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Long Term Preservation of Data

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#1 NEreswearcher


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Posted 18 February 2018 - 12:57 PM

This may not be a topic for this forum and if so we can  move or delete it.


I have been wrestling with long term preservation of my genealogical data. I have been working with genealogy since the mid 1980's. Started with Word, Went to Brothers Keeper in early 1990's and about 1995 moved to The Master Genealogist until late 2014 when it went defunct and I switched to Rootsmagic. Every conversion cost me dearly which made me concerned what would happen when I stop this and could someone else pick up the work at a later time. I have no solutions at this time but I have considered the following:

  1. Provide backups to Rootsmagic SQLite database both onsite and offsite.
    1. Good short term solution but if this lies dormant for 20 years who will be able to read that database.
  2. Provide GEDCOM file. (I assume Rootsmagic may go away in the next 20+ years)
    1. The current GEDCOM output from Rootsmagic conforms to the standard but the output is not fully supported by any other software package and on import to something other than Rootsmagic, data is lost.
    2. GEDCOM X may provide a solution if:
      1. The GEDCOM X standard is completed and if it will back up everything.
      2. If Rootsmagic implements the GEDCOM X standard and other programs support the GEDCOM X standard as Rootsmagic has implemented it.
  3. Conclusion: At this time no physical backup will provide recoverability in the long term.
  4.  Print all my data that can be scanned in in future if data is not readable
    1. Print an individual summary and select everyone in a database.
      1. No other option can get everyone without a lot of duplication.
      2. Would require a large effort to reconstitute database.
    2. Print Narrative reports
      1. Ancestor reports would miss many people in my database.
      2. Descendant reports would capture everyone but would require a large number of reports, one for each family line.
      3. Combining into a single report would be problematic in that if I have 100 surnames to print descendant reports for they would all start at  number one. These numbers would need to be edited to accommodate all lines and would be error prone.
    3. Wish: The ability to select as many people as I want and have a combined descendancy report for all lines selected and eliminating duplicates.
  5. SQL to create something like a comma delimited file for every table. Need also the structure and definitions for all tables and fields to later import back into an SQL database
    1. SQL dump command outputs data and structure to a text file of SQL commands.
    2. Will work as long as SQL databases exist and can execute SQL commands.
    3. Relational databases were describe back in 1970 and SQL was accepted as a standard in 1986. While some changes might be required to the text file containing all the SQL it could be edited to adjust for changes.
  6. Export all trees to Ancestry, Familysearch or other and hope they don't go away.
  7. Comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

#2 BradleyinDC


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Posted 18 February 2018 - 01:48 PM

Great ideas.  I'd only add for people to have backups in more than one place as well as the cloud and do their best to keep the information in "current" forms (not on a floppy disk!).  Also, publish, publish, publish and don't be selfish with your knowledge!

#3 Jerry Bryan

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Posted 18 February 2018 - 01:57 PM

I suspect that paper is the best long term solution (or maybe jpg type images of paper, provided the jpg files are periodically refreshed to new media). Standard computer files are not going to be good for 50 to a 100 years or anything like that. If not paper (and not jpg images of your paper that get refreshed), the other long term archival mechanisms that might work well would be microfilm or microfiche.


I have to admit to being highly impressed to see the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum and to realize how old it is and to realize what immaculate condition it's in - much better condition than most of the headstones I look at in cemeteries. So the true best solution would inscriptions in stone and keep the stones out of the weather. Sadly, no computer technology from today is going to last anywhere near as long as the Rosetta Stone unless it's constantly refreshed by highly qualified archivists.



#4 NEreswearcher


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Posted 18 February 2018 - 03:39 PM

Thanks for the responses.


I have been leaning towards paper for a while since I want to create a real Book in paper format anyway and I will print several copies.  For a shorter term I will backup my RM database and execute the Dump command hoping that at some point these files could still be readable. My time frame is more like the next 50 years rather than millennium and with the multiple formats it may survive.


Jerry I like your suggestion and I wonder if the RM folks would include a hammer and chisel with each release of their software. We could provide the stone tablets.


#5 BradleyinDC


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Posted 18 February 2018 - 05:44 PM

Dick Eastman has written on this topic too.

#6 Trebor22


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Posted 19 February 2018 - 02:44 AM

This is a subject that occupies my thoughts - I recall there used to be a saying 'if you want to leave a message for the future put it on tablets of stone not a floppy disc!' But I agree with Jerry's comment about weathered headstones.


Paper - who would store it for us and are the inks we use in our printers going to fade? 

CD / DVD's are reported to have a 'shelf life' and many new computers don't have an optical drive.


When I circulate research to family I include multiple formats such as gedcom, RM-SQLite / HTML / PDF but I am 'guessing' rather than confident!

I note some family history societies will accept research for storage - one I spoke to suggests gedcom format but that does not fill me with confidence.

I publish on my own website - as well as attracting relatives I sort of hope the data will outlive me, perhaps via one of the 'internet archives' (will they archive RM's custom webspace?) but again its more hope than confidence!


An important subject!!


#7 cj1260



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Posted 19 February 2018 - 11:16 AM

Long term preservation is certainly an issue with no easy answer. I echo what other members have said in favor of paper and publish. A portion of my current research is based on photocopies of a handwritten family tree that was done in the 1960s, got passed to a relative in the 1970s, it then came to my parents sometime around 1990 and I finally found it about a month ago. That's nearly 60 years of preservation so far and I will hand it down to my family. In addition, that original work was performed by a family member who's family branch is 120+ years removed from my current family. So I think this is a good example of the power of paper and making sure it gets out to a lot of family members that will cherish it and keep it. But make sure the paper is good archival stuff!


As for the computer files, I try to keep everything in open, or at least well understood formats (jpeg/tiff/text), rather then proprietary formats (Word) in the hopes that these formats will at least have a better chance of being deciphered in the future.


I also save and distribute on M-Discs. These optical discs do not degrade like normal optical discs but will last, supposedly, 100 years. Of course, one will run into the problem of no drives being around in the future to read them. However, I think there will be enough where someone in the future will be able to read it and then transfer the data to whatever is the current storage medium at that time. Much like I can still find a Super 8 projector for old home movies even though that's been dead for a long time.


Thanks to the original poster, it's a nice summation of some of the issues surrounding preservation. Good comments in all the replies too!

#8 anzenketh


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Posted 19 February 2018 - 11:46 AM

If you are looking for long time preservation of your data on work that you feel worth of publish you can Publish it in the Genealogies section of FamilySearch. You can also upload to Ancestry.com This is not the FamilySearch Family Tree section however it does prompt to sync the two in the process of uploading it.
As for the SQLite database. That is not going anywhere any time soon. 
The problem with paper is it gets lost, tossed, destroyed and aged. FamilySearch is moving away from paper to digital copy. The trick with digital is that as long as you use the correct storage process then the copies will last forever. The reason behind that is there is technology that protect against hard drive failure, corruption, etc... The problem is it is not a set it and forget it solution. But then neither is paper.