Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mad Dogs, Genealogists and Data Storage

Whenever I run into topics and words that were common in the mid-1800’s but are all but meaningless today, I consult my copy of Austin’s Indispensable Handbook and General Educator. We love this old book. It was written by George L. Austin, M.D., who in 707 pages covered every topic the young ladies and wives of the day absolutely had to know if they were to be successful in their role in life.

Last night I read about ‘fits’ in dogs. Dr. Austin covered the topic with graphic descriptions that left me laughing out loud.

“Fits in a dog are often mistaken for hydrophobia, and that many a poor beast has been summarily and wrongfully slaughtered. … It is a very serious malady and its symptoms decidedly lunatic. ….. the animal kicks violently, exhibits strong rigidity, foams at the mouth and stares.”

“In this present dreamy condition he sees himself surrounded on every side by danger…… Staring at his feet he makes a bolt at someone’s leg who are only too anxious to jump aside and let the animal pass.”

59 “Hi! Hi! Mad dog! Mad dog! Boys bawl, men shout, women scream, stones are thrown and carters, secure in their vehicles, endeavor to club him as he dashes past”

Apparently this violence may all be avoided by “rubbing its nose with the syrup of buckthorn … energetically”.

My wife apparently didn’t appreciate my howls of laughter and yells of ‘Mad Dog!” at O’Dark Thirty in the middle of the night, however I did avoid having my nose energetically rubbed with the syrup of buckthorn.

I have heard cries of ‘Mad Genealogist’ or ‘Rabid Historian’ from time to time. I don’t remember staring at my feet before running off to the library or to a cemetery but it could have happened. I possibly have foamed at the mouth when I found the links that would knock down a ‘brick wall’ and may have frozen with ‘rigidity’ while digesting and analyzing a discovery that had been hidden from me for decades.

Our grandchildren were here with us for Christmas. As usual, I spent some time expounding on some recent ancestral finds, showing them to the kids who sat in ‘rapt’ attention. The ‘rapting’ probably came from my hand slapping the desk in excitement as I described these magic discoveries.

They probably watched for the kicking leg and especially for the foaming mouth as they kept one eye on their iPods or other handheld electronic marvels anticipating an especially expressive gesture by grandpa that may knock them out of their hands to the floor.

I’m sure the term “Mad Pa!” “Mad Pa!” went through their minds at times.

Fortunately, as time goes by they mature and in at least the minds of some of them, the love of family history turns on and they enjoy hearing about their ancestors, seeing old photos and maps and listening to the trials, travails and successes that chronicled their lives.

Our oldest granddaughter commented on her Scots ancestry (from both of her parents) and said that at the start of every school year, she shows her teachers my genealogy websites and blogs. The teachers use them to teach the class about not only history, but history as it applies to the family of someone in their class. Her sister joined us and said that she does the same thing and that her teachers use them too.

Hearing these comments, I stared at my feet, possibly went rigid and thought .... how am I going to get all of my research and copies of my photos and documents to them as they grow older, marry and react to the spark of love for family history that was passed on through my genes?

Turning my office chair to face them, my eyes wandered over the dozens of heavy three inch 3-ring binders that are full of family history documents, the hundreds of vital record and ancestral history books, the file cabinets full research that I’ve collected and indexed over a half century.

How am I going to insure that they have a copy of all this hard won information when they are ready to take up the quest?

It won’t be on paper in most cases. It will be digital. I’ve scanned over a terabyte of digitized images of the records, but that is only a tithe on the total needed. A hard drive isn’t going to hold everything in my files, let alone all of the information I intend to add in the coming years. Will a hard drive of any size even be a relevant media device in 5 years?

I’ve tried to be methodical in my file naming conventions, records storage and data backups, but the truth is, even I’m starting to find that I can’t find ‘stuff’ that I know I have. There is just too much information in my files. My ‘methodical’ naming conventions and file folder names and links have mutated over the years. Most of the document are listed in my Clooz database but will it be relevant in ten years? Will our grandchildren have the patience to navigate the folders and files to put the pieces together in an even more coherent collection?

I use Legacy as my primary genealogy program, but also have many others that I use daily. I back up my data in the native format of these programs and also as GEDCOM files. The GEDCOM’s strip out as much as two thirds of the information that Legacy allows me to add to my records in addition to the basic facts allowed by the GEDCOM standard.

The GEDCOM data format will survive at least until the oldest of our grandchildren gets started in family history research on their own, so they won’t lose the basic info. Hopefully, their parents will keep the data up to date and that will help keep the data intact.

How can I ensure that the information will get to them though? What media will I use to store it on?

One of our grandsons went from a simple hand held game received at Christmas two years ago to an Internet connected Game Boy this Christmas. A hundred fold increase in computing power and functionality in just a couple of years. What digital tools will he be using twenty years from now after he has finished college, is married and hopefully settled enough to at least restore grandpas old family history data?

Will our grandchildren and their families laugh at my ancestral writings and blog postings and deem them as being as arcane and antique as my enjoyment of the words in Dr. Austin’s book? When they read my words to their children, will they wake mom with chortles of the ‘Mad Dog’ equivalent in my writings? Probably so. I hope they laugh with delight. Loud and long. I hope they love the fact that their grandfather wrote all this stuff for them.

However it happens, their exceedingly important ancestral information needs to survive. I’ve left copies of it to be stored in the granite vaults and by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, but that it is only a small portion of the total story. It lacks the color, the personality ‘flesh’ created by the photos and stories that turn the names and dates into real people.

I’ll keep backing up my data constantly and trying to stay current with technology so that hopefully the work isn’t lost over time.

When I was five, I wrote a story about a handheld flat panel ‘computer’ that included slots for baby blue semi-transparent holographic chips that contained immense amounts of data. No one could understand what I was talking about, but I knew. The images I saw in my mind then are still just as clear as they were fifty-five years ago. Maybe they’ll become a reality in time for me to pass on my data before I myself ‘pass on’.

What are your plans for ‘immortalizing’ your own hard work? I hope you are spending time thinking about it and doing ‘something’ in regard to backing up your data on a REGULAR basis. Don’t loose all your work by inaction. Do something.

The topic of data backup and forward compatibility is a constant theme in my mind. I’m concerned that I’m not doing enough to ensure that I’ve done all that I can to address the issue.

If you have a good “current” and / or a forward focused solution, let the rest of us know. If I get a copy, I’ll pass it or your link on for the benefit of the rest of us who are infected with the family history gene. Hopefully, we can all find a way of propagating our records to future generations.