Never Trust a Web Site

If there is one thing I am profoundly grateful for over the course of the past four years with this website it is the number of Westovers out there who have reached out to me through it.

I’ve met so many wonderful people – distant cousins who I likely never would have otherwise known.

We live in an age where such far flung connections are possible.

As I continue my research into DNA research I find the miracle in that work is completely tied to making instant connections online. In another time it just would not have been possible.

But while we bask in the success that online connection brings us I urge one very loud caution about the Internet and technology:

NEVER TRUST A WEBSITE.

What I mean by that is we make use of all these services intended to help us find our family and while they work they also store our information.

That’s great – as long as that website is there and it works.

However, as I meet more and more people online and work with still even others offline I am struck by how many times people lose information they have stored on a website.

One cousin wrote asking me what she could do about her Blogger account. She had kept a blog for four years, documenting her family’s activities. She rightfully considered that record part of her family history. Then she went inactive on the blog four a period of four months due to a difficult pregnancy. When she returned to it – it was gone.

She wrote letters, sent emails, and sought out help – all to no avail. Keeping and having no back up meant her record was truly lost.

That was a free service.

Some think that because they pay for a service their information is “safe”.

This isn’t a common story but I’ve heard things like this before: A man was active and paid for an account at Ancestry.com for years. He lost his ability to pay, went inactive for a couple of years, then was able to come back.

When he came back – yep, it was all gone.

All of this is part of the reason why I started my own website. This site is mine from the ground up and it sits on a server that is all “mine”. I have a daily backup routine to archive the information here and it sends my backups to two offsite locations.

I recently was asked by a cousin if he could store his photos, genealogy and documents here. Of course, the answer is yes. In fact, I’d love that. The more family we have doing that the better our collective record becomes.

But I would tell you not to trust this site either.

It could be gone in an instant due to a hacker, or a server failure or a natural disaster.

There is one and only one answer to your family history records: You build it, you keep it, you store it, you share it. You are the keeper and you alone are responsible for it.

Everyone should have their own stand-alone program for genealogical data.

There are very practical reasons for this. First of all, everyone’s genealogy is unique. All of my siblings, for example, share my family story but they have one of their own. Their genealogy should include their spouse’s. That makes it different than mine.

So they should keep their own records and work them with regularity. They should, of course, share their records and do what they can to safeguard them by keeping multiple copies with several people. They could use stand-alone computer programs to help with that.

There are dozens of programs available and many of them now automatically interface with FamilySearch when you are online.

But their value is that you can and should keep them OFFLINE.

You should frequently back them up and then give backups to family located in other locations. (Backups make great gifts).

My mother so distrusted the online world she printed everything. I have sitting in my basement dozens of boxes of printed genealogy.

I’m not saying that’s the way to do it. But I understand the thinking and sometimes I’m grateful I’ve got those unopened boxes sitting there…just in case.

The organization of all the stuff that goes into family history – the research logs, the photos, the documents, the many online links and repositories – it is all a burden, of a sort.

But the more you put into it the more you get out of it. And it’s real value may never be realized until you’re long gone.

It will be completely worthless if we digitize it all and give it away to some online resource we cannot control. Who knows what will become of it.

Back it up, store it in various places, and never trust it to be safeguarded by anyone else.

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