(+) Preserving Data: Separating Facts from Fiction

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

I recently read an article in which the author claimed to describe data preservation techniques. He correctly pointed out that floppy disks, CD-ROM disks, magnetic media, and other forms of digital storage all have limited lifespans. He then concluded by claiming that the only method of storing data for long-term preservation was to print everything on paper.

Wrong!

The article in question is an excellent example of examining the facts and then drawing a wrong conclusion. In fact, if you want your genealogy information to be available 50 or 100 years from now, I’d suggest that using paper is one of the worst methods available. There are far better methods and, yes, they do involve digital media. The methods I will describe have already been used for more than 40 years by governmental agencies, corporations, and non-profits alike. These preservation methods are inexpensive and easy to accomplish, and they have worked for decades.

First, let’s examine paper and ink. Indeed, the paper used 100 or 150 years ago was excellent for long-term preservation. Most paper of the late 1800s and sometimes into the early 1900s was made without the use of acids. The materials used included wood fibers, rags, and various other materials. In short, the paper made without acid lasts for a long time.

Next, the paper of 100 or 150 years ago was rather absorbent, somewhat like an ink blotter or today’s paper towels. The ink was absorbed into the paper. Over time, the paper might deteriorate or be rubbed a bit, but the ink was saturated into the paper and remained easily readable.

By contrast, most of today’s paper contains acids used in modern papermaking processes. These acids will “eat” into the paper, breaking down the fibers, and will eventually destroy the paper.

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