Monday, April 23, 2012

What happens to your data when you die? | TechCentral

People have often talked about what happens to the family history data you have collected during your life when you die. What happens if your children are not interested in the family history?

But now more and more people are keeping their family history in digital form, and then there is the other stuff that is part of the raw material of family history? There are notes and writings and e-mails and other data. Some of these questions are covered in this interesting article: What happens to your data when you die? | TechCentral
Digital assets may include software, websites, downloaded content, online gaming identities, social-media accounts and even e-mails. In Britain alone, holdings of digital music may be worth over £9bn. A fifth of respondents to a Chinese local-newspaper survey said they had over 5 000 yuan (US$790) of digital property. And value does not lie only in money. “Anyone with kids under 14 years old probably has two prints of them and the rest are in online galleries,” says Nathan Lustig of Entrustet, a company that helps people manage digital estates.
So what to you do about it? Do you leave your passwords to all your online accounts to someone in your will?

In the past biographers could collect letters, diaries and correspondence of those they are writing about, but what happens when most of the writing is digital. What if your e-mails are in a program that no longer works, or is no longer available?

People upgrade their computers. A laptop dies, and it is replaced by another with an "upgraded" operating system, so that even if the data on the old machine was backed up, it becomes inaccessible even before you die.

Historians, including family historians, have tools that were never available to previous generations, and make it possible to do data mining on an unprecidented scale, but at the same time the data is far more fragine and ephemeral. There are centuries-old documents written in old handwriting that are difficult to read, but with a little effort one can learn to read them. But what happens if you can't even see the writing, because it is only visible to a machine that no longer exists.

Read any floppy disks lately?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A family history Wiki -- is it worth it?

For some years now we have had a family history wiki at hayesgreene - home.

We thought that this might be a good way for different members of the family to work collaboratively on the family history, adding family stories and memories. But so far there have been very few contributions from anyone other than me.

It is also sometimes surprising to see what is popular and what isn't.

This month so far most pages have had fewer than 10 page views, but three pages have had 50 or more page views -- those relating to the Bagot family of North Lancashire, the Vause Family, and Frederick Thomas Green.

Though these families are mainly connected with England and southern Africa, most of the visitors to the Wiki come from the USA, though Frederick Thomas Green was a Canadian who came to southern Africa in the 1840s, who made a name for himself as an elephant hunter and explorer in what are now Namibia and Botswana.

But none of these visitors has left a note or a comment, so we don't know what it was they were looking for in visiting the pages, and whether or not they found it.

What strikes me about all this is that people generally seem to use the wrong tools for the job.

Quite a lot of people post interesting and important family history information on social sites like Facebook, where you can never find it again. Facebook is fine for ephemeral stuff, like children on a long car journey saying "Lookit this! Lookit that!" but when you reach your destination, going back to see the horse in a field, that you saw 200 miles back, or the jackal crossing the road, is not really an option. And that is what Facebook is like.

A Wiki, though, seems a good place to record family history information for posterity, or at least for the next few years. If you put it there, you should be able to find it again, at least while the site lasts. Of course one cannot count on Web sites lasting more than a few years, anyway. A lot of people put a lot of genealogy information on Geocities, and look what happened to that, though actually quite a lot of it has been preserved on three different sites now -- Reocities, Oocities and Webring. Webring, like Geocities, was one of those sites taken over by Yahoo! and subsequently abandoned, and revived by those who found it useful and didn't want to see it die. .

So one is never sure how long any web site will last, and even Facebook, though very popular right now, could be eclipsed by the next new thing -- think of what happened to MySpace.

But WikiSpaces (and similar wiki sites) seems to be useful for family history, and you can also download a backup of all your pages, just in case it should disappear. You can't do that with Facebook.

I still hope to see a network of family wikis, interlinked, with cousins contributing to mine, and me contributing to theirs, with links to pages dealing with our common families.

Oh, and you can see the latest updates to our family wiki in the sidebar of this blog.