Take-Aways from Hurricane Harvey
September is National Preparedness Month and October is National Family History Month. As a portion of the United States reels from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, genealogists have much to consider this autumn. The theme of National Preparedness Month is “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.” Life is uncertain at best and the conditions we live in today could abruptly change tomorrow. Of course, our first preparedness priority is to preserve the lives of our family members, neighbors, and community. But, high up on the priority list for every genealogist should be a preparedness plan for our collections of irreplaceable family treasures.
A news headline about the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey this week nearly brought me to tears: “Family Mourns History Lost in Grandmother’s Flood-Damaged Home.” The home, which the family has owned since 1970, was filled with at least three generations of family history. The woman’s daughter was grateful that a picture of her great-great-grandfather survived the flood, since it hung on the wall above the flood line. Nothing else was salvageable.
Family History Fanatics, the Lee family’s own home survived the storms, yet they lost some family history items on display at their flooded local library. Watch their story:
Our Own Close Call
Just months after we moved into our home in 2010, a rapidly moving wildfire swept DOWN our mountain like firefighters have never seen before after machine gun drills at the military base on the other side of the mountain caught dry grasses on fire. Homes one street to the east and one street to the west of us were not spared. With minutes to evacuate, the home owners found themselves with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Irreplaceable family collections were lost. We were blessed that the fire stopped mere yards from several homes on our street. Yet, if we had not been lucky, we would have lost so much family history. We did not have time to grab more than our children and pets as we raced away from the fire. The cleanup from smoke damage took weeks and even months as more ash blew down from the mountain. I thought I learned a big lesson from this disaster.
Yet, I have been slow to take action in the seven years since. I am the keeper of a vast collection of original family heirlooms and photos. If we had a disaster tomorrow and we were forced to evacuate within minutes like we were in 2010, I am sad to say that we would still lose a vast amount of family treasures. Now, that is not to say that I haven’t dabbled in preparing my collection. I purchased archival boxes, sleeves and tissue, and have digitized a portion of the collection as I archive it. So, a small percentage of my collection would be retrievable from online storage.
But, I would feel devastated to know that I could have preserved it all. None of it needs to be lost in a future disaster. In fact, if I digitized my entire collection, focusing on the original, irreplaceable items, I would also have those items neatly stored in their archival boxes as well. The organized collection would be easy to grab in an evacuation situation, versus the mixed mass of boxes sitting in the closet right now. So, why do I procrastinate?
Having friends and family affected directly by Hurricane Harvey has given me renewed motivation to take ACTION on my preparedness plan for my genealogy collection. I want to be a trustworthy and responsible custodian of the family collection. I want generations after me to have access to these items. A plan means nothing if it is not acted upon.
How to Prepare
A Genealogist in the Archives, Melissa Barker, wrote a wonderful article this week called “Preserving Genealogy Records by Preparing for a Disaster.” She gives a list of top priorities for genealogists to consider for their home archives.
Thomas MacEntee, of Abundant Genealogy, promotes a 3-2-1 genealogy data backup plan. The same principles apply for our physical heirlooms and photos. We have them organized and properly stored in archival quality boxes. Then we have a digital copy of those items in at least two offsite locations and formats. This gives an exponentially higher chance of our family history surviving any type of disaster.
How to help those who have lost while sharpening your genealogy skills
**UPDATE: This conference has now passed.**
The upcoming Back 2 Research Online Conference was created as a fundraising effort for The Humble Area Genealogical Society’s preservation projects. However, several members of the society have lost everything due to Hurricane Harvey. 50% of the conference proceeds will now be donated to help these society members rebuild their lives. Register for this spectacular conference, which you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home. Sharpen your genealogy skills, and give relief to some fellow genealogists.