Preservation

Help for Texas Flood Victims to Salvage Wet Documents and Heirlooms

Conservators and students at The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information are available to provide advice and limited disaster recovery assistance to help this weekend’s flood victims salvage damaged family treasures. Wet papers and photographs, textiles, scrapbooks, books and other sentimental objects should be frozen, if possible, and not thrown out, the conservators say.

Losing such items can be devastating after disasters such as floods. Luckily, many things can be salvaged with proper guidance.

World War II Spitfire Pilot Takes His Legacy Online

What will people know about you after you die? Some people are going a step further, and creating a virtual “shoeboxes” of family photographs, love letters, marriage certificates, priceless video clips and key documents, in an attempt to preserve their most precious memories.

One such person is Brian Bird, a former World War II Spitfire pilot who has lived a long, exciting – and at times terrifying – life. Now, at the age of 90, he is embarking on one of his most important missions, to create a digital record for his family to remember him by after his death.

Digital Files May Last Much, Much Longer than Paper or Microfilm

NOTE: This is an updated version of an article I originally published several years ago. A newsletter reader recently questioned the life expectancy of digital files versus paper. I referred him to my earlier article but noticed that it was a bit out of date. I have now rewritten part of the original article and am republishing it today.

I often write about digital products for use in genealogy. Here is a comment I hear and read all the time: “I am going to keep my files on paper to make sure they last for many years, longer than digital files.”

Wrong! Properly maintained, digital files will always last much, much longer than paper or microfilm. Let’s focus on the phrase, “properly maintained.”

Ghostly Voices From Thomas Edison’s Dolls Can Now Be Heard

In 1890, the Edison Phonograph Company manufactured dolls with wax cylinder records tucked inside each one. When cranked, each doll recited snippets from nursery rhymes. This was fabulous technology in 1890, a time when most people had not yet heard of phonograph records or any other method of reproducing sound. Sadly, Edison’s dolls were a flop; production lasted only six weeks. Children found them difficult to operate and more scary than cuddly. The purchase price of ten dollars also was much higher than what most families of 1890 could afford.

Virgin Islands Records to be Digitized

The Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pa., has received a $37,982 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conserve and digitize 120 linear feet of archival records documenting Moravian mission work in the Caribbean – specifically the territory now known as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The records are significant because they contain a treasure trove of information about the enslaved population in the Caribbean, information that is critical to many people doing genealogical research in the territory.

Details may be found in an article in the Virgin Islands Daily News at http://goo.gl/FquGCE.

New NEH Grant to Digitize Family Records

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced “Common Heritage,” the first grant of its kind, to make “light historical records and artifacts currently hidden in family attics and basements” available to the public. In announcing the initiative, NEH Chairman William “Bro” Adams said, “We know that America’s cultural heritage isn’t found only in libraries and museums, but in our homes, in our family histories, and the stories and objects we pass down to our children.”

The announcement states, “The program supports day-long events organized by community cultural institutions, which members of the public will be invited to attend. At these events experienced staff will digitize the community historical materials brought in by the public. Project staff will also record descriptive information—provided by community attendees—about the historical materials. Contributors will be given a free digital copy of their items to take home, along with the original materials. With the owner’s permission, digital copies of these materials would be included in the institutions’ collections. Historical photographs, artifacts, documents, family letters, art works, and audiovisual recordings are among the many items eligible for digitization and public commemoration.”

Tarrant County, Texas, is Digitizing Old Court Records for Preservation

Tarrant County, Texas, court files are continuing a years-long effort to make electronic copies of old case files and to destroy most of the paper counterparts. However, a few documents of “famous files” are being digitized but the paper is then preserved.

Tarrant County includes the courts for Dallas and nearby suburbs. Over the years, many famous cases have been aired in the courts of the county, including cases involving the late, famed attorney Melvin Belli who was prevented from representing Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald. Dozens of other famous files are being preserved, including the Cullen Davis trials in which he was prosecuted for the slaying of his estranged wife’s daughter and in a murder-for-hire scheme in the 1970s; and the Koslow trial, where Kristi Ann Koslow and friends Brian Dennis Salter and Jeffrey Dillingham were convicted of killing her step-mother, Caren, and injuring her father, Jack.

