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.

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New England Vital Records and More: New Genealogy Records Online

Millions of New England vital records are among newly-published genealogy records online. So are English parish records, Irish Easter Rising records, Italian civil registrations, South African church records, and records for Georgia WWI soldiers and Louisiana women.

New online this week are millions of new genealogy records from around the world! First, we’ll feature these (mostly) free vital records collections for New England states–but keep scrolling. We’ve got records to mention for other parts of the U.S., as well as England, Ireland, Italy, and South Africa.

New England Vital Records

New England vital records online got a BIG bump this week with the following additions:

Sample image from “Maine Vital Records, 1670-1921.” Database with images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : 2 May 2017. Citing Division of Vital Statistics. State Board of Health, Augusta. Click to view.

Connecticut. More than 755,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, Connecticut Marriages, 1640-1939. This hybrid index/image collection has this note: “We have legal rights to publish most of the images associated with these records; however, there are a few records that will not have an accompanying image available for view.”

Maine. FamilySearch.org has added nearly a half million indexed names to its collection of Maine Vital Records, 1670-1921. According to the site, the collection is comprised of a “name index and images of birth, marriage, and death returns acquired from the State Board of Health, Division of Vital Statistics and the state archives.”

Massachusetts: New images have been added to the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s collection for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, 1789-1900. The update includes the following volumes: Immaculate Conception (Salem), St. Mary (Salem), and Sacred Heart (Roslindale).

Rhode Island. FamilySearch has added over a half million new indexed names and 30,000 digital images to its free collection, Rhode Island – Vital records. These are described as “Certificates and registers of births, 1846-1898, 1901-1903, marriages 1901-1903 and deaths, 1901-1953 acquired from the State Archives in Providence.”

Other new and updated records in the US include:

  • Newspapers – Baltimore MD and Hartford CT. Newspapers.com has added issues for two major papers: the Baltimore Sun (1837-2017) and the Hartford Courant (1764–2017). (With a Newspapers.com Basic subscription, you can access issues of these papers through 1922; or, with a Publisher Extra subscription, access those early years and additional issues from 1923 onward.)
  • Georgia. A memorial book for Georgia soldiers who served in World War I is being updated to include the names of African-Americans who served. “Due to the social and racial conditions of the time, this Memorial Book contains the information for only white soldiers,” explains the database landing page on the free United States World War I Centennial Commission website. “The current project is rectifying this by adding information for Georgia’s African-American personnel that also died in service. Further, we are adding names found on WWI monuments and plaques that are missing from the original Memorial Book….As missing names are determined and documented, they will be added” We learned about it in this press release from the University of North Georgia.
  • Louisiana. A collection of digitized publications by the Louisiana United Methodist Women (and predecessor organizations) is now free to search at the Centenary College of Louisiana Archives & Special Collections web portal (scroll down to Digital Collections and click Louisiana United Methodist Women’s Publications). According to an announcement by the college, “The digitized material includes annual reports (1884-2014) and newsletters (1963-2006) – 12,000 pages in total. Researchers can access them online, page through each volume, download complete PDFs, and search the full text versions.” Published digitized material is easy to keyword-search for ancestors’ names and hometowns. Here’s a general tip for finding married women’s names in older documents: search on just her surname or her husband’s name, as she may appear as “Mrs. Alexander Reed.”

England: Newspapers and Parish Records 

The British Newspaper Archive has added two new titles, The Yarmouth Independent (a Norfolk paper, 1862-1891) and The Rugby Advertiser (a Warwickshire title, 1850s-1950s).

Subscription website TheGenealogist has published over 100,000 parish records and thousands of voter records. According to the announcement, polls books include “35 different registers of people who were entitled to vote in Wakefield, West Yorkshire and other constituencies situated in Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset and New Westminster in Canada….Electoral records are taken from the official lists produced to record who was entitled to vote in the various parliamentary elections.” Among new parish record collections are “100,000 new individuals added for the County of Worcestershire and additionally the Registers of the Parish Church of Rochdale in Lancashire that covers the period between 1642 and 1700.”

Findmypast.com has added 312,000 new records to its collection of Kent marriage records. New additions are for the parishes of Bapchild, Biddenden, Kilndown, Tenterden, and Wittersham. Additionally, over 18,000 new records have been added to Kent Baptisms (parishes of Bapchild, Brompton, Chatham, New Gillingham, Wingham and Wittersham); over 3,000 records have been added to Kent Banns (parishes of Bapchild, Biddenden, and Wittersham); and over 18,000 new records are in Kent Burials (parishes of Bapchild, Kilndown, Tenterden, and Wittersham).

The site has also added to its records for North West Kent, described as “areas within the London boroughs which were historically part of Kent.” Over 23,000 records have been added to the North West Kent Baptisms collection, and another 15,000 to North West Kent Burials.

Ireland – Easter Rising and Newspapers

Findmypast.com has added over 76,000 records to its collection, Easter Rising & Ireland Under Martial Law 1916-1921. According to the site, “These once classified records, digitized from original documents held by The National Archives in Kew, record the struggles of life under martial law in Ireland and contain the details of soldiers and civilians who participated in or were affected by the Easter Rising of April 1916.”

“Your ancestor may be found in the records if they were killed or wounded during the conflict, arrested and held in internment, or tried by court martial. Additionally, if their home or place of work was searched they may appear in the records as the collection shows the efforts of the military and police to discover arms, ammunition and seditious material through thousands of raids.”

Also, Findmypast.com has added over 401,089 new articles and one new title to its collection of historic Irish Newspapers. The Ballymena Weekly Telegraph is the latest publication to join the collection and currently covers the years 1904, 1906-1916, 1921-1929 and 1931-1957.

Italian genealogy Italy flagItaly – Civil Registration

FamilySearch.org has added to its free online collections of Italy’s civil registration records. Among them are:

  • Trapani, 1906-1928; 1.1 million images added to an existing collection
  • Brescia, 1797-1815, 1866-1943; 620,801 new browseable image
  • Napoli, 1809-1865; 164,991 images added to an existing collection
  • Benevento, 1810-1942, over a million images added to an existing collection

South Africa – Church records and civil death records

FamilySearch.org has added more than 61,000 digital record images and over 3,000 indexed names to its collection, South Africa, Dutch Reformed Church Records (Stellenbosch Archive), 1690-2011. Also updated at FamilySearch.org is South Africa, Cape Province, Civil Deaths, 1895-1972, with over 16,000 new names.

Keep up with genealogy news from around the world with Lisa Louise Cooke’s FREE Genealogy Gems weekly e-newsletter. You’ll get a free Google Research e-book as a thank-you gift when you do. From this page (or any other on this website), just enter your name where it says “Sign up for the free email newsletter” and click GO.

 

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