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Researching Family History: Taking steps to preserve family records, photos in case of a natural disaster

Published: Tuesday, May 20 2014 9:12 p.m. MDT

Jeff Buchanan waters the scorched earth around a neighbor's house that burned to the ground during a wildfire Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Escondido, Calif. One of the nine fires burning in San Diego County suddenly flared Thursday afternoon and burned close to homes, triggering thousands of new evacuation orders.

Gregory Bull, Associated Press

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Spring has made its debut and summer has not yet arrived, and there have already been several fires that have inundated San Diego homes, hillsides, canyons and property in California.

What's more, there is a high growth of weeds and tall grass that within a month or so can become kindling or better yet, fire fuel on some hillsides and in some valleys. One spark such as a lightning strike, cigarette butt, or fireworks, and we could see several hundred acres go up in flames in a few hours.

Additionally, western states, including Utah, are going through drought conditions, both hot and dry, making grass, brush, trees and homes conducive to fire. California already has experienced advanced heat temperatures up into the 100s.

That's just one example, but every area has the potential for fires, flooding and a variety of storms and other natural disasters.

What has been done to prepare our photos and genealogical papers for what appears inevitable? Have we been sending our continuing research to another place or family member to store? Have we gone over escape plans in our family home evenings in our homes? Do our plans include quick removal of things like the computer or back-up drive? Have we been electronically backing up all our data from time to time?

Ah, yes, it is possible we may see more than just fires this year. Not only are fires destructive, but also floods. Areas recently burned out on hillsides where the foliage is gone and the land is bare can be an area of torrential flooding if rain were to come.

Dam breaks and earthquake tremors can cause a huge catastrophe from small seismic shifts in the underlying faults, whether we are living in mountainous areas or on flat level land.

Snow-pack runoff and rain in higher elevations up river can cause flooding downstream. We have previously seen farms totally destroyed up and down the Mississippi River as well as on other rivers. On the other hand, Utah's snow-pack runoff had little if any for worry of flood because of the drought.

I do not consider myself a predictor of gloom and doom, but I am only trying to help prepare for possible calamities. My memory reflects on calamities that have happened in the past where much family treasure of photos and records have been lost. In some cases, it is not a matter of if something were to happen, but when.

Nothing can replace human life, so the family or occupants become the first priority. Too many times, we hear of a child or a senior citizen that did not make it out of a raging fire.

What is the next priority? That depends upon you and your family.

Perhaps next to life itself follows our family photos and records. In order to rebuild, we have to have record of our family by which to start over again. Photos and our histories help us do this. Perhaps you have sent to someone else in the family the records and photos. Maybe some heirloom items like Grandma's old Singer sewing machine could be stored somewhere out of the home, like in a secure storage unit or another relative's place who lives some distance away. You and your family will know best what to secure and how to secure it for the almost inevitable knock at the door to evacuate.

Setting up an escape plan

1. Make a map of your home. With family members, establish escape routes from where their rooms are. Go over the plan from time to time so in an instant your family can know what they need to do to escape from anywhere in the house. Family home evenings and even family reunions can offer opportunity for this.

2. If you use a computer for your family history and photos, place it somewhere you can remove in an instant.

3. Photo albums, Books of Remembrance and family bibles are best protected in a place you can quickly get to for removal.

Yes, spring has brought with it literally a fiery fury early in the year. All it will take is one spark for a fire to start. Planning, organizing and acting on these things will help us protect our family, our photos or memories and genealogy or family histories.

May we follow the voice of the Lord and his servants of which the prophet Joseph Smith wrote, "... but if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear."

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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