Lost Resources in the Digital Age

My great, great grandfather, Jesse Slack, was one of the people who kept things and one of the things he kept was all his old letters. When Jesse died the family was going to burn all his old letters; Myrtle Shaw, Jesse’s granddaughter, took a handful of them as mementos. She said she later regretted not taking all of the letters as they would have such a treasure trove of family history.

Letters from previous generations really are a wonderful find. They help to bring these people back to life by giving us a glimpse into their daily lives. It’s sad that so many people didn’t keep old letters; with e-mail taking over from letters I wonder if we haven’t seen the end of this resource as a way to reach back and get in touch with our past.

Photographs are another potential treasure trove of information, although they can also be a source of mystery even if everyone in the photo is identified. Photographs used to be treasured items, not like today where digital photography allows us to take so many photographs that they become disposable. This may another source of information that will disappear over time as we keep photographs in a digital form.

E-mails and photographs, text messages – these little pieces of communications are kept in private accounts that once we die or change service providers are deleted, never to be recovered. I remember reading about a young soldier who died in Iraq or Afghanistan, I don’t recall which. His parents wanted access to his e-mail account so they could print out all the e-mails and keep them as a reminder of his life, but privacy rules by the e-mail provider didn’t allow for anyone else to gain access to his account. I don’t know if they ever got access, something inside me says they probably didn’t.

This has made think that perhaps I should keep a list of passwords to e-mails accounts, this blog and other websites where I have family history and photographs so that when I’m gone this information isn’t lost.

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