The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
Bill LeFurgy has written an interesting report about ever-changing data formats and the effect on historical studies. The case he described concerns a survey of citizen reactions to the Kennedy assassination that was conducted from November 26 through December 3, 1963, by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. The survey results were recorded on paper punch cards, which were used to input data into the mainframe computer used to tabulate study data. Summary results were then published.
When another national catastrophe struck on September 11, 2001, NORC researchers wanted to replicate the 1963 study by asking the same kinds of questions to assess public reaction. The aim was to compare how the nation responded to two very different tragedies. There was but one problem: how to read the punched cards from the 1963 study?
The old 80-column punch cards were eventually located, and a vendor was found who could read them and convert them to more modern media. The vendor reported that they “had to refurb our punched card equipment, it had been sitting around so long it got a little rusty.” In the end, all worked well and the data set was successfully migrated to a modern data format. The story has a happy ending.
Full details may be read in Bill LeFurgy’s report at http://goo.gl/h2rcC.
This raises a question or two about your genealogy data. How are you saving it for future generations? Will today’s storage media become as obsolete as punch cards? Should you save the information to a different form of media? If so, which one?
Paper has proven to be rather unreliable, especially if only one copy is made. Paper often gets destroyed by fire, flood, earthquakes, and burst water pipes. Paper also consumes a lot of space. That’s expensive space if it is temperature and humidity controlled. Microfilm isn’t much better; new microfilm cameras are now almost impossible to find, and the manufacturers of microfilm already have warned their customers that new, unexposed microfilm will probably become unavailable within the next five years. Once that happens, nobody will be making new microfilms or even copies of existing microfilms.
Various digital media are available, each with its own strengths and shortcomings. Even the so-called M-Disks (see https://goo.gl/CIIqWm) are DVD disks that should last one thousand years, but nobody is predicting that equipment to read them will be available even twenty or thirty years from now.
So, what is the answer? I think there is a simple, but effective answer. However, it does have one major drawback: it requires people.
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