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A Genealogist In The Archives: Disaster Preparedness for Genealogists

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Disaster Preparedness for Genealogists

On November 9, 1872, The  Great Boston Fire started in a dry-goods warehouse that spread fast in windy weather, destroying nearly 800 buildings. Damage was estimated at more than $75 million. The fire could be seen in the sky as far away as 100 miles.

Ruins after the Great Boston Fire of 1872

Disaster preparedness is something that every archive plans for and reviews on a yearly basis. If archives are preparing their facility and records for a disaster, should genealogists do the same?

I have long lamented that genealogists are also "home archivists". Most genealogists don't work as archivists but they do have some of the same responsibilities that archivists have, which are:

  • Collect original records
  • Collect original photographs
  • Receiving donated records (from family and distant, new found, cousins)
  • Organizing and preserving records

Would it not be pertinent to preserve these original records and have a disaster plan in place in case the unthinkable happens? It would be difficult to explain an entire disaster plan in this blog post, so here is an example of a Disaster Preparedness Plan from the New York State Archives that the genealogists can use as a guide:

This plan describes the steps necessary to anticipate, prevent, plan for, and recover from a disaster affecting records in any format.

Houston County Lions Club Records Donation, Houston County, TN. Archives

Many of the steps in this plan are ones that the genealogist or "home archivist" can implement to protect and preserve original records, photographs and artifacts in their possession. The main idea is to be prepared and keep your records in a state of preparedness in case of a disaster.

None of us know when the next fire, tornado, earthquake or flood may happen to us or our home. But we can prepare and plan ahead to save and preserve our genealogical records.



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  1. Please, please, please take a close up (head shot of each person so you have a great photo. Ask that they not wear sun glasses or hats for a least this photo.
    I have tons of old photos that I can only see half a face under a hat and were taken so far away that you see half the farm but no good shots of the people.

    1. Gene, that is great advice! I have a bunch of those kinds of photos too!