Saving A Life’s Work

Following is another gem by Tom Fiske:

Thomas Fiske When I put my parents’ names on the first genealogy form, there were only my two kids and me to worry about. But I thought they would be interested someday. And to tell you the truth, I wondered who those people were at family gatherings in years past. It was fortunate that I had such a good memory for names. So I dug in with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Now, my grandchildren have children and, as luck would have it, they have names, too. I have to keep written records because I have a tendency to forget them. And tend to step on them at times, because they are so small. I suppose am a bit doddering with one thing and another going wrong.

Over the years, my life has unfolded with good things and very sad ones, too. We lost family members along the way. It is almost bearable to lose a parent or a close cousin, but when a child goes, life loses a good bit of its savor. Even so, I can say I have been blessed.

Nevertheless, when a new cousin shows up out of nowhere, I am the first to enter his name in the record book even though it is a record computer these days. I can’t shake the habit of recording new family members. I have done it for too many years. Maybe this is the way cigarette smokers are. The habit is too strong for them to quit.

Of course, I have never heard of second-hand genealogy actually harming a person, have you?

Now that I can’t see so well, and leaning over a keyboard for more than fifteen minutes is impossible, I am beginning to think that my years of recordkeeping are going to amount to nothing. Young people don’t care so much, anymore, and the piles of genealogy papers are just too big.

For ordinary genealogies, I am going to have Family Tree Maker or some other program make up a book for me. But I will not print it—I will save it to a DVD. Those kinds of books also prepare indexes, so they are not my main concern. I have other supporting documents that can’t for some reason, appear in a Family Tree Maker book. It is those documents I am concerned about.

To salvage the rest of my life’s work, I’ve decided to scan in the most important papers. Then I am going to assemble them into pages of a MSWord or Open Office (which is free) document as though I were writing a book. In fact, the documents will be like leafs in a book. I am going to give titles to the papers and put them into chapters whose names are the names of the lines of my family. Then I am going to have the program number each page. When I have compiled enough chapters, I am going to give the collection a title, title page and a contents page—all the things a book has. Finally I am going to leaf through the pages and chapters, making a concordance. This is a two-column list. It is needed for an indexing program, which is part of MSWord. On the left will be words I want to be in the index, and the other column will be the way I want those words listed.

For instance, Ike, General Dwight Eisenhower, Eisenhower, President Eisenhower, and General Eisenhower may all appear among the pages of someone’s genealogy. The left hand column will list variations in name and the right hand column will list, say, Eisenhower, Dwight D. The Indexing program will find the variables such as Ike and will construct an index showing Eisenhower, Dwight D. and page numbers on which the variations appear. It will be a standard looking index. The index will be named in the Table of Contents and will also utilize page numbers. That is so some reader in the future will be able to scan the disk quickly for all references to the people he is interested in. Tables, photographs, drawings, diplomas and words will all be pages and treated the same.

I will let each DVD I prepare be one book with one index. It would probably be a large book, if it were printed. But it will not be printed, it will just be saved on a DVD disk. I could put two or more “books” on one DVD but DVDs are cheap. And since they are cheap, I might as well make several copies of each at the same time.

What do I do with these DVDs? I write to certain libraries and family collectors and offer them copies. I tell them that the DVDs are indexed for easy access to family members. Who could refuse a well made DVD instead of a box of papers? Not many institutions, I bet.

Yes, it will take some study and preparation, but isn’t it worth saving twenty or even fifty years of research? If I were to produce a book instead, the books would require even more preparation and would cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Eventually someone would reduce my book to a DVD anyway.

My heirs will love me for completing the work. And that is important: completing it. Once I begin the DVD, I am essentially through collecting data. I can’t easily go back. No genealogy is complete, anyway – or error free. Maybe I should include an Introduction in which I describe how far I went and what I would do if only I had a few more clues. In other words, what my limitations were.

Afterwards, if I actually did find great-great-grandfather Alphonse in Bavaria, I could start over or I could produce an appendix. But I could not recall the DVDs that were already spread around the world.

Thomas S. Fiske
Fullerton, CA
November 27, 2009

3 thoughts on “Saving A Life’s Work

  1. Great article! I never thought about putting books to DVD – and that makes so much sense. I think I will definitely think about doing something like that.

    Do the archives and such generally take the DVDs that you produce? I would assume that they would take up less space and therefore require less money for the archives to keep and store them.

    And just for the record – there are some young folks out there who would love to inherit some genealogy. I am one of those young folks – 20 years old!

  2. Saving all your family history records onto DVD makes a lot of sense but I think you should also have a paper copy in some shape or form.

    The reason I say this is that technology changes so quickly these days so that in say twenty years or so most people are unlikely to have a DVD player in their home as it will have been replaced by blue-ray player or some other contraception that does the same job.

    It will therfore be harder in the future for someone to view the data you have stored on your DVD unless they keep transferring the data onto the most up-to-date viewing vehicle. If they dont there is a real risk that all your genealogical records could be lost. A paper copy of the records will however always be able to be picked up, read and appreciated by a young genealogist.

  3. What a great post and what a wonderful thing to do to ensure your research is saved. I agree with Scott that one have a few paper copies too. DVDs may not last forever.

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