, or a comment at the foot of a scholarly writing.

Footnote Maven’s thoughts on getting started with your own genealogy blog: Go look at several genealogy blogs. What do you like? What do not like? Design wise and content wise. Ask yourself what kind of blog you want to write. Who is your audience? What will you offer them?

Biggest piece of advice: You don’t want to be someone else – be yourself!  Everybody else is already taken! “There is something wonderful in all of us – we just have to determine what that is and showcase it.” Pick your niche and stay there. And love doing it, because you’ll never get rich at it! She says, “It is the breath I take…It’s the reason I get up in the morning.”

What She Would Do Differently If She Could Have:

  • 25 posts in draft ready to go allowing more editing time
  • I would tinker more with the look of my blog until it was the way I wanted
  • Invite a few friends to test drive it

And she’ll tell you what was even harder for her than starting her first blog!

Now that the genealogy blogging community is established, people don’t comment as frequently. Footnote Maven shares these for getting comments on your blog:

  1. Thank people for the comments they leave on your blog
  2. Go to their blog and read it
  3. Tell the blogger the positive points in what they are doing
  4. Host a “Carnival” on your blog
  5. Post “off the wall” stuff once in a while
  6. Have good, creative titles for your posts – something that’s going to spark the interest
  7. Use a word in your title that folks haven’t heard before to catch attention
  8. Tag your posts and images
  9. Include “keywords” such as “genealogy.”

Family History Episode 35 – Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished June 11, 2014

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh35.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2

In Episode 34, Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, talked with me about the unique genealogical resources in public libraries just waiting to be discovered. She gave us some great ideas on how to prepare for your visit to get the most out of your time at the library.

Today, we go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Pat is back and she talks to us about:

  • How to search an online library card catalog, including advanced search methods;
  • What kinds of unique collections may be at public libraries, and helps us learn to ask for exactly what we want!
  • The obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.

So dust off your library card and grab your book bag and let’s head back to the public library!

Top Library Tips from Pat and Lisa

  • You don’t have to be advanced on computers to use advanced searches. Use these to home in clearly on what you’re looking for!
  • Don’t think of the public library as just as place to go look at their holdings. Talk to librarians about how to use resources (databases, websites) and how to evaluate what you’ve discovered.
  • Some items are buried at the library. Asking for help may lead to accessing just the records you want. Examples include items in pull-out collections, closed stacks (not in the public areas of the library) and maps, which aren’t always listed in the card catalogue.
  • Tell the staff what materials are important to you. Your interest may lead these items to become more accessible, or be indexed or digitized.

Separate your search terms in advanced searches. Don’t just keyword search “marriages San Francisco.” Enter these terms separately in the advanced search. You may bring up items not found while searching these keywords together.

A lot of local history and genealogy materials do not circulate through interlibrary loan. Some items are totally unique and people travel to that library to see it, so they don’t send it out. One option is to ask the librarian to check the index and table of contents, then scan or photocopy the pages of interest to you and send them. There may be a charge for this but it’s better than not being able to get the book at all!

Finally, don’t make assumptions. Particularly, Pat says, don’t assume that

  • A small library doesn’t have much advanced technology;
  • A library resources only cover its immediate locale; and
  • If you can’t see it is not there! Ask about closed stacks.

Links for Public Libraries and Library Resources

WorldCat.org (to search for materials across multiple libraries)

Library Finder websites:

Australia

Canada

 

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