Preserving History: A Take on the Egyptian Library and Personal Documentation

As a genealogist but more particularly as a preservationist of useful historical artifacts, the burning of the Egyptian library got to me. The first truly preservationist blog recommended buying a fireproof box, and keeping essential documents inside that box. I wish that Egyptian library followed that policy. As soon as I heard that it burned, I thought about flame-retardant systems and how Egypt had one example of this already more than a thousand years ago. Personal time-travel wishes for going back to the library of Alexandria and rescuing documents is not an option. Neither is there an option for saving the 1890 census from the 1920’s fire, or the St. Louis NARA military records fire in the 1970’s.

While becoming a digital documentation fanatic, I love my paper. When I was a child, I had to stop and stare at stationery in stores, and I love the smell of a well-cared for museum. It’s the one of the most glorious smells in the world. The smell of old, well-cared for books versus musty dusty rusty is vast. The archivist in me knows that digital only takes one good electro-magnet to erase despite best efforts at keeping it functioning whereas paper, when done properly, lasts for hundreds of years if not thousands. Metal is better for inscriptions while rock isn’t bad for more everyday use. And no, I’m not suggesting using metal or rock for making different items, but they’re not bad choices for consideration of things meant to last literally for thousands of years. Thank you, again, Egyptians and hieroglyphs.

I wish that more people realized that their lives are important. Not as in they themselves are the best being that ever was since the beginning of time, but their existence matters. People who understand that existence matters like documenting it. Maybe there is a natural proclivity toward removing traces of existence in the short term. My gas receipt although theoretically useful for tax deduction benefits at the end of the year isn’t something that I really care about. I try to pay with cash, and so there aren’t any strong numbers on there to hold against me. That said,

DOCUMENTATION IS IMPORTANT! No, I do not recommend becoming a pack-rat and storing every single paper that a person ever created in their entire lifetime. That is unwieldy and unmanageable when there are hundreds if not thousands of papers for the life span of most educated people. Vital records- store them, make copies, and put them in bank vaults. These matter. Tax documents going back at least seven years, and if possible a copy from every year (the IRS can audit going back that far, technically, but seven years is the minimum). Medical records, especially immunizations, matter. Religious documents, wills, and court records, or anything that a government or governing body of any kind creates also matters. That includes school transcripts and similar records. Within my own record stashes are my father’s high school varsity letter in chess, (yes, he’s smart. Brilliant, honestly,) his and my mother’s wedding pictures, and some of my and his school transcripts from when we were both in grade school. Things like this add human interest in the “blank space” otherwise occurring between birth and marriage for most ancestors.

Although many people are hugely into scrap booking, I am not. However, scrap booking is a valid personal history builder as is blogging, etc. Family websites are good things, and there is no way to get away from digital documentation in family history. I wish that the current software programs kept up with the needs of the field, although I need to test out RootsMagic 5 to see if they upgraded their documentation systems. I love the Memorize Feature for ease of use in referencing a document multiple times, but otherwise regarding genealogical software programs they all still have issues or else I have not found one with sufficient quality to address my daily needs. Still/always searching!

I’d give a lot for a program to have all of Evidence Explained‘s examples in Wizard format along with automatic digital download capacity for websites and similar mediums, and be transferrable between computers or more compatible utilizing basic GEDCOM utility languages. Makes me wonder what the limitations are for the underlying code structures.


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