NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2003
Archiving Genealogy Information In a Generic Fashion
by Richard Robusto,
Las Vegas PC Users Group
Southern Nevada Users Groups
ricmar2@cox.net
(click to email author)


Archiving Genealogy Information In a Generic Fashion
Most of us in the genealogy field find ourselves with large amounts of information on our relatives. It challenges us to find a way to preserve it in a manner that in the future, near and distant, our descendents will be able to access this data in a timely and understandable manner.

When I first started my genealogy project, I had the mistaken idea that I could put away the program and all the data files so that it could be accessed years from now. Boy, was I na´ve.I was using Windows 98 at the time.Later I upgraded to Windows ME and then to Windows 2000.At this point the program would not work at all with the new system. Of course, I got the updates and finally got it working, but it really got me to thinking that there had to be a better way to preserve information so that it can be used in years to come without difficulties.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that you should have a printed copy of everything.This I did on good acid-free paper.There are different results that can be achieved. For instance, you can print out a fan type chart. I did that first. It took close to 65 pages of standard letterhead size paper.Then these had to be meticulously trimmed and taped together making a large five foot square.Another method was to print out a horizontal "format" chart.This involved the same number of sheets and after assembling them together, made a chart that was three feet wide by twelve feet long. This requires an empty wall in order to display it. As far as preserving them, it poses quite a problem.How long would something of this nature last rolled up and packaged? As we all realize, time is our enemy.

In 1999, My wife and I took a trip to Italy with my son and his wife.We went to the mountaintop village that my parents came from in the early 1900s.We went into the commune (town hall) to get information about the family, birth and death dates, etc.It turned out to be quite interesting in the information that we were able to acquire.When we went into the commune and asked, they took down a ledger about 10 by 18 inches with about 20 pages of paper inside. When they opened the book and turned the yellowed pages, you could hear the sheets crinkling, almost as if they were leaves from a tree.The thought that went through my mind is that we didn't get there any too soon. I am sure that in a few more years, those sheets will deteriorate and be unreadable.On top of it all, I was not able to find any digital or photographic record of the information that was in that ledger. Coming away from this experience left me with the resolve that records need to be digitized and photographed as much as possible. I know that this is happening in some parts of Italy, but in this rural area, it is a long ways away.

So the problem of archiving has to be faced. Sure, we could leave all the information on an individual hard drive with the program itself.But the future holds many uncertainties.Will this drive be able to be accessed with Windows 4000 or Linux Extradense 4500?Sure, everyone says that it can always be brought up to date with current technology.But what if this item were to be put in a safe place where no one saw it for a long time. It would become a relic and probably unusable.

In trying to solve this dilemma, I have tried one or two things which I would like to discuss. The first is the FlipAlbum which can be used to produce what is called an "E" book.This can be any number of pages and can be put in the order desired.To set this up, I captured the pages out of my genealogy database converting them into bitmaps. I also added all the necessary photos, being able to superimpose descriptions over any part of the photos.When they were finalized and put in the proper order, then the FlipAlbum can be shown on any computer.The program puts a small file in the beginning of the book so that it can be shown on any computer without the necessity of having the program installed.The pages can be set and automatically timed to be seen as a slide show or can be turned manually as desired. The advantages are that it can be viewed on any computer and there is no limit to the number of pages that can be inserted.There is also a provision to add MP3 music playlist, plus it will accept most standard images and multimedia formats.The pages can be viewed in centerfold and double page mode to view photos better.Included also is the ability to print the entire album or individual pages or photos.

I have constructed a couple of FlipAlbums with the first and second generation of my genealogy. Next I intend to revisit the project and add every page from the genealogy that I have and make a complete FlipAlbum.When this is complete, then it is an easy matter to copy the discs so that the members of the family can have their own copy, assuring the permanence of availability of the information.

The second idea that I had was to take the same sheets that I had used in the FlipAlbum, and use them as individual files. Then, using a program such as Ulead DVD Picture Show, set them up as a slide show which can be shown on any TV using a DVD player.The files are big enough to fill the TV screen and, that allows you to read the text on the data sheets.The photos come out well as they fill the screen also. The only drawback with this is that the timing of the files has to be set for approximately 15 seconds so as to have enough time to read the data.Unlike the FlipAlbum, the timing cannot be changed once the disc is made. This program will also allow audio tracks to be added. I have an idea of narrating all the information as it is shown, but I haven't got that far yet.I found out that I do have to sleep somewhat at night. For the first ones I made I added a music background.I also made a cover sheet that is shown first with the name of the families and the author's name. The only disadvantage to this is that you are limited to the capacity of the disc which is 700 MB.But as soon as I acquire a DVD writer, then I will be able to incorporate the whole genealogy section into one disc.

I like the idea of making my own slide show with this DVD program.This can be shown a lot more universally without having the use of a computer. Plus the viewing is much more pleasant on a TV. And with the advent of HDTV, the views can only get better.And lets face it, the DVD image will be with us a lot longer than the current operating systems.So hopefully, many years in the future, our descendents will be able to see all this information and will appreciate the efforts that went into making these things as permanent as we could in this day and age.

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