Five Important Things To Consider When Planning To Preserve Family Memories

When planning to protect and preserve your family memories there are several factors to keep in mind in order to make informed decisions. Some of the most important of these are listed below. Though this list is far from exhaustive it will provide you with enough information to help you make your decisions and raise some questions you will need to find answers to.

1) Succession

Is your plan to protect your audio, video, photographic and other materials only for the immediate future or do you hope to pass these materials on to your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. If your intention is to pass these materials on to these groups you will need to create a succession plan.

A succession plan is simply a detailed strategy to assign stewardship of these materials to an individual or individuals who will be responsible for their ongoing protection, preservation and maintenance. These activities could include, but are not necessarily limited to, things such as making payments for use of storage facilities, maintaining access to the collection, communicating with the stake holders mentioned on the existence, status, and location of these materials. It would also include planning for format changes and other expected and unexpected complications associated with the long term storage of any kind of computer or digital files.

2) Maintenance

Maintenance includes the day to day activities associated with the ongoing survival of your collection of family memories. This includes things like paying storage fees – if this is required – tracking the collection so you know where it is and if anything has changed that will affect your ability to access the material.

Unexpected things can happen in the online storage world. Your service provider may be bought out by a larger company. Or, it may simply disappear altogether with no notice. It could also be the victim of a malicious cyber attack. If any of these things happen, how will they effect your ability to access your materials? Will the physical storage location change? What about backups and redundancy policies? If you had these initially will you continue to do so? What safeguards are in place that will allow you to recover your materials should the unthinkable happen?

You will also need to keep track of how you, and if necessary, others will be able to locate these materials. If you are storing them in a public access facility that is accessible via the internet – a service such as YouTube, Facebook, or a personal website – this may be as simple as insuring that the search engine listings for the collection are current and accurate. If you choose to keep them in a more secure, limited access facility you will need to maintain your access and provide means by which you can share these materials with others and keep them informed about any changes that may occur either to the collection itself or its location and accessibility.

3) Security

Security includes obvious considerations such as who has access to the materials, how this access is granted and how it is controlled to prevent accidental or intentional loss or damage of the materials. It also includes less obvious factors such as the physical location of storage facilities you intend to use. What are the physical security measures, if any, these facilities have in place.

Are there automatic backup procedures in place to create copies of your irreplaceable materials? If not, is it necessary for you to perform regular backups of the materials yourself? Is it even possible? Will there be costs associated with this? What will the technical requirements to achieve this peace of mind be?

The most secure physical protection of computer and digital files involves redundancy. This is a term that simply means there are at least two copies of each of your files in existence. To make this strategy even more robust these copies should be stored in separate facilities in geographically diverse locations thousands of miles apart. Perhaps even on different continents. When choosing some form of storage this is a very important consideration. The more copies of your materials that exist and the more dispersed they are the less likely they are going to be lost to an unexpected natural or man made disaster. You should choose a provider who automatically provides a redundancy protocol. If you select one who does not you should be prepared to implement such a strategy yourself.

Photo by Patrick Lindenberg

4) Accessibility

Regardless of where and how you choose to store your collection of materials you will need to have access to them. You will probably also want to be able to share this access with other family members such as parents, siblings, children, grandchildren and others.

If the material is stored in a public venue sharing it with others may be as simple as having them conduct a web search using any of a number of search engines. Even if you are using a public venue you may be able to restrict access to the materials to select individuals and control if and/or how these materials are indexed by search engines. This will involve making decisions on your part so make sure you consider your options carefully.

If you are keeping you materials in a secure, limited access cloud based facility you will have to decide how the materials can be shared. Will you be the sole person responsible for making copies of the material and distributing it to others as they request it? What if they only want to browse portions of the collection? Will you grant access in order for them to do this? How do you control this access? How do you revoke it should this become necessary? Are there costs associated with any or all of these activities? Who will bear those costs?

In order to know what exists in your collection you will need a simple catalog at the very least. This should list:

  • what the material is
  • what format it is in
  • where it is located
  • how it can be accessed.

You should also make this catalog information available to other family members who have an interest in viewing the collection or receiving copies of it. You may even want to post the catalog information online thereby making it easy for family members to find it using a search engine. There are many services available such as Facebook or blogging services that will allow you to post such things online for free or a modest cost.

5) Format Obsolescence/Migration

Photo by Gabriel Petry

We have a comprehensive posting dealing with this issue located here. What follows is just a brief overview of the issue and the process for mitigating it. For greater details we refer you to the post mentioned above.

Video formats change on a fairly regular basis. Photographic formats such as JPEG and PNG, for example, do not change so often but they do change too. As do computer file types. Remember Word Perfect? It was one of the original word processing programs and files that were created with it can still be recovered today but this can be a difficult and time consuming process.

If the format your family videos or event videos are stored on is suddenly discontinued, what happens to the videos that are stored on them? Would you know what to do to maintain their integrity, accessibility and play-ability? And suppose you were no longer around to address the problem. Who would take on the responsibility for preserving your precious video memories so that they could be accessible for the generations of the future? Would there be anyone? This constitutes the “chain of succession” issue we referred to earlier. Would you be able to create and implement such a chain of succession? And, if you could, how would you be able to ensure that this chain could continue far into the distant future?

Formats are GOING to change. If your intention is to preserve your collection of family memories for the long term you need to start planning today for what to do when this happens and incorporate it into your overall protection strategy.

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