The Dusty Genealogist
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Small Things – Big Issues!

I had an opportunity to attend a conference on genealogy recently. One of the classes with the greatest attendance was on preservation of documents and emergencies. In between classes, one of the discussion themes was interviewing family members who were getting up in age. The comment that got my attention was “You had better interview these old people while they’re still alive and can still remember!”

One man was lamenting that he had failed to interview his 92 year-old aunt. He had encountered her at a family party and thought he would have more time to interview her later. She apparently knew family nicknames, locations, and the inside stories of why things happened. She suddenly died and there was so much he felt was lost with her. If you have family who are up in age and who may have family stories, please make a point to interview them now. If you have old family pictures that you cannot identify, bring all of them along. Maybe they can identify them. They will enjoy your visit.

There is no time like the present. Make it an outing to meet with them. The information you will receive is well worth it. If you are not sure about the specific information they may have, go anyway. You may find that this person knows more about a different side of the family. Fine, write it down. Record it. Do something to preserve it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Proactive protection and preservation may not seem important, until it is. Put your name and address on your work as you are working. I will nag you about this forever. If you would prefer, put your name and the address of a local library or heritage center so when your work is found, it can find its way back to you.

Have a basic watertight tub to put your work in (I know real archivists want better storage.) Buy a 19-gallon tub that has locking clips to keep the lid on, even if you don’t have that much stuff initially. You will eventually. They can come from the hardware store, Walmart, or the grocery store. Keep your files in it when you are not using them. Keep your photos there. The archival plastic sleeves are available at Walmart for a couple of dollars, as well as other stationary stores. Put your documents in the plastic sleeves. Note, they will become slippery. If you have a research assistant who is an energetic cat, they will spend hours sliding on the documents you have put out to work on.

Put your name and real address on the lid in waterproof magic marker, in the event that the box is found during an emergency. Put the word “Genealogy” on it. Someone who finds the box will know it is important to someone else.

For as much as you have heard “document, document, document,” now is as good a time to think in terms of “digitize, digitize, digitize.” <> is a free site to research, share, and learn. The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, who also maintain Family History Centers, maintains it. You can load digitized copies of documents, proofs, family letters, photos, and anything else of importance on your family tree site. There is a way to make some of the information protected from others viewing it. If that is something you may want to do, check with <> for instructions.

You can digitize anything with a phone that can take pictures and then transfer the pictures to your email and another email address of someone in the family. Make sure you know your passwords to be able to get back into it. You may not realize it, but the documents you copied may end up being the only copy that currently survives.

In the U.S., floods are the number one natural disaster. Should I tell you about NOT storing precious genealogy in the basement? If you do, then the 20-year flood comes, the water pipe bursts, the water heater floods, or the washer decides to go and you have lost everything. We have all been there once. Are your precious heirlooms, keepsakes, genealogy buried in the attic?

One speaker said that he grew up in Florida. His mom had plastic tubs for family heirlooms and genealogy ready to go as soon as she heard there was a hurricane coming. She loaded up the station wagon with the kids, their go-bags, and the “important stuff.” Then they left. He said it didn’t matter if they all had to sleep in the car, they were away from the hurricane. She wanted them all to be safe. He said the neighbors laughed at her. He grew up to be a nationally well-known meteorologist.

Let’s face it; in times of fire, floods, earthquakes, all manner of disasters, the most important issue is to save your life. Once you have survived that, while you are still in shock, you must carry on. You will go back to your home. You may see devastation. It is all overwhelming! As one lady said, “After you have sat down on the ground and just had a good cry, you realize that you should be doing something.”

Be careful of where you step. All manner of problems can exist. If the first responders determine your area is relatively safe to return to, begin preservation. If the storm is over, move things to places that will allow items to dry. Mold begins within 48 hours of water damage. Begin preservation. Do not just shove things out into the road. Find as cool and dry a place as you can for materials to dry out. If you have electricity, turn on the air conditioner, plug in a dehumidifier or use fans to help circulate the air. If you don’t, use the old fashioned way of just putting things out to dry.

No matter how damaged your items are, there is a way to salvage most of it. You just have to be patient. Mold on photos can be dealt with, even if you have to wipe it off and have a new picture taken of the old one, complete with mold. It is better than no picture. If an item still exists, it can be helped.

Stand books up, fan the pages open, and let the air get to them. Books with glossy paper should have the pages separated while the book is still wet. Weave absorbent paper between every page to keep them from clinging together, then stand the book upright and let it dry.

After a disaster that you have survived, you need to focus your mind on something. It might as well be preservation of your belongings. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) recommends starting preservation as soon as possible. If damage has already set in after 48 hours, a professional who specializes in that medium (paper, photographs, textiles, books, metal, ceramic and glass objects, leather, paintings, etc.) can assess the damage and make recommendations for restorations.

The Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative has worked in many local communities to recover cultural heritage items (to include your genealogy) after natural disasters. A team of experts, including conservation scientists, collection managers, and archeologists can provide advice and on-the-ground assistance to both institutions and individuals. Visit <> for further information. Also, <> offers advice, along with FEMA, the National Archives, and, Family Search also offer free online courses in preservation for your genealogy. You have worked steadily on your genealogy, please preserve your efforts.

Bio: I am a Certified Genealogist and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe that the hobby of genealogy is fun, exciting, and very satisfying. Through researching genealogy, you may add skills, meet new friends, and gain new respect for those who have gone before you. You may reach me via email at ‘’ with questions or comments. I thoroughly enjoy the hobby and hope that you will too. Print your photographs of family, don’t just leave them in cyberspace. If you insist on leaving your family pictures in cyberspace, label them and mail them to your email or other locations. Label your photos with a first and last name, an approximate date, and a possible location if known. Please look for a new book from this author to be released in 2019.


By Marjory Regan

A brief bio of Marjory Regan: I am a member of the Williams Mills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and a “Certified Genealogist’ Thank you for your questions, comments, problems and successes. Email me at I think genealogy is a fascinating hobby; I hope you will, too. Get Started. Do something small every day, it all add up. Label the photos! First & Last names and approximate date of the photo. Do it for an hour while watching TV.