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

Resources

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How Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning Impact Genealogy

Artificial Intelligence and Genealogy
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 32

In this episode we tackle a few small geeky tech questions about artificial intelligence, better known as AI, that may have a pretty big impact on your genealogy life. Questions like:

  • Is artificial intelligence the same thing as machine learning?
    And if not how are they related?
  • And am I using AI, maybe without even being aware of it?
  • And what impact is AI really having on our lives? Is it all good, or are there some pitfalls we need to know about?

We’re going to approach these with a focus on family history, but pretty quickly I think we’ll discover it’s a much more far-reaching subject. And that means this episode is for everyone.

Free Webinar AI Machine learning and Genealogy

Watch the free video below.

While I’ve done my own homework on this subject and written about it in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, I’m smart enough to call in an expert in the field. So, my special guest is Benjamin Lee. He is the developer of the Newspaper Navigator, the new free tool that uses artificial intelligence to help you find and extract images from the free historical newspaper collection at The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America. I covered Newspaper Navigator extensively in Elevenses with Lisa episode 26.

Ben  is a 2020 Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress, as well as a third year Ph.D. Student in the Paul G. Allen School for Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, where he studies human-AI interaction with his advisor, Professor Daniel Weld.

He graduated from Harvard College in 2017 and has served as the inaugural Digital Humanities Associate Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,  as well as a Visiting Fellow in Harvard’s History Department. And currently he’s a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Thank you so much to Ben Lee for a really interesting discussion and for making Newspaper Navigator available to researchers. I am really looking forward to hearing from him about his future updates and improvements.

Artificial Intelligence and Genealogy

Covering technology and its application to genealogy is always a bit of a double-edged sword. It can be exciting and helpful, and also problematic in its invasiveness.

Tools like family tree hints, the Newspaper Navigator and Google Lens (learn more about that in Elevenses with Lisa episode 27) all have a lot to offer our genealogy research. But on a personal level, you may be concerned about the long reaching effects of artificial intelligence on the future, and most importantly your descendants. In today’s deeply concerning cancel culture and online censorship, AI can seriously impact our privacy, security and even our freedom.

As I did my research for this episode I discovered a few things. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is having the same kind of massive and disrupting impact that DNA has had on genealogy, with almost none of the same publicity. (For background on DNA data usage, listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 217. That episode covers the use of DNA in criminal cases and how our data potentially has wide-reaching appeal to many other entities and industries.)

A quick search of artificial intelligence ancestry.com in Google Patents reveals that work continues on ways to apply AI to DNA and genealogy. (See image below)

Patents for AI machine learning and DNA

Patent search result: a pending patent involving AI and DNA by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

AI now makes our genealogical research and family tree data just as valuable to others outside of genealogy.

This begs the question, who else might be interested in our family tree research and data?

Who Is Interested in Your Genealogy Data

One answer to this question is academic researchers. During my research on this subject The Record Linking Lab at Brigham Young University surfaced as just one example. It’s run by a BYU Economics Professor who published a research paper on their work called Combining Family History and Machine Learning to Link Historical Records. The paper was co-authored with a Notre Dame Economics and Women’s Studies professor.

In this example, their goals are driven by economic, social, and political issues rather than genealogy. Their published paper does offer an eye-opening look at the value that those outside the genealogy community place on all of the personal data we’re collecting and the genealogical records we are linking. Our work is about our ancestors, and therefore it is about ourselves. Even if living people are not named on our tree, they are named in the records we are linking to it. We are making it all publicly available.

In the past, historical records like birth and death, military and the census have been available to these researchers, but on an individual basis. This made them difficult to work with. Academic (and industry) researchers couldn’t easily follow these records for individual people, families, and generations of families through time in order to draw meaningful conclusions. But for the first-time machine learning is being applied to online genealogy research data making it possible to link these records to living and deceased individuals and their families.  

It’s a lot to think about, but it’s important because it is our family history data.  We need to understand how our data is being used inside and outside the genealogy sandbox.

Answers to Your Live Chat Questions About AI

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

Elevenses with Lisa Q&A on AI and Genealogy

www.GenealogyGems.com/Elevenses

From Linda J: ​What about all the “people search” sites (not genealogy) that have all, or a lot of, our personal date?
Lisa’s Answer: My understanding is that much of the information provided on many of the “people search” websites comes from public information. So while the information is much easier to access these days, it’s been publicly available for years. That information isn’t as accessible to projects like the one discussed in this episode because those websites don’t make their Application Programming Interface (known as API) publicly available like FamilySearch does.

From Doug H: Wouldn’t that potentially find errors in our trees?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes.

From Sheryl T: ​Do these academic researchers have access to the living people on the trees? Or are those protected from them as it is to the public?
Lisa’s Answer: They have access to all information attached to people marked as “Living Person.” Therefore, if the attached record names them, their identity would then be known. Click a hint on your tree at Ancestry for example, and the found records clearly spell out the name of the person they believe is your “Living” person.

From Nancy M: ​How long do the show notes stay available? am looking for Google Books two weeks ago and last week’s Allen Co Library.
Lisa’s Answer: The show notes remain available until the episode is archived in Premium Membership. You can find all of the currently available free Elevenses with Lisa episodes on our website in the menu under VIDEOS click Elevenses with Lisa.

Nannie A: I heard a rumor that Ancestry .com has been sold. Do you know if that’s true?
Lisa’s Answer: Yes, they were sold again this year. Read:
Private equity firm Blackstone Group Inc. buying Ancestry.com for $4.7 billion
Private equity wants to own your DNA by CBS News.

Resources

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