Electronic Records Day 2019: What FamilySearch Is Doing to Preserve Electronic Records

October 9, 2019  - by 

Did you know that CDs have an expiration date? So do external hard drives, flash disk storage, and many other technologies that hold electronic records. Saving these electronic records is an important work, which is why each year on October 10th, we celebrate Electronic Records Day, a day set aside remember the vital work of preserving electronic records and the difference that these records make in our world today.

FamilySearch’s Efforts

Record preservation is the sort of thing we get passionate about here at FamilySearch! One of our main goals is to help more records become available to more people. Last year, we created 32 million images of records in North America, many of which were probate and marriage records, along with naturalization, immigration, and military records.

Some of our most exciting collections that came from those images include records from the War of 1812, World War II, and Ellis Island.

Preserving Electronic Records

A CD, which holds electronic records, is put into a computer

A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into preserving these records. As part of Electronic Records Day, we want to thank the research teams, engineers, archivists, and countless others, including our indexing volunteers, who put in over 4 million service hours in 2018!

We are continuing to work to make more records available to more countries so that others can discover the story of their families. We are especially excited to join with other organizations on this special day to celebrate the saving of these important records.

The story of the human family is vibrant, colorful, and unique, and there is something grounding about discovering our family’s place in it. Maintaining access to these historical records means maintaining lessons from our past. We hope you celebrate with us today by saving some of your own electronic records!

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  1. To F S , Thank you for keeping up with the electronics that storp our precious family records. I am 74 yrs old and a active member of the Wonderful LDS church. I love learning that all my family records are carefully preserved. Now I just need a similar way to scan histories and other records into my FS file. I need what we used to call a cheat-sheet. I attend many Family History training meetings but I have a mental block to figure how to scan and move records to FS. any ideas for seniors?

  2. This is so important – but embedded in this article is a reminder that OUR OWN electronic records (family photos, journals, etc.,) are also kept on those same time-limited media (CDs, DVDs, internal and external hard drives, USB thumb drives, SD cards, etc.). And therefore our own records are just as vulnerable to being lost. Few people know that most CDs/DVDs only last a few years, with the claimed exception of the super-long life products such as M-Discs, etc. Yet there won’t even be drives capable of reading those DVDs a few years from now. Who’s still got a 5 1/4″ floppy drive sitting around (and the discs wouldn’t be good anymore anyway short of extraordinarily good luck!). How about VHS, cassette, or (even worse) 8-track and Betamax audio and video tapes? The recordings on those, whether audio or video, are probably long gone (the tape media itself is probably entirely deteriorated by now if you still have any around, let alone the equipment to play/watch them).

    This is where FamilySearch Memories can be a major preservation resource for OUR precious records. We can upload photos, documents, even audio files as well as stories, and have them preserved in a format that FamilySearch can upgrade as needed, as technology changes, so our great grandchildren and beyond will still be able to see “us” and our world as clearly as we have recorded them today. Use Memories in FamilySearch for your most important ones.

  3. Based on the title, I was expecting to read about how you preserve electronic records. Do you have some secret technology that goes beyond hard drives and Blue-ray disks?

    1. Bruce, this article explains some really good ways you can preserve your family records. I think one of the most important things it talks about is having multiple back-up files. Give it a read to see if there are any ideas you can use!

      1. “Did you know that CDs have an expiration date? So do external hard drives, flash disk storage, and many other technologies that hold electronic records. Saving these electronic records is an important work, which is why each year on October 10th, we celebrate Electronic Records Day, a day set aside remember the vital work of preserving electronic records and the difference that these records make in our world today.”

        “A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into preserving these records.” These 2 previous statements relate well with the title of the article about preserving electronic records. Most of the article is about indexers and efforts to make more records available to researchers, not how to preserve electronic records. There is a huge difference between creating more and more electronic records and preserving them AFTER they are created!

        The article should have been entitled “Electronic Records Day 2019: What FamilySearch Is Doing to Preserve original paper and audio Records.” It was all about preserving “paper” records. I applaud these efforts! However, it has nothing to do with preserving “electronic” records!

        Please do another story that actually describes how the church preserves already created electronic records.

      2. Ashley Hamblin, I strongly “second” that article. I didn’t notice it before my other response moments ago. It explains in much better detail some of the things I stressed. Thanks. An additional resource that’s hard to find (especially at a decent price) is Craig Tuttle’s book, “An Ounce of Preservation.” It’s fairly old (1990s if I remember correctly), but a GREAT resource for the average person who has neither the time nor the resources to pay for a professional to preserve their memories.

  4. I don’t understand. If you can’t preserve your own records that you have researched and have been handed down from families on cd’s & external hard drives then what is your suggestion of where to store them. I have just recently scanned in a 3 inch binder of histories etc from one of my families onto my computer. Now where do I store them. I was considering an external hard drive. I also have scanned cemetery records that my sister had put on cd’s onto my computer. Where do I store them?

    1. Betty Barlow, you have done the right thing. No worry there. The problem is that people stick these records (CDs, DVDs, external hard drives, etc.), on shelves and forget them. Many of us older people still have VHS videos that we’ve never converted to a more modern format, and some even still have 8-track tapes, for example. The dyes used in CDs and DVDs for recording will only last a certain number of years, and there is more and more data that shows the lamination process used in constructing CDs and DVDs can in some cases be more of an issue than the actual recording material. You could consider M-Discs, but need to have a DVD drive that will actually support M-Discs (there are probably others by now that are very long life, I just happen to have researched and finally purchased 15 M-Discs for part of my own collection.

      There will always be the problem that no storage method is “permanent,” and even file formats change as software and technology change. Many of my early written records were in Microsoft Works word processor format – the REALLY old version. They’re not even readable anymore, and the installation disks won’t load on either Windows 7 or Windows 10 (amazingly, those 3½” floppies are still readable!!!). So if we’re going to be preserving our own records, we need to periodically copy those records onto new media BEFORE the old media either deteriorates or becomes outdated with no equipment available to even read it anymore.

      And as someone else said, BACKUP! Have multiple complete backups of all electronic records. We keep one in our fire”proof” safe (it’ll likely preserve them until the fire department can cool down the safe, hopefully – but who knows). That also preserves privacy and prevents theft. But at least one additional copy should be kept off premises. Some people use “the cloud,” though I don’t want my data on someone else’s server (too many break-ins these days, no real privacy guarantees). So have your primary perhaps on your computer, but a totally separate backup on some other medium such as a set of DVDs, and another backup stored off your own property where you trust it to still be safe.

      Then as technology advances, convert the files to more modern media or file formats (PDF, JPG, TIFF, etc., won’t always be around) as time goes on. This is NOT a “save-and-forget” project. Anything on recording tape of ANY sort (VHS, Betamax, cassette, 8-track, reel-to-reel) needs to be digitized ASAP. The same is true for film, whether movie, slides, or negatives. I’m very fortunate to have purchased a Nikon slide/film scanner (Cool Scan V) back when they still made them. You can’t even buy them anymore, except used ones on eBay for well over $1000 these days – if you can find them. With 3000 color slides spanning 60 years, it’s a huge project, but still do-able without paying someone else big money. If you’ve got a FamilySearch Center (different from a Family History Center) near you, check them out – some of them have great slide and/or film scanners at those centers!

    2. Hi Betty, your best solution will be to create a couple of copies on different media. For example, one on your main computer where you’re doing family history work, another on an external hard drive, and another on a flash drive or hard drive at a trusted friend or relative’s house. That last one is in case of disaster like flood or fire in your own home. You can also use cloud storage services, but try not to use them as a primary copy (in case subscriptions expire, etc.). You can use these different media, just move each copy to a new one after about 5 years to be safe.

  5. It’s dificult when devices such as ipads and the latest laptops come without any DVD component. Some ipads don’t even have an external USB port. Two of my external hard drives have collapsed, losing terabytes of data. Not everyone wants to store their important history in the cloud. DVDs and CDs seem to be a more effective way of preserving records than any other way. Why don’t manufacturers include a DVD drawer or USB port in new ipads and laptops?

  6. Thank You All at FamilySearch for all you do every day..I visit often.. I live in Maine and would not be able to travel..This helps me so very much.. Thank You a million times over…