Tuesday’s Tip/Disasters: Flat Roofs Always Leak

This post is part of 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History (focus this week on natural disasters) and the Geneabloggers Tuesday’s Tip blogging prompt.

Here is the 52 Weeks question: “Week 10: Disasters. Did you experience any natural disasters in your lifetime? Tell us about them. If not, then discuss these events that happened to parents, grandparents or others in your family.”

The closest I’ve come to living through a natural disaster was last year’s Snowmageddon in the D.C. area. If you’re interested in reliving that, please see the story, starting here.

This week’s topic got me thinking about what to do to prevent damage to your family history records and artifacts in the case of a natural disaster.

I concentrated on archives and preservation for my MLS degree. One of the classes I took was fascinating — we studied the various ways different types of materials can deteriorate — my professor actually collects damaged books and other items on purpose and brought them in by the cart-load to each class so we could see how problems develop and the effect different types of damage have on documents, etc.

Of course, we also talked about how to prevent such damage. Keeping valuable documents out of harm’s way is a biggie. Here’s the number-one tip the professor impressed upon us constantly throughout the class:

Flat Roofs Always Leak

And it’s true. They have not developed a fool-proof system for draining the top of buildings with flat roofs. I work in a relatively new building and they’re constantly chasing down the sources of leaks during heavy rainstorms. Once they patch one problem area, the water just travels to the next one. It always finds a way.

So how does this affect you? Consider where you’re storing your precious family photos, documents and heirlooms. Are you in a building with a flat roof? I suppose you could move, but let’s say you don’t have much choice in the matter — how can you protect your valuables from the inevitable?

There are plenty of protective containers for items like photographs, papers and books. Make sure you are storing items in waterproof containers. Are they in the attic? If yes, bad idea. Not only does that put items first in line for water damage in the case of a roof leak, but most attics do not have the temperature and humidity controls of other areas of a building. This also can lead to damage caused by moisture (the same goes for basements).

Let’s say you have scanned everything as an added precaution. Where is your computer? What would happen if it got wet and your hard drive was fried — make sure you are backing up regularly and in multiple ways. I recommend having an online back-up in the cloud, a back-up to an external hard drive and a back-up of items to CD or DVD. Now, let’s take it a step further.

Let’s say you’ve done all of that. What happens if even those DVDs get damaged? Consider making duplicates of your DVD copies and sending one or more to relatives in far-flung locations. This was a tip shared by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive at Rootstech. His advice was to send your back-up copies as far away as possible.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Technology

This is the first time I’m getting to participate in the 2011 blogging series 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History, developed by Amy Coffin of We Tree. This week’s topic is technology:

“What are some of the technological advances that happened during your childhood? What types of technology to you enjoy using today, and which do you avoid?”

The first thing that popped into my head was personal computers. When I was 5, my family got a Commodore 64 for Christmas. It had a cyan-on-blue screen and if you had software for it, it either needed to be hand-typed from a software book or there were cartridges that could be inserted into the back of the keyboard (I had a few educational games like this). Eventually, we hooked up a cassette contraption to it and then a 5 1/2″ disk drive much later on. I didn’t have Atari growing up — this was it.

Well, not long after purchasing the computer, my mom made the mistake of leaving me alone with it. My 5-year-old brain decided it would be a good idea to see what happened if I pressed every single key on the keyboard… at the same time.

The result wasn’t a good one and the Commodore was soon non-operational. My mom finally dragged a confession out of me. She was none too pleased, but luckily, the computer was still under warranty.

However, there was a lesson to be learned here. Mom said she was going to take me with her to the store to return the computer and I was going to have to tell the sales clerk exactly what I did to break the computer. I was mortified and dreaded the trip. I vividly remember standing in line at Juvenile Sales in Wheaton, Md., as Mom started to explain to the clerk that we needed to exchange the Commodore for a new one.

And then, magically, the clerk, no questions asked, just took the proffered destroyed computer and receipt and said “No problem, I’ll just go get another one.” Mom didn’t even have a chance to segue to my confession to the clerk. It all happened so fast that we were walking out the door with a new Commodore in a matter of minutes. “You really lucked out, Missy,” Mom said (not using what was to become my nickname, but more in a “Listen here, lil’ Missy,” type of way).


Another technology that became quite popular as I was growing up was VCRs. I remember the day I came home and Mom had hooked up one in our den. The first thing my sister and I watched on it was a rented videotape of various “Tom & Jerry” cartoons. Earlier this weekend, while surfing IMDb, I came across a series that we used to rent all the time: “Fairy Tale Theater” with Shelley Duvall and various guest stars. Oh my gosh, it’s so weird to watch these now!

Of course, VCRs are now ancient history and I don’t even have a DVD player hooked up right now. I just stream everything. The leaps we’ve made in my lifetime have been amazing to see!