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Tips for protecting physical and digital family history research

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SALT LAKE CITY — Oliver B. Ransopher was a 20th-century historian who at one time had an extensive collection of artifacts from the life of Abraham Lincoln — documents, letters, photos and more, said Roselle Harney, at the RootsTech family history conference at the Salt Palace on Feb. 9.

Unfortunately, before Ransopher was able to find a permanent home for the artifacts, they were all destroyed in a tornado, he said.

Harney and Michael Stringham, family history consultants, shared several tools for protecting the information that family historians have collected.

Harney emphasized multiple times that genealogy enthusiasts should not depend on one single tool or source for storing their research.

"Don't put all your eggs in one basket," she said.

For physical copies of research, Harney recommended buying a safe that is fireproof and waterproof. The 1890 U.S. census was mostly destroyed by a 1921 fire and the water used to put out the fire, she said.

Keep copies of documents in another location, such as the home of a relative for example, she said. That way, even if the originals are destroyed by some accident or disaster, there will still be physical copies preserved.

For digital storage, Harney and Stringham recommended some practices for those who want to maintain their security and privacy such as having a strong password and backing up information on multiple sites.

For passwords, Stringham demonstrated how individuals can check the strength of their password using the website howsecureismypassword.net. The site shows how long it would take a hacker to break into their account. The word, "password" for example would only take a few seconds for a computer to crack, according to the site.

Instead, Stringham recommended using pass-phrases, a string of whole words that are long but easy to remember. For example, the phrase, "mycomputerissafe" would take a computer 35,000 years to crack, according to the site.

The danger from hackers, however, is generally limited, according to Stringham.

"Most of these guys are going after big corporations, not pictures of your great-grandma, but that's no reason not to be careful," he said.

A more common yet unexpected potential for lost data is companies that go out of business, according to Harney.

"If you have all your family history data on one site or all your files stored on one cloud service and then that company goes out of business, you're in trouble," she said. "That's why it's so important to not put all your eggs in one basket."

Harney and Stringham both said to continually certify that one's family history work is being secured. To underscore the continual nature of that work, Harney cited a quote from computer security specialist Bruce Schneier that says, "Security is a process, not a product."

Email: jadams@deseretnews.com