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30 October 2019

Preparing for Disasters: Saving Your Genealogical Treasures

A few of my personal treasures
Chris Pattillo writes:

This blog post is for all our California members – which means nearly everyone who reads this blog. Raise your hand if you feel you were/are well prepared for this year’s fire season. Hmm, I don’t see many hands – must be all the smoke in the sky.

I am very fortunate in that I live in an Oakland neighborhood with one of the most well-prepared groups of citizens. We are part of the CORE program. CