It’s hurricane season, and here on the east coast of the US we are carefully watching the Atlantic for the development of storms. Hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th, but August and September seem to be our months of big activity.
Every year our local weather stations tell us the importance of being prepared. They give us lists of where we should go during a hurricane, what we should take and how much to take with us. We are told to get our important papers together, buy water and nonperishable foods, get our prescriptions filled in case the pharmacies close, and to make sure we have flashlights and lots of batteries on hand.
But what about all of our genealogy research? How do you prepare theses mounds of documents for a hurricane?
If you live on the coast, my advice, take as much of your genealogy with you as you can when you evacuate. Storm surge, hours of high winds, and heavy rains are not going to be nice to you or your genealogy documents.
If you live inland in an area that does not normally get evacuated, there are some things you can do to make sure your genealogy has the best chances of survival.
Genealogy Document Storage
Most of us already keep some sort of storage system for our genealogy. Mine is mostly in file totes, but also a few boxes and binders. I also keep a backup of everything on my computer, online, and on an external hard drive just in case anything ever happens to the originals.
My main goals when I started thinking of storage was organization and portability. I liked the idea of being able to grab what I was looking for quickly and to be able to grab a box and go when I needed to take it with me. Most of the time that meant cardboard boxes and old manila folders, after all, who had money for storage containers when you had perfectly good boxes lying around?
That way of thinking changed for me though after a small hurricane brushed our coast. Our house was lucky with no damage at all, but my neighbor’s roof leaked into one of her closets where she had all of her family photo albums stored in a cardboard box. She lost every picture in those albums. After seeing how devastated she was, I knew I needed to change how I stored my genealogy.
How to protect important documents from water damage
When choosing storage containers for your genealogy documents, you want not only something that will keep your papers safe, but also something that is functional enough for everyday use. You don’t want a system that requires you pack up everything for hurricane season, only to unpack it all when you are working on it.
Thankfully there are some really great waterproof filing totes available that are both functional and weatherproof. I found these Letter Size Portable Weathertight File Boxs on Amazon, but a search of any big box store should give you similar results.
A good waterproof container should keep your documents safe, but remember if you are in a flood area or have had water enter your home from storms in the past, make sure to place your document containers on a high shelf or cabinet up off of the floor. You do not want your genealogy floating away.
Storing important documents at home
When storing documents at home, you not only want to think about what you will be storing them in, but where in your house you will keep them.
When you have air conditioning, moisture in your home isn’t as much of a problem. But during a hurricane, we often lose power for days or even weeks. Hurricanes drop a lot of rain and rain equals moisture on the ground and in the air.
It is also not a good idea to keep your important papers, like your genealogy, in a high humidity area. Areas like a shelf in a laundry room or the closet that is outside your main bathroom will hold more humidity and can promote mold growth and damage to your documents.
There is a solution to this however. If you are worried about moisture in your storage containers, one idea is to use a desiccant like silica gel packs. They an inexpensive fix and are readily available online. Just be sure to follow the instructions for the one you purchase and keep it out of reach of children.
For normal non-hurricane times, I keep my totes on a shelf in my bedroom for easy access, but during a storm, I try to keep mine in an interior closet away from windows. I have seen what glass and water can do during a hurricane, the last thing I want is my genealogy shredded and wet.
How to store important documents online
There is nothing like the thrill of owning an original genealogy document. Birth certificates, death certificates, actual obituaries clipped from newspapers in 1922, I myself have quite a few.
But when Mother Nature starts showing her temper, we can try as we might to protect the things that are valuable to us, but sometimes nothing we do is enough. Natural disasters can destroy those original documents in seconds and make our years of work nothing more than a memory.
Storing your genealogy online may not be the same as having the original, but you will at least still have a record of all of your hard work and won’t have to start over from scratch.
Cloud storage has come a long way over the years. When I first started using it, it was still a bit iffy and sometimes files did get lost. Now, however, I use cloud storage every day between work, blogging and home, and other than a case of user error (I forgot to transfer a file when changing cloud storage providers), I have not lost anything.
A lot of cloud storage providers even offer free storage up to a certain size, so if you are unsure of paying for the service, try out the free ones first. Remember this is only going to be a backup in case of emergency, but if that emergency hits, you want to be covered.
I personally keep my files not only on my computer, but on an external hard drive and on an online cloud service as well. It really depends on how much you want to make sure your research stays intact.
To store your files online:
- Scan your documents / photos and save them to your computer or storage device.
- Organize your scans into files and folders (You can learn how to do that here: Tips for Organizing Genealogy Research)
- Choose an online cloud storage provider
- Following the service providers instructions, upload your files to your cloud storage account.
Preparing for a hurricane can be a bit overwhelming, but with a little work, when the time comes, we can be ready. In the meantime, stay safe, keep and eye on the radar, and get prepared for what’s to come.
And as always, enjoy the journey. Happy searching, everyone!
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