thegenealogygirl


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A Cautionary Tale of Digital Loss

 

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Daniel Ramon Costello & Barbara Ann Deno Costello, my granduncle & grandaunt at their home in Spokane, Washington.

 

 

I am sick.

Heartsick.

Like, really, really heartsick.

Almost four years ago I went on a trip to Spokane, Washington to visit my Grandma and interview her.  I saw, and also interviewed, other family members including my Uncle Dan & Aunt Barbara, and my fabulous Auntie V.  It was a fantastic trip.  My sister and Mom drove up to be there too.  I had brought along a digital audio recorder to capture all of the conversations.

Grandma told me stories I had never heard.  She talked about being a single mom in the 60s.  She described being a rescue diver for years and the moment she decided she couldn’t do it anymore.  She answered questions about family members who she knew, but my Mom and I did not.  She described people and places.  She went over photos with me identifying people and adding details about those people and the events in the photos.  She talked about how hard it was when her father went to prison for a year.  We talked and talked and talked.  I captured it all on my little digital audio recorder.

Uncle Dan and Aunt Barbara told me about John Costello and Mary Brown Young, my great grandparents.  I knew Mary, but John died when my mother was a child.  They shared how sorry they were in later years that they hadn’t asked Grandpa Costello more questions about his family in Spain before he passed.  Uncle Dan talked about his time in the service during WWII.  Aunt Barbara started to tell us about how sad my biological grandfather was when he and my Grandma divorced before my Mom and aunt cut her off.

My Auntie V shared some insights, when we were alone, about various family members from the past.  Her “unvarnished truth” to balance what Grandma had shared.

My Grandpa told me detailed stories from Viet Nam that are so fascinating.  I’ll leave it at that since he is still living.

All of these gems and much more were recorded on my handy little digital audio recorder.

I returned home from my trip and was immediately swept back up in daily life with my children who were 16, 13, and 2.  I was able to process some new data and information, but my trusty little audio recorder didn’t make the cut.

More than a year passed and one of my uncles from my dad’s side of the family needed to borrow my audio recorder for a family reunion I wasn’t able to attend.  I wrote up a short list of instructions and stood holding that recorder, struggling with whether or not to leave the micro sd card inside.  It has an internal memory that was more than sufficient, but what if the contents on the sd card were somehow erased?  After going back and forth I popped that oh-so-tiny micro sd card out and set it on my dresser.

I think.

Here is the moment in the book where you want to scream at the character, “No!  Don’t do it!!”

The recorder was used by my uncle at that reunion and then returned and placed on top of my dresser.

I think.

This week I am going back up to Spokane to help with an archiving project, among other things.  I will see Aunt Barbara, my Mom, Auntie V, and Grandpa.  Grandma and Uncle Dan have both passed away.

I need to be able to record and I debated – do I use my digital audio recorder or do I use my phone?

I pulled out that recorder and thought I had better pull the audio files off of it.  I plugged it into my computer and searched the files.

There were five.

Four nonsense practice files that last just a few seconds and a 33-minute file from the reunion.

That is all.

I must have checked the micro sd card slot at least 15 times hoping for something to appear that simply wasn’t there.  I even used a flashlight just to be certain.  I went through the folders on the internal memory over and over hoping to find something more but coming up empty every single time.

Panic set in.

I started tearing apart every place in my house I could imagine myself considering “a safe place” for that teeny-tiny-little micro sd card.  (Carefully, of course, but definitely fervently.)  All the while I was racking my brain and praying for a memory to pop to the surface.  Did I really just set that invaluable sd card on my dresser?  That miniscule, but more precious than gold, fragile tiny card on the edge of a dresser?!

That seems like a terrible decision.  And the thing is, I don’t know for sure what I did.  I just know that there is not a micro sd card inside of that digital audio recorder.

So far I have found one micro sd card – but not the one I need – but seriously, where did that come from? – and one regular sd card.  What is happening here?  Why aren’t these properly stored?  Why is my organizational system falling apart?!  What on earth?

Why didn’t I transfer those files immediately after my trip?!

Why didn’t I transfer those files while I was still on my trip?!!!!!  I had my laptop with me.

And this is the point where I could ramble on and on about my laptop being super full and being a busy mom with big and tiny children and being the Relief Society President in my ward and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

You know that moment I mentioned, the one where we all want to scream at the character, “No!!  Don’t do it!!”?  Well, I didn’t listen.  If I could have even had a tiny glimpse of my present anguish, I would have moved mountains to get those files transferred to AT LEAST two other places.

But I didn’t.

And now I am heartsick.

So terribly heartsick.

Real tears have been shed several times now as I continue to search and continue to come up with nothing.

 

There are two very small glimmers of hope.

One, my Mom interviewed my Grandma about 2 years ago and still has that recording – that I will immediately move heaven and earth to transfer to AT LEAST two places the minute it gets into my hot little hand.  There are two major disappointments with this – one, I love you Mom, but I ask better questions 😳 – and two, my Mom says it’s all fiction.  But let’s be real, would I know the difference?  And is my Mom’s opinion of Grandma’s stories accurate or fair?  I don’t know.

Two, I just might still find that micro sd card.  I believe in miracles.  I’ve experienced miracles plenty of times.  I don’t know if I actually need a miracle this time or just more time searching, but I’ll take that treasure anyway it comes to me.  So I’ll hold out hope that somehow, someway, those hours of audio files will make their way back to me.  And no matter the path it takes, I will consider it a miracle.  But I have learned a VERY BIG lesson.

NO MATTER HOW BUSY I AM, THERE ARE SOME TASKS THAT NEED TO BE DONE IMMEDIATELY.

Good preservation requires having multiple copies in multiple places.  So guess what I will be doing over the next month?  Assessing and addressing my current level of preservation of family photos, home movies, and priceless papers and artifacts.

 

But I still really, really, really want to have that oh-so-precious and oh-so-tiny micro sd card back.  Please.

 

I’ll take any good vibes, happy successful treasure hunting thoughts, or prayers you want to send my way.  I could definitely use them.

 

And friends, I hope you will learn from my mistake and avoid a similar bout of sorrow and loss.  What do you need to digitize, duplicate, or store in another place today?  Don’t wait.  Please, don’t wait.

Good luck.

xoxo

 


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Preparing for RootsTech 2018 – A Few Tips

rootstech 2018

RootsTech 2018 is coming right up.

 

I will be attending once again this year and I can’t wait!  Many of my plans are taken care of, but I’m still working on the two most important items:

1 – Selecting classes to attend and printing the handouts.

2 – Making my FHL research plan for my free time.

Let’s talk a little bit about those two very important items.

 

Class Choice & Handouts

It’s important to carefully look over the RootsTech schedule, you can find it here.  The RootsTech app allows you to create an electronic schedule of classes.  If that works for you, great!

I use the app, but I also make a detailed paper schedule for each day of the week.  Why?

There are so many reasons.  My perspective changes throughout the week.  Sometimes I attend a class that is so incredible, I decide I want to go to every class taught by that teacher during the rest of the week.  And, unfortunately, the opposite has happened.  I attend a class taught by someone and decide to skip any other classes taught by that person.  Sometimes a class is full by the time you get there and you need a backup plan.  And then sometimes a presenter isn’t able to be there for one reason or another, and once again, you need a backup plan.  Sometimes I have selected more than one class on a specific topic, but the first one I attended was so detailed that I decided to change my later plans and learn about another topic of interest to me.  There are lots of reasons you might decide to change your schedule during the week.

I try to choose three classes I am interested in for each session.  I make myself a schedule in Google docs.  I rank my three choices as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice.  Sometimes I add a note to remind myself of what I hope to learn from a specific class, like – “maybe I can learn some tricks that will help me track down John Costello’s immigration records?”  I include all relevant data in my document – classroom, teacher, class title and description, etc.  Here is a sample page from my schedule for last year:

RootsTech 2017 schedule

Notice that I even added information about streaming sessions and times when the class is being offered again during the week.  Those are important factors to consider.

I spend time making my schedule really user-friendly for me.  I print out my schedule for each day, staple it together and then this is the part that works especially well for me – I use a different colored folder for each day.  I use a few large paperclips to paperclip the schedule to the front of the folder.  And then on the inside, I have ALL of the handouts for each of my class choices – 1st-3rd.  I write on them so that I know which handout is for which class.  The handouts are paperclipped together by session, with the first choice class in the front of the stack.

Seems excessive right?

Well, there is plenty of downtime in between classes and while you wait for the general session to start.  I try to always be one class ahead on my final decision.  What does that mean?

Well, while I wait for the general session to start, I look over my three choices for the class after the general session.  I skim the handouts, finalize my decision, make any necessary adjustments to my backup plan (like switching my 2nd and 3rd choices), and then look at the map so I know where I am going after the general session ends.  While I wait for the first class to start, I go through the same process to prepare for the next session.

I love having the printed handout to write on, but I also bring a notebook in case I want to write more than will fit on the handout.

I add one more very important list to my schedule – a list of exhibit hall goals.  That might include things like purchasing DNA kits, getting coupons from specific vendors, meeting someone at their booth, purchasing some specific books, or learning about a new tool, group, or tech item.  Having a list of exhibit hall goals that is printed is really helpful for me so that I don’t forget anything.

 

FHL Research Plan

One of the best parts of being at RootsTech is the opportunity to do some research at the Family History Library.  It’s really important to have a plan for that research time.  And a backup plan, and a second backup plan, and even a third backup plan…

Last year, my top priority was getting a long list of South African probate files.  I had a detailed list of film numbers and reference numbers to help me locate the items quickly.  I had double-checked and finalized that list on Monday.  On Wednesday I was in the library going through those microfilms.  When I got to the 6th probate file, I had some trouble locating the file on the microfilm and went into the FamilySearch catalog to make sure I hadn’t written the microfilm number down incorrectly.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that all 400+ microfilm in that collection were suddenly online and viewable from home when just on Monday they were not!  Thankfully, I had several backup plans and quickly shifted gears.

Just like I like having a physical, printed schedule for each day of RootsTech, I like to have a physical, printed research plan so that I can have it in my hand as I wander the library looking for things.  It’s much easier for me to glance at a piece of paper and make notes on that, check things off, etc, than to have to keep pulling up a list on my phone or on the computers.

I have lots of work to do to get my class schedule and research plan prepared, but it will be so worth it!  The more time I spend preparing, the more I learn during the sessions, and the more I find in the library.  Preparation makes the week even better.

Are you attending RootsTech?  If so, do you have any favorite tips to share?  Happy Monday, I hope you make a fantastic genealogy discovery today!