Researching Family History: Preserving our genealogical records in the face of a fire or other calamaties

Published: Tuesday, July 17 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

This year — 2012 — has been unreal. It is what I call “the year of the fires.” In Utah alone during the past month, we have seen some 13 fires burning thousands of acres of brush, pine and homes.

A couple of weeks ago, we could see a column of smoke from our own home near the Draper Utah Temple billowing into the sky. This summer, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Arizona and Idaho have also experienced great fires.

According to various new reports, 2012 could be a record year for the worst fires in American history. We learn of massive fires now in Siberia, according to the Moscow Times. As a result, places such as Seattle have been experiencing beautiful sunsets from the smoke from those fires so far away.

When fire broke out in Utah, some homeowners were notified to evacuate their homes with only 15 minutes notice. Other people who were gone from their homes, returned to ashes. Yet, some homes had flames raging around their property, but miraculously the home was never touched by the fires.

If we have prepared ourselves and family by making copies of our family history and photographs, and storing it, we know right where the information is when we have time to evacuate.

It is wise to make copies of what we have, even if it does not seem like a lot. If copies are put in a safe place, like a safety deposit box, and another sent to the home of a relative who may live at a distance, then the chances of recovering and restoring what is lost are very high.

If we are unable to take computers, records and photos with us when we evacuate and they burn, at least there is a copy in another place for safekeeping. Ebooks and other online back-ups can be done where everything on the computer can be saved and later re-accessed. We do not need to be an archivist to do this, but only need to prepare at a time when there isn't panic. Family reunions and family home evenings are great places and times to organize and take steps to prepare and follow through.

The same holds true for other types of calamities. We stood in awe one day and saw on the news the tidal wave crashing all the debris on the shores of Japan when it slammed into the east coast in March 2011. There were computers, papers, photographs and other things of great family value lost in the debris.

Let us look at the experience in the Book of Mormon of Lehi and Nephi. God warned the family through Nephi's father, the prophet Lehi, that Jerusalem would be destroyed and they were instructed to leave their home. The Lord told Lehi to send Nephi and his brothers to return to Jerusalem and get the brass plates containing their genealogy so they could take them with them (see 1 Nephi 3).

While it took several attempts and they needed a bit of divine guidance, they did obtain the plates and bring them back to their family (see 1 Nephi 4). They took them with them on their journey to the Americas.

The lesson learned in this is that the record was important enough for Nephi's family to return to Jerusalem to get them well before the city was destroyed, and in the end help preserve their family's history, scriptures and language.

Organizing and doing before the disaster hits will assure greater chances for obtaining the records and restoring anything lost. For all of us, there is still time to prepare. We can quietly, efficiently and prayerfully do what we can do to obtain and preserve our family records while things are calm. Then we can properly think things through in obtaining and preserving our family history and photographs.

Remember, it is the Lord who has stated through a living prophet, "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear" (see Doctrine and Covenants 38:30).

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc., at ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and adviser to Treasured Souls to Keep, at treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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