New Data Storage Method Could Preserve Digital Information for Millions of Years

I have written several times about the pros and cons of storing digital data versus using paper or other forms of storage media. Newsletter readers have been active posting opinions and suggestions in the Comments Section at the end of those articles. A new storage method developed by at ETH Zurich should satisfy the needs of all of us.

Taking inspiration from the way fossilized bones can preserve genetic material for hundreds of thousands of years, researchers have developed a “synthetic fossil” by writing digital information on DNA and then encapsulating it in a protective layer of glass. Researchers believe the data will then be readable for millions of years, assuming compatible hardware is still available in the future.

Fire at Brooklyn Warehouse Could Take a Week or More to Fully Put Out

We often read stories about public records being destroyed by fire, flood, hurricane, or other disasters. However, in the past week we seem to have set a new record: three repositories destroyed by fire, one small one and two huge ones. Here is the latest such report:

More than 50 units and almost 300 firefighters called to extinguish the seven-alarm fire in a massive blaze at a Brooklyn warehouse on Saturday. Help was needed from a marine unit as well. The facility stored millions of boxes of public paper records, which acted as kindling, allowing the fire to spread quickly and to resist attempts to put out the flames.

Fire in Major Russian Library Destroys One Million Historic Documents

A fire that ripped through one of Russia’s largest university libraries is believed to have damaged more than one million historic documents, with some describing the fire as a cultural “Chernobyl”.

The blaze, which began on Friday and was still not completely out on Saturday evening, ravaged 2,000 square metres (21,500 sq ft) of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (Inion) in Moscow, which was created in 1918 and holds 10 million documents, some of which date back to the 16th century.

British Library opens National Newspaper Building

The British Library opened a new long-term home for UK national newspaper collection last week. The facility is huge. It appears to be the latest, state-of-the-art facility featuring robotic cranes to retrieve newspapers from shelving that are 20 metres (65 feet) high. Of course, it has temperature and humidity controls, as one might expect in any archival facility.

In reading about the new facility, one thing jumped out at me: the newspapers are stored in a dark, airtight, low-oxygen environment, both for preservation purposes and to eliminate the risk of fire. Apparently, humans are unable to breath within the stacks unless they are equipped with oxygen tanks. Items are normally retrieved by robotic cranes, which transfer stacks of newspapers via an airlock to a retrieval area where staff can remove requested items and send them either to the British Library Newsroom at St Pancras or the on-site Reading Room at Boston Spa.

The following is the press release issued by the British Library:

Preserve Your Family Documents and Photos at RootsTech 2015

RootsTech 2015 will be a 3-day event offering more than 200 classes; an expo hall of hundreds of exhibitors and sponsors, including interactive booths to assist in your family history journey; general sessions with well-known and inspiring speakers; and entertaining events at the end of each day. See my earlier article at http://goo.gl/c4c7uC for details.

One vendor in this year’s exhibits hall, EZ Photo-Scan, is inviting all attendees to bring their family pictures, documents, and any memorabilia that can be digitized, for free scanning on site.

Perkins County, Nebraska, Newspaper Digitization Project is being Expanded

Perkins County is about to be permanently written with the announcement of a grant given to the Hastings Memorial Library in Grant. Thanks to a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, the Hastings Memorial Library to receive the gift. Robin Quinn, Hastings Memorial Library Director, plans to use the funds to continue the ongoing Local Newspaper Digitization project.

Van Buren County, Tennessee Offices Destroyed by Fire, Birth, Marriage, Death, and Many Other Records Lost

It is a sad day for genealogists as another burnt courthouse is added to the list of records lost. Van Buren County, Tennessee, officials are scrambling after a huge fire destroyed the county administrative building in Spencer on Wednesday night. Historical records from the 1840s and later were destroyed, including Civil War artifacts, pictures from the Civil War, birth certificates, death certificates, and thousands of historical records. The local historical society also was housed in the building and lost everything as well.

“It’s a total loss,” said Van Buren County 911 director David Chandler. “We were able to salvage a couple old books and a few other items from the trustee’s office, but that was about it.” The fire was believed to have started in the historical society and then spread throughout the building.

One bit of good news: Mayor Wilson told news reporters county records are backed up on hard drives in different locations across the county in the event of situations just like this. That’s good news for keeping the county’s business affairs operational but I was unable to find any mention if older, historical records are backed up in a similar manner. Hopefully, the older records also are backed up as well.

MyHeritage’s Efforts at Digitizing Cemeteries

MyHeritage, the exclusive sponsor of this newsletter, has mounted a major effort to preserve and digitize cemeteries worldwide, with the help of some friends. This is expected to be a multi-year effort. A major milestone has already been met with the ambitious goal to digitize Israel’s largest cemetery, Holon, collaborating with genealogy companies, genealogy organizations, societies and other volunteers who love genealogy. It was one of the largest events of its kind ever organized – in the world!

Digitizing Israel’s largest cemetery, Holon.

A Preservation Problem

Do you plan to leave your genealogy records for use by others after your death? If so, what storage method will you use for the information?

Paper doesn’t work too well. Today’s acid-based paper will probably last only for fifty to one hundred years or so. Even worse, toner used by modern laser printers and photocopy machines will only last ten to twenty years although the paper itself will last longer. Nobody will be able to read the paper documents if the toner has faded.

Archival quality paper with high-quality ink will last more than 100 years, but such ink is not readily available for computer printers. Would you want to write your entire genealogy by hand? Using a fountain pen?

57,000 Photo Studio Negatives in Richland, WA to be Destroyed

Get them while you can! Much genealogical information will be lost unless it is claimed now by an interested party.

Negatives from photos shot by professional photographers between 1950 to 2007y donated to the REACH Center in Richland, Washington, from 1950-2007, are being deaccessioned. All unclaimed negatives will be destroyed. The center has extended the deadline to December 5 after receiving more than 500 requests for photo negatives within two days of a Monday Tri-City Herald story about the negatives.

Connecticut State Library Seeks To Digitize World War I History and You Can Help

For those who lived through it, on the battlefield or the home front, World War I was a life-defining event, and the Connecticut State Library wants to assure that family-held memories and mementos will be preserved and available to historians, students, genealogists or the simply curious. Beginning later this month, state library officials will hold a series of community events at which local residents are urged to bring in family letters, photographs, diaries, recorded stories and other objects from the World War I period.

Pipe Burst Destroys Books

Many genealogists, archivists, public officials often think the best way to save records for many years is to print the information on paper. However, paper is one of the most fragile storage methods available, as demonstrated recently in Watertown, NY.

Some 300 books were destroyed when a pipe burst in the basement of the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library. A pipe from the heating and air conditioning system burst late in the afternoon, causing as much as three inches of water to end up on the floor. Fortunately, a couple of building maintenance workers were nearby when the pipe burst and acted quickly to control the leak. Had the leak occurred when the building was unoccupied, the damage could have been far worse.

Multispectral Imaging Decodes a Burnt Magna Carta for First Time in 283 Years

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

More than 280 years after it was damaged in a fire, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is legible again. There were four copies of the document created at the time. One, held by the British Library, was badly damaged in a fire in 1731. That copy can now be read on a computer screen after scientists used multispectral imaging to decipher the text of the “Burnt Magna Carta” without touching or further damaging the delicate parchment.

Multispectral imaging is a process that photographed the burnt parchment, using a variety of LED lights, spanning the spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared, outside the range of human vision. The various images each produces a few clues to the original ink. By combining the multiple images, text that is invisible to the naked eye is suddenly visible.

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