What We Can Do
Fortunately, we are waking up to the destruction of records, and some major undertakings have been launched to preserve our history. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for example, has been preserving records for more than a century. Representatives of the church are constantly microfilming original records, and all of us are invited to submit our family records for inclusion in the Ancestral File. All of these records, in addition to being made available for public use, are saved in a granite vault near Salt Lake City.
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Wayne Metcalf, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks about the Church's granite vault.
Perhaps the most significant preservation initiative in recent years is Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, which has already videotaped interviews with more than 50,000 survivors of the Holocaust. And there are other, smaller scale preservation initiatives springing up.
Though we lack the money, skills, products, equipment, and storage space that these projects and professional archivists have, we can take several simple steps that will help preserve our own family records and heirlooms. The more of these we apply, the longer and better our records will last.
First, we can get smarter about how long different items really last. You might want to take a couple of minutes to take a quiz about the lifetime of assorted family records. Perhaps you'll learn which of your own records are most at risk.
Many stationery departments in major bookstores sell archival-quality materials, meaning acid-free or low acid items, including diaries and journals, blank-page books, computer paper, scrapbooks, photo albums, file folders, tape, glue, ink pens, plastic sheet protectors, and picture-mounting materials. Use archival-quality products for preserving your valuable records whenever you can, even though they cost more than their non-archival-quality counterparts. Storage is an important factor as well. It's worth a small investment of your time to learn about safe storage places.
Perhaps most important of all, watch out for red flag moments for family records. Too often, those who close down a house are too efficient at house cleaning and discard valuable records. In fact, family records are in the greatest danger at two crucial times: when someone dies and when someone moves. Records that are organized in files or boxes and clearly labeled stand a much better chance of being saved than records that look like disorganized clutter. And when a relative dies or moves to a different residence, you or someone who cares about family records should be involved in the decisions about what to throw away, what to save, and who should receive what.
For your genealogical records, take advantage of all the new technologies and projects that can help you. Be sure to share your findings through online meeting places, newsletters, CDs of photos, family histories, digital recordings, and so forth.
Even if you hold the originals, make sure you widely disseminate copies of these treasures. Consider uploading your family files to the Internet and submitting copies to the FHL or other repositories. Find and visit your local Family History Center for assistance contributing a copy of your records.
Give a copy of all the back issues of your family newsletter to a library or genealogical society in the area most closely associated with your ancestors. Future descendants will likely look there. And take advantage of all the guidance and ideas that can be found on the Internet for protecting your family records. All of these measures will ensure that, should something unfortunate happen to you or your house, at least your family history will have been saved.