Tools to Preserve Family Oral History

Some messages don’t change over time. When Thomas MacEntee first wrote this blog post last year, the timing seemed especially appropriate. September is, after all, National Disaster Preparedness Month. This March, as the weather continues to be unpredictable (at best) we thought that it was a good time to consider safeguarding the various files and data created as part of any oral history project.

As Ed McMann used to say ….here’s Johnny (Thomas)!

Data Backup Basics

SanDisk_Cruzer_MicroIf you have any family history data – documents, scanned photos and audio files – you will want to make sure you have a backup copy, and preferably stored in more than one place. Never rely upon just one backup location such as the cloud or an external hard drive. Stuff happens. Cloud sites go out of business. USB flash drives are lost. Make sure you have multiple backups.

A smart move is to go for the Data Backup Triple Play as I call it:

Out #1 is to download data from a website to your computer hard drive. This protects you from the website going out of business or being hacked into.

Out #2 is to backup that same data to an external device. This means copy to a CD/DVD, MDisc, a USB flash drive or an external hard drive.

Out #3 is to copy the data to at least one cloud computing storage site such as Box or Dropbox.

Your data stored at Saving Memories Forever is safe and backed up nightly on our servers. Also, don’t forget that Premium Subscribers of Saving Memories Forever can download their stories on the Saving Memories Forever website for free! Free subscribers can purchase the same ability for $12.95 for a three-month period.

Future Proofing Your Data

One area of data backup and technology that is not often discussed is the area of future proofing data. What exactly does this mean? Future proofing refers to ensuring that various data formats are accessible in the future.

Here’s an example: do you remember 3.5” diskettes or the 5.5” floppy diskette version from the 1980s and 1990s? Perhaps you still have family history data and even audio files saved to these diskettes. Can you still access that data? Did you copy those files to your hard drive or to a newer data format for easy access?

Being pro-active in terms of future proofing is staying on top of the latest data storage technology, including audio file formats, and then copying the data from the soon-to-be-outdated format to a newer and more common format.

Don’t wait until different data storage media and file formats are outdated. If you do, you’ll have to use third-party services that will convert your data for you, often for a fee.

Keep The Legacy Train Moving Forward

And now after all your hard work and your preparations to protect your data, have you thought about what will happen to all of it once you’ve left this earth and have become an ancestor yourself? One of the most troublesome areas right now is this: other family members don’t understand the value of collected family history research and simply dispose of it in the trash once a person has died.

Don’t let your work be in vain! Focus on these two areas: passing the family history torch on to another family member and adding specific instructions in your estate planning papers about the disposal of your research.

Tips and Tricks for Oral History Preservation

Here is some helpful advice on safeguarding your oral history data and information:

  • Create multiple backups. The phrase “never put all your eggs in one basket” applies to data files as well. Even if you have your audio files as part of Saving Memories Forever, make sure you’ve exported them and saved them in various places including a cloud data program, a flash drive and a CD/DVD.
  • Future proof your data. Make sure you are using one of the latest file formats for audio files and storing the files on accessible media such as DVD or in the cloud, instead of diskettes.
  • Transcribe your interviews. Yes this can be time consuming. Yes this is not the same as hearing a family members voice. But rather than have the interview be lost forever, take time to transcribe the conversation. At Saving Memories Forever, you can upload your transcribed interview to a Transcription file on the website. There is a transcription file for each story.
  • Preserve the legacy chain. Have you made plans for all your hard work and collected information after you’ve died? Find a family member who is willing to preserve the information you’ve prepared. Also consider donating items to a local historical or genealogical society.

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

downloadThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit


On Being The Family Story Keeper

inventory“Here’s the story, of a lovely lady . . . .” If you are a late Baby Boomer like me, you remember the words to the theme from the Brady Bunch television show. What you may not realize is that it is a form of “family storytelling” that serves to introduce the audience to how that group of two parents and six children came to be.

Technology and Story Keeping

Whether it is a song, a photo, a scrapbook, a tape recording or video, storytelling has always taken many different forms. Our early ancestors relied upon oral history and passing the responsibility of keeping family stories to the next generation. Memory was the sole mechanism for preserving family history.

As technology changed, so did the ways to preserve and share these precious stories. How many of us are sitting on a treasure trove of old home movies, vacation slides, perhaps tape recorded interviews? These were the cutting edge technologies used to preserve and share memories over 50 years ago.

And now the options available are not only amazing but also overwhelming. Do you video tape an older relative during an interview or is a smartphone app like Saving Memories Forever less intimidating and easier to use? Once you scan family photos, what are the best ways to not only share them with other family members, but also preserve them so they aren’t lost forever?

Family Storytelling: A Journey of Discovery

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a new book, Preserving Your Family’s Oral History and Stories, to help the modern-day story keeper navigate all the options available in today’s tech-centric world. You can find the book on Amazon starting this Friday, November 1, 2013.

I’ve been preserving my own family’s history and stories for more than 20 years, and preparing this helpful guide led me on a path of evaluating my own family’s stories and ensuring that they endure for the future generations. Here’s what I’ve found to be true when it comes to taking on the responsibility of keeping the stories that matter:

  • Don’t delay. While it can seem overwhelming to record interviews with family members and also preserve them, don’t put it off for “another day.” And don’t expect someone else in the family to take on the task. For each day you delay, you risk losing that family member and their memories. In addition, stories preserved on media like slides, film and more break down and deteriorate over time.

  • Make a plan. Even big projects that seem too difficult to take on are made easier when viewed as small tasks. Lists are your friend: make a list of “to do” and action items as well as a list of existing items needing preservation.

  • Get help. Yes the duty of story keeping usually falls to one person in a family, but if you look closely, you’ll notice how they enlist others to help out. Seek out those with special skills such as writing, converting files, scanning photos, and more. Set up “work days” when family members meet to accomplish important tasks. Also, tap into the vibrant community of professionals and vendors who sell their services and knowledge of family history preservation.

  • Think long term. When setting your sights on preserving stories and mementos, think decades in the future, not just years. Make sure digitized items are stored using the latest technology and employ multiple backups. Keep up with changes to technology and upgrade before it’s too late.

  • Pass it on. Preserving your family’s history is more than just work, it can be a journey of discovery for you as well. Take time to document what you are doing, your thoughts and feelings – perhaps in a journal or online. Then look to the next generation of story keepers and make sure they understand the importance of family history preservation.

The Time Is Now

This is your time to step up and meet the challenge of preserving your family’s legacy. There has never been a better time for you to do this, given the technology and expert knowledge available. If you don’t accept the duty of being the family story keeper, who will? And how will your family be remembered?

© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

downloadThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit