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Genealogists use digital storage devices to store genealogical information, including names, dates, places, photographs, historical documents, sources, e-mails, correspondence, family contact information, family videos, and audio recordings. The purpose of this class is to educate genealogists about building digital storage systems, addressing pros and cons of various storage mediums, and solutions for data disaster-recovery. Learn more about virtual storage options.
Digital is a numeric representation of something physical. Digitization means that a physical item is converted into a series of numbers. That series of numbers is used to recreate a likeness of that item on a computer screen.
- Photograph + Digital camera = Digital image
- Document + Scanner = Digitized document or digital image
- Sound + Digital recorder or converter = Digitized audio
Pros and Cons of Digital
Creating a long-term digital storage medium continues to be a challenge for genealogists at every level. Understanding digital processes can help genealogists avoid losing information and help preserve genealogy.
Digital storage allows the user to store mass amounts of data in a small space, and allows the users to easily share information with others. Digital items are easily edited, enhanced, or cropped.
Unlike paper copies, that, when partially damaged may be re-created and are still useable, digital data may only require a minor flaw to render all of the data unusable. Digital data has not been around for centuries like paper, so the effects of time and elements on digital data are not completely understood.
Dynamic and Static
Storage devices have different uses. Understanding how a storage device works helps the user make important decisions about how it will be used in genealogy.
This type of storage device allows the user to work within the storage device, making changes while working within the file, and easily save changes to a file or database. This type of storage device has many advantages for genealogists, allowing one to work within genealogical databases and frequently add, remove, and change information.
This type of storage device allows the user to save data at a specific point in time and create a non-changing version of the data that may not be easily altered or deleted.
Types of Digital Storage
There are only three true types of digital storage: magnetic, optical disks, and solid state, although there are several different digital storage devices created from these.
Examples: CDs, DVDs, DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, CD+Rs, and Blu-Ray
Optical disks are often used for backing up, storing, or sharing information. Optical disks easily store data such as photographs, movies, audio files, and non-changing data. While optical disks are often thought of as a long-lasting solution to digital storage, the lifetime of optical disks has not been proven. Transferring data onto new disks every 5-10 years is a good practice to preserve information.
Solid State Storage
Examples: Memory cards, flash drives, and internal storage in digital recorders, digital cameras, cell phones, Blackberry devices, PDAs, MP3 players, and iPods.
Solid state devices are a great way to quickly check, update, transfer, and share data. They provide a temporary storage solution for portable information. Solid State devices provide a quick, easy, and accessible way to gather, add, and temporarily store genealogical information until it may be organized and stored in more permanent formats.
Examples: Hard drives (computer hard drives, servers, and external hard drives), floppy disks, and archival magnetic tape (NOT a consumer product).
Magnetic storage is often used as a long-term storage solution, often with regular backups of information. The most common form of magnetic storage is the hard drive. Hard drives help genealogists quickly add, change, locate, and share information. Hard drives are used in computers, servers, and external hard drives and are magnetically coated disks with magnetic particles. Unlike solid state devices, damaged hard drive data may often be recovered.
Preparing for data disasters will also help genealogists preserve information over generations. Being prepared for a data disaster at all times is the best way to avoid one. Examples of data disasters include:
- Device failure
- Outdated formats
- Natural disasters
- Electrical surge damage
- Electromagnetic damage
- Human loss
To avoid data disasters:
- Always have more than one copy of data, in more than one place, accessible by more than one person.
- Regularly move information to current storage formats. Genealogists hold the responsibility to keep their own data in a current, readable, useable format.
- Store information on more than one type of device.
- Prepare for the worst. Scan all original photographs, and documents.
- Recover immediately. If a storage device fails, or is damaged, transfer the data to a safe location and replace the device.
- Learn from mistakes and tragedies. If a digital data catastrophe occurs, don’t allow the same mistake to happen again.
A Reliable storage system
All storage devices have benefits and specific uses. Understanding how to use these devices will help genealogists keep information safe and current. Personal storage systems should include:
- Two or more hard drives (computer, and/or external).
- Short-term storage elements such as flash drives and/or memory cards for everyday data gathering and transfer, regularly backed up to a hard drive or CD.
- A secondary or static storage backup, such as virtual/online storage or regular CD backups
- More than one location for data storage
- Dual-person accessibility for information and file
Genealogists may store small amounts of data on a flash memory device to work with on a regular basis, and back up the information to a larger storage device, such as an external or computer hard drive. Regularly backing up hard drive data to optical disks will help prevent digital data loss.
Genealogists are responsible to keep their own data in a current, readable, and usable format.
Protecting information will help preserve family history for future generations.
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