30 January 2011

Natural Disasters and Family History

If a natural disaster occurred today, would your family history records survive?

In Hurricane Katrina and the Canberra bush fires, three of my clients lost everything. I was able to send replacement copies of my reports, plus the genealogical data and certificates that accompanied their requests - but many professional genealogists do not keep client files for very long.

During the past month, five Australia States have been affected by catastrophic floods, and an 'inland tsunami' destroyed one small town. Several other towns were hastily evacuated by helicopter. 75% of Queensland (an area larger than Texas) has been declared a Disaster Area. Now three cyclones (one potentially a Category 5) are expected to cross the coast in Queensland and Western Australia within five days. Severe weather events are becoming more frequent, and they are occurring in areas that have not traditionally been at risk. If you live in an area where bush fires, cyclones, hurricanes or tornadoes are common, you may be ready. The rest of us? Maybe not.

In the recent floods, electricity and mobile phone towers went out very early in some areas. Many people could not be warned to evacuate because they did not have a standard (non-cordless) telephone or a battery-operated radio. (Let that be a lessen to us all!) In pouring rain, with flood waters approaching Brisbane, I helped a friend prepare to move some of her belongings to storage on high ground. She has 10,000 books. Where to start packing?! That story had a happy ending, but it certainly made me think.

I live a long way from the river, but a major flood extends into large creeks, which could flow back into the small creek behind my house. If local heavy rain had continued, creeks would have been full before the flood peak arrived, and I might have had water through my house. As a precaution, I loaded the car with important personal and business documents, family history folders and notebooks, photos, laptop computer, data backups, mobile phone and charger, torch, radio, spare batteries, clothes, toiletries, medications, sheets, towel, pillow, blanket, and some food and water. Inside the house I lifted as many things as possible onto benches and tables.

It turned out to be total overkill, but it was good practice. For future reference, I have made a list (in order of priority) of other things that I would try to save if I had time. High on my list would be irreplaceable mementos from my travels (handcrafted wooden and pottery miniatures) and the beautiful beefwood fruit bowl, magazine rack, picture frames, coffee tables and book cases that my father made from timber he felled on the grazing property where I grew up.

Many Web sites have advice on disaster preparedness. As a family historian, I have some additional comments:
  • Think about what is stored where. Should items in lower shelves and drawers be moved higher?
  • If you only had minutes to grab books, could you find the ones you treasure most?
  • Some disasters wipe out an entire town. Store one electronic backup locally and another much further away, preferably interstate.
  • If you have a free account with Google, Yahoo, Hotmail etc, send yourself emails with important files attached, and save them there. You can retrieve them from any computer with Internet access (eg, at a library).
  • Upload a GEDCOM file to Rootsweb's WorldConnect (free). You can download it if you need it.
  • Various Web sites (eg, State Library of Qld) have advice on salvaging items damaged by water. Print a copy and store it in your Emergency Evacuation Kit (with some freezer bags).
  • If your computer is submerged, it may still be possible to retrieve data from the hard drive.
  • Read Geneabloggers' guides to data backup and disaster recovery plans.

24 January 2011

Ancestor Approved Award - my nominations

I have been neglecting my blogs due to a heavy workload, family problems, executor duties, a minor back injury, the floods, etc. I therefore felt quite unworthy when Pauleen wrote, I've nominated you for the Ancestor Approved Award as thanks for all your hard work in Queensland family history research.' Pauleen nominated my Queensland Genealogy blog, and this 'Genealogy Leftovers' blog was later nominated by Sassy Jane Genealogy.

The Award was created by Leslie Ann Ballou (whose blog is 'Ancestors Live Here') to acknowledge genealogy blogs that are 'full of tips and tricks as well as funny and heartwarming stories'. Recipients are asked to list ten surprising, humbling or enlightening aspects of their research, and to pass on the award to ten other researchers. Here are my lists.
  1. I was surprised to discover (years later) that a girl in my class at school was my third cousin.
  2. In the early days of my research, while tramping around Helidon cemetery looking for the grave of my great-grandparents James Campbell WEBSTER and Ellen BUTLER, I was surprised to find a nearby headstone for my other great-grandparents, George and Mary HUDSON. I promptly started researching that family too!
  3. As a tourist visiting the museum at Sale, Victoria, I was astonished to find portraits (by Alfred BOCK) of my great-great-grandmother's brother (John CAMPBELL of 'Glencoe') and his wife Susan.
  4. I was surprised to find (from a Justice Department register of criminal depositions) that my mother's uncle, who served in WWI, received a suspended sentence for stealing as a public servant.
  5. I was surprised when records of the Clan Campbell Archives, Inveraray, Scotland, confirmed a family story that my great-great-grandmother, Julia CAMPBELL, was related to one of the Dukes of Argyll. (I will be even more surprised if there is any truth in the rumour that my English grandmother, Florence HUDSON, was related to a 'Sir Benjamin PEACOCK'.)
  6. I was humbled and enlightened by my father's stories about life in outback Queensland. He described his 1920s childhood, education, daily routines, health and home remedies, changes in domestic technology, community attitudes, social events, the Great Depression, the War years, etc.
  7. I was greatly enlightened by an old family document (sent to me by a distant relative) with exact birth dates for William HUDSON and his wife Christiana. This confirmed that an 1806 baptism record was indeed for 'my' William HUDSON. That record names William's maternal grandparents!
  8. The same distant relative also sent me a most enlightening letter, dated 1879, from William HUDSON to his son Charles. It was a thrill to see William's handwriting and to form an impression of the man from the tone, content and composition of his letter.
  9. I am humbled by the generosity of Michael FLYNN, who shares his discoveries about our PORTER ancestors. Michael is the author of The Second Fleet: Britain's Grim Convict Armada of 1790. He also writes for the new magazine Inside History.
  10. I am surprised that more family historians do not use the free on-line guides and catalogues for National, State and other Archives. Some of the most enlightening sources are there, but will never be on the Internet!
In no particular order, here are ten blogs that I enjoy:
Four of my other favourites have already been mentioned by Pauleen: