Step by Step Summary of Personal Archiving

Digital Summary--shutterstock_115846882

Part 4 of this series provided guidance in getting started with digital preservation. This final part ends the series with a summary of archiving your family history records digitally.

Putting it all Together

A lot of information has been presented in this series. It may be helpful to summarize and supplement it here in a step-by-step outline.

Step 1- Once you have decided to start using digital preservation to augment and enhance physical preservation of your family history records, you should develop a scheme to organize your digital records.

Personal computers store digital records as computer files that must be named and placed in computer folders. Computer folders may be nested (i.e., cascaded). To retrieve a specific file or digital record, the computer must know the file path. A file path starts with the highest level folder and works its way down to the lowest level folder and finally to the file name. Here is an example of a Windows operating system file path—

\Personal Archiving\Copyright Fundamentals for Genealogy by Mike Goad.pdf

Personal Archiving is the folder name the author used when creating this folder, and Copyright Fundamentals for Genealogy by Mike Goad is the file name chosen by the author when downloading this file from the Internet. .pdf is the file extension that identifies the file’s format (PDF or Portable Document Format in this case).

As pointed out previously, the length of a file path is limited to 256 characters. Part of your organization scheme should include a descriptive information scheme. Decide a scheme for naming both folders and files with descriptive information that will not exceed the 256 character limit. Also keep in mind that you can always rename a folder or file by right-clicking on the folder or file name and selecting “Rename.”

There is no right or wrong organization scheme. Yours should be a scheme that is logical to you, but is also easily explained to and understandable by others who will carry on the preservation work after you.

Step 2- If you don’t already have a personal computer, get one that has a DVD drive if possible. You can use either a Windows-based computer or a Mac. Make sure you are trained on your computer and its operating system so you know how to use it effectively. A discussion of operating systems is beyond the scope of this series.

Step 3- It is likely that you will need an Internet connection for your computer. This should be available from your local phone service or cable service provider.

Make sure you know how to use the Internet and do searches before you get started with digital preservation. Some popular search engines are Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Step 4- Acquire the digitizing equipment you will need. You may already have a digital camera. If not, you may want to get one anyway because digital cameras are so much more versatile than film cameras (now might be the time to make the jump!).

Most of your digitizing will probably be done best with a scanner—make sure you get one that will support at least 1200 dpi and has a platen (i.e., flatbed) that will accommodate the maximum size of records you will be digitizing. You might want to hold off digitizing audio and video until you have some experience digitizing paper records.

All digitizing equipment has supporting software that must be installed on your computer. Usually a CD is provided that will automatically install the software with very little interaction from you.

Before attempting to use any digitizing equipment, set the resolution level of each device to a high setting will that meet your needs, as discussed in Parts 3 and 4 of this series.

Step 5- Acquire the archive-grade storage media and required equipment that you have decided to use to archive your records.

A starter kit that contains an LG Super-Multi Drive and some M-DISCs may be pre-ordered on the Millenniata website ( now. Pre-orders will be fulfilled by the fourth quarter of 2011.

Step 6- Decide which file formats you will use for preservation. PDF/A should be used for many (if not most) records because of its ISO designation as an “electronic document file format for long term preservation.”JPEG 2000 is attractive for still images because it simultaneously delivers high resolution and reasonable file size, and should be an industry standard for many years to come.

Unfortunately, some digitizing devices will only produce lossy JPEG. If this is the case with any of your digitizing devices (such as a digital camera), do not convert the JPEG to a JPEG 2000—doing so will actually reduce resolution quality! You may consider transforming the JPEG to a high resolution PDF/A instead. If your device will produce TIFF, use TIFF files as your sources for JPEG 2000 creation. You might hold off deciding on audio and video formats until you have some experience with PDF/A and (possibly) JPEG 2000.

Once you have decided on the file formats you want to use, you should then acquire the necessary software. Names of products and vendors were provided in Part 3 of this series. Some software can be downloaded over the Internet after being charged to a credit card. Other software can be ordered directly from the vendor. Most products feature a 30 day free trial.

In general, the maxim “You get what you pay for” seems to apply when acquiring file format software, so beware of software that is free for personal use (although this type of software can help you get acquainted with a file format and a particular product before making a financial commitment).

Step 7- If you have any digital records already, such as digital family photographs, they will make excellent source files from which to try your first preservation actions. If you don’t have any, take a few pictures with your digital camera, load them to your computer, and you will have a test collection ready to go.

First, review copyright considerations for the test records and eliminate from the collection any that will violate copyright law if you copy them for preservation reasons. Next, set up the folder organization that you developed in Step 1 using the descriptive information scheme that you also developed. After that, select a file from the test collection and copy it to the appropriate preservation folder.

If you drag the file to this folder rather than copy it, you will move the file by changing its file path. You may or may not want to do this. Sometimes it is good to keep the original file in its original folder so you can go back to it if anything goes wrong. If you drag the file to the new folder and have a problem, you cannot go back to the original. But the downside of copying is that it takes more disc space. As you get more experience working with digital files, you’ll discover which approach works better for you.

After you have copied the test file to its target preservation folder, decide if you want to change the file format to a preservation format (assuming this is possible). PDF/A software will allow you to transform a file such as a Word document or a JPEG image to the PDF/A format. Likewise, JPEG 2000 software will allow you to convert a TIFF image to the lossless JPEG 2000 format.

Performing such transformations is where you get experience with preservation formats and your new software. Don’t be afraid to try something—as long as you keep the original file around, you can always start over and delete the previous unsuccessful attempt. And remember that you can always rename a folder or file at any time.

Step 8- Whether or not you transform your test file to a preservation format, the next step is to enrich the file with descriptive information. As explained previously, this involves renaming and tagging the test file with contextual, historical, and reference metadata.

Step 9- After you have created a number of test files, you can test writing them to an archival disc. It is recommended that you copy (not drag or move) target preservation folders and/or files to a temporary folder while monitoring the size of that folder. When you have filled the temporary folder with the folders and/or files you want to test, launch your DVD writer software and point it to the temporary folder. When the writing process is complete, you will have your first preservation disc! Test this disc by reading it and studying what you have just created. You may or may not want to make changes as a result of your testing.

Step 10- Once you feel that you have mastered the preservation activities discussed so far, you are ready to start digital preservation in earnest. At this point it is advisable to develop a plan for completing the work for all the physical records that you want to preserve digitally. Then it is a matter of following this plan to completion.

One aspect of this plan should address LOCKSS. As stated previously in this series, you should make at least two copies of every archival disc and store them in different locations. Creating three discs and storing them in three different locations is recommended. You may want to exchange archival discs with friends or relatives to maximize the safety of your newly archived data.

Step 11- When your plan is completed, you are not finished with digital preservation. As discussed previously, you should also develop a process to track (i) locations of your archival storage media, (ii) media age, (iii) when the media should be tested next, and (iv) when a media refresh migration should be performed (if required). The process should include a method for reminding yourself when these actions need to be performed. You must also stay abreast of digital preservation technology so you can react appropriately as discussed in this series.

Step 12- Since digital preservation is neither a one-time project nor a single-generation responsibility, your final task will be to prepare willing family members and/or willing posterity to carry on the work you have started. This means preparing and motivating these people to take the baton of responsibility from you when the time comes without missing a step.

Final Thoughts

Digital preservation should not replace physical preservation of your family history records. Rather, it should be used to augment and enhance physical preservation. This series has described numerous ways how digital preservation can do this.

Preserving your family history records digitally can be both enjoyable and satisfying. Get started now—don’t put it off. Encourage your friends and family to get started too. As you do the labor of love required to preserve these records digitally, you can expect to have an uplifting spiritual experience as you connect with your memories and your ancestors. And best of all, you’ll be able to sleep better at night!

This article is part of the Preserving Your Family History Records Digitally series by Gary T. Wright. Each article in the series is part of the white paper, Preserving Your Family History Records Digitally.

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