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.
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:
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.
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!
(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.
A Genealogy Gems listener was robbed of both her computer AND external hard drive. “Thank goodness we had a web-based backup, so we did not lose our precious research or photographs.” Here’s what web-based backup is–and how you can save a whopping 50% on Backblaze backup service THIS coming Monday only).
Recently Kathy from Carmel Valley, California wrote in with a sobering message.
“Lisa, I thought you might share a reminder with your listeners. My husband and I were out of town last week and were robbed. The robbers took only electronics (thank goodness) and did not mess up the house….another thing to be thankful for. But your listeners can not rely on external hard drives as backup. If the external hard drive is by the computer….the robbers will take that as well.
“Thank goodness we had a web-based backup. So we did not lose our precious research or photographs. It could have been so much worse. This is just another reason why your listeners should look at BackBlaze or another company that provides the same service. I am grateful that I did. Yes, we have to purchase new computer equipment….BUT we have our research and our photos. Gratitude, gratitude.”
Web-based computer backup–also referred to as cloud backup–can certainly minimize our losses if we experience a disaster or robbery. My cloud backup service is Backblaze. Backblaze works behind-the-scenes 24/7 to save a copy of every file on my computer to its secure cloud storage. If I ever need it, I can log in to Backblaze and there it will be, waiting for me.
THIS coming Cyber Monday–November 30, 2015–you can purchase Backblaze cloud backup service for 50% off ONLY through Genealogy Gems.Sign up for my email newsletter nowand I’ll send you a coupon code and special instructions for redeeming it on Sunday evening. This fantastic Cyber Monday offer is only valid on Monday, November 30, 2015 and only with the coupon code and instructions you’ll get via my email!
We already trust Backblaze as the official cloud-based computer backup service for Genealogy Gems. Now they’ve added another optional layer of security: even better!
Recently Backblaze, our computer backup service and a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems podcast, let us know that we can now activate an extra layer of security to better protect the data we have stored with them.
The feature is called two-factor verification. It requires that we present both our account credentials and a verification code from a second device to gain access to our Backblaze account. That means someone who was trying to steal our data would have to have both our account information and access to the phone that’s tied to the account. Pretty unlikely!
“This feature is available immediately to all Backblaze users and does not require an update to be used,” they told us. It’s also not automatic–you can activate it if you choose.”
We’ve heard from so many Gems listeners and readers who have purchased Backblaze that we wanted to share with you how to enable this optional feature.
How to Activate Backblaze Computer Backup Service’s Two-factor Verification Security
1. Log in to your existing Backblaze account.
2. Open the “My Settings” page as shown here.
3. Click on the “Sign in Settings” link on the right hand side. If you already have a phone number set up for your account, go to Step 4. If you do not have a phone number set up for your account you will see this screen:
In the “Verify Phone Number” window, you’ll enter your phone number and then verify it is correct by having Backblaze send a verification code to the phone. That verification code is entered in this window. You can not turn on two-factor verification without successfully completing this step.
4. Once you have a phone number set up for your account, you’ll see a screen like this when you click on the “Sign in Settings” link.
5. Choose the two-factor verification setting you desire and select “Update” to change the setting.
6. The set-up/change of your two-factor verification setting is now complete.
What it will be like to use Backblaze two-factor vertification
Let’s say you have selected the “Every time I sign in” option for your two-factor verification setting. Here’s what happens when you sign in to Backblaze:
1. Click the sign-in button and enter your Backblaze account credentials.
2. A unique text message is sent to the phone number on your account, as shown here:
3. At the same time, a “Two-Factor Verification” screen is presented.
4. Enter the code from the text message you received into the “Two-Factor Verification” screen, then press “Enter Code.” You have 10 minutes to enter the code. If you do this correctly you will be logged in to your Backblaze account.
Why not use it?
This is an optional feature on Backblaze. Why would you choose not to activate it?
“It is important to weigh the added security of two-factor verification against the possibility that you will not have the second device with you when you require access to your Backblaze account,” says an email from the company. Some users may not consider what they’ve got stored with Backblaze to be the kind of data that needs extra layers of protection. Others may not want the hassle of an additional layer of security.
But think carefully–Backblaze backs up ALL the files you tell it to. You may have personal and financial data in at least some documents: bank account or credit card numbers, digitized birth certificates or Social Security cards.
Consider what works best for you! Our best recommendation is to HAVE a computer back-up service in place. We chose Backblaze because of its reputation, the quality and security of its service and its very reasonable price. Click here to learn more about Backblaze and why we selected them as a sponsor of our free Genealogy Gems Podcast.
If you’re lucky enough to have old home movies or photos, you probably want to preserve and share them. Consider these tips from digital film conversion expert Kristin Harding from Larsen Digital–and check out her coupon code for Genealogy Gems fans.
Recently, digital conversion expert Kristin Harding of Larsen Digital joined us on the Genealogy Gems podcast to answer questions and share top tips for digitizing old home movies and photographs. Here’s some of her advice:
On digitizing old photographs
Prioritize items that are the oldest, most special or rare, fragile or deteriorating (capture that image before it crumbles or fades).
Resolve to scan at a higher resolution: Scan old family pictures at 600dpi for 4 x 6 photos. Very small photos (and images you want to enlarge from a small portion, like a group photo) should be 1200 dpi. That way, when you enlarge them, you’ll get the sharpest, most clear image possible.
Consider the benefits of a professional scanning service: Professional scanners are faster, especially for more complicated projects like negatives and slides. You get better color quality and contrast and often post-scan editing like cropping and digital color correction.
On digitizing old home movies
All those old home movie formats like Super 8 and VHS are rapidly degrading and most of us can’t even play them anymore. Preserve old home movies as MP4 digital video files on your hard drive and back them up regularly with your entire hard drive. Digital video files also offer the convenience to edit your footage and upload files online to easily share with friends & family.
Save backup copies of these digital files on DVDs and CDs. The ability to read DVDs from our devices is already fading, but these “hard copies” can be kept in a safety deposit box for safe-keeping. They can be easily shared with relatives and popped into a DVD player (for those whose televisions aren’t hooked into their computers).
A final tip for all digital media: save multiple copies of all these to multiple locations. “For example, your home computer would be one location; I think an external hard drive is always a smart bet because computers crash all the time,” says Kristin. “I personally believe that storing it with a cloud provider is critical to ensure that your media never gets lost or erased. If you have your files backed up into different locations, no matter what disaster strikes, (computer crash, floods, fire, moving) you will always have a copy safe somewhere.”
Our friends at Larsen Digital are experts at digitizing your precious memories. They can also do restoration! They specialize in slides, negatives, movie film, video tape, photos, audio, and more. Bonus! Here’s a coupon code for Larsen Digital:
Use code GenGem for 15% off! Visit https://larsendigital.com/lisa.html
More Photo Resources
How to Organize Your Hard Drive, Episodes 32 and 33 of the free Family History Made Easy podcast