Saturday, March 14, 2009

Paper or Digital?

The other day I did a bit of a "spring clean." I got rid of a lot of old things, cleaned and dusted and polished and, gulp, organized. I have a drawer in my main dresser in which I keep all my genealogy research and yes, I actually tackled organizing that drawer. I love the DearMyrtle blog and look forward to reading her posts and I never fail to learn something new or gain further insight into genealogy. I also think her monthly organizational posts are a wonderful idea. I have a problem, however, and that is that roughly 90% of all my genealogy research is digitized only (meaning I don't have hard copies of much of anything). I have tried to follow DearMyrtle's model and create and organize paper files and I know the vast majority of people in the genealogy world do this. But I have come to the conclusion that I simply cannot and for several reasons. For one, I've discovered that I just don't have the room, even after all the spring cleaning I did. That one little drawer is really all I can spare for genealogy, though I could always do the paper files and binders and on and on and simply dump it on my parents to deal with and host. While they are interested in the genealogy I've done, I know they wouldn't appreciate that. I also just don't have the time to make paper files and binders with all my research. I work and go to school full-time and while most of my free time is devoted to genealogy, I don't have enough free time to do the paper work that goes along with the research. For me it is easier to just save the info and source to the appropriate file than handwrite it all out or print it and then go shuffle through a binder looking for a place to organize it. I also just am not completely sold on the importance of creating hard copies. Obviously I treasure all the original documents and photos I have, but I think as far as pedigrees and family group sheets (which I hate, but that is another story...) go, a flash drive or internet storage (I do both) will suffice. Family stories are the one exception, I do print those off as well as recipes and anything else that isn't just names and dates (which are important too, don't get me wrong). I know what a lot of the arguments are for having paper files of research but I don't know that they are strong enough to convince me.

1) Technology changes so it is best to keep hard files as back-ups. Yes, technology does change, but it doesn't change overnight. An example would be the floppy disk. It is now obsolete and most new computer don't accomadate them. But, who didn't see this coming? Early genealogy work I did I saved on floppy and then I converted it to CD. Now, I am using flash drives and internet storage since it is pretty clear that is where the technology is going. What I am saying is that while technology changes, there is usually a certain amount of warning beforehand and it is pretty easy to be prepared for eventual changes.

2) There is more security in being able to hold hard copies in your hands than trusting a storage device or the internet. Yeah, there is truth in that too. That is also more guaranteed privacy for the living in hard copies than technolgy but the only major difference is hitting the 'print' button on your family tree maker program or word processor. I have all my research backed-up on two flash drives (a few CDs too) as well several places online. I also don't keep everything on one device that way if a device goes does go down, I haven't lost everything (much like if you've lost a binder). Then again, I also don't believe in the "its only real if you can touch it" argument. Just because it isn't in my hands and taking up space and dust on my bookshelf, doesn't mean the work isn't valid and there.

3) It is easier to share hard copies with interested parties. I don't agree with this one either. I actually think it is easier (and cheaper) to e-mail information to someone. On the off chance that that person doesn't have e-mail (like my grandmother), I can just as easily print off copies of information for her than take paper files and make copies (that's a lot of papers to deal with!).

So those are some of my reasons for not having paper files. If paper works for you, then I think that is how you should do it, I just have noticed that my argument isn't really voiced in the genealogy world and I thought I would give another perspective. At least I'm saving a tree somewhere by not having hard copies of my work, that's got to count for something, right?


  1. Leah

    You bring up some very good points. My research is almost all digital as well - and in general I try to run a "paperless" household: all our incoming mail is scanned and then shredded, keeping only a pdf copy of bills etc. Only important papers where the original is necessary are retained.

  2. I agree with you. I started out wanting to make an organized paper-based filing system for my genealogy, and realized it was going to 1) cost me a small fortune to purchase file folders, binders, paper, ink and photocopies; 2) create a space problem in my tiny home; and 3) not be a eco-friendly system.

    I've gone digital, and you can read about my filing system here.


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