Over the past few months, we’ve shared advice about writing your personal history. Now, it’s time to consider how you will save what you’ve recorded about your life. If you’ve followed our writing prompts, chances are you’ve spent a large amount of time completing your personal history, and it is precious to you and your family and needs to be safeguarded. Think about how you safeguard important documents in your home. Consider your personal history to be one of those important documents and take the necessary steps to protect it, so it will last for years to come and remain safe in the event of a disaster.
The experts in preserving archives all agree that if you want to ensure that your stories will be around for a long time, you should store your personal history in multiple formats, in multiple locations. For example, you could distribute copies to all of your children or grandchildren and then also save a copy for yourself. You could print it in book format and then save a digital copy on a flash drive—and maybe even take it a step further and save the flash drive in a safe deposit box. No matter which methods you choose, always have several backup copies of your personal history saved in several locations.
Print a Book
If you’ve written your personal history by hand, you may need to type it or scan it (or have someone do that for you), creating a digital file. You or a loved one may want to proofread the text, format it into chapters or sections, and maybe even add pictures to go along with certain stories or time periods in your life. Once you’ve saved the text on a computer, you can send it to one of the many companies online or even in your local area that can print it into book format for you. Depending on your budget, consider how many family members may want a copy of the book. Relatives may even be willing to pay for their own copy.
Make sure the book is printed on archival paper, acid-free and lignin-free. That way it has a better chance of lasting for hundreds of years. After your book has been distributed to different relatives, you may want to carefully store one copy of the book yourself. Books are best stored in a room of the house where the temperature stays constant, between 60˚-70˚, avoiding any area that is prone to high heat or moisture. In other words, the main part of your house is better for storage than the attic or basement. Also, avoid storing books in direct sunlight, since that leads to the text fading and the pages deteriorating faster.
Once you have your personal history typed into your computer, don’t assume that it will last forever or be indestructible. FAMILYarchives.com warns that digital files can be just as fragile as any other antique memento or document you hope to own for a long time. Computers can crash, CDs or DVDs can break, and websites can be hacked or suddenly shut down.
“With digital information, active migration is essential,” says Bertram Lyons, an archivist for the Library of Congress who wrote a helpful series of articles for the New York Times about archiving family history. “You will need to be prepared to develop a storage strategy for your digital files that includes multiple storage formats (hard drives and online storage services, among others), multiple locations (home, online, neighbors, friends, family) and active monitoring and migration to new storage in regular intervals.” Keep track of your digital files and regularly store them in new places (and new formats when the old format begins to be outdated).
Audio and Video Files
If you have recorded your personal history orally, make copies of the digital files and distribute them to family members. If you recorded your voice with a cassette recorder or used an old VHS for the video,
find a relative or a professional who can help you transfer those recordings into digital format. Remember that technologies fade away with time. Will your great grandchildren have access to a cassette player? It’s safest to convert the files to digital format and preserve them that way.
Experts recommend that audio/video files should be saved in various formats as well. Type a transcript of your recording and save it in print and digital format. That way, if the video ever gets lost or destroyed, you still have extra copies of the information.
The message is the same no matter which method of storage you use to store your personal history—don’t choose just one method or one location. Whether you print your stories or save digital files of your history, spread them out in various places among various people.
Take the necessary steps to protect and preserve your personal history. Wouldn’t it be nice if 50 years from now your great-great grandchildren could learn from your life stories? Hopefully, for centuries to come, your personal history will inspire, guide, educate and even entertain the future generations.
Lyons sums it up beautifully: “We need to share stories; we need to write to each other, and about each other; and we need to record our voices and our likenesses. We cannot preserve everything. And not everything needs to be preserved. But the more we talk, the more we write and the more we document, the better chance some fragment of our expressions and experiences will make its way to our descendants.”
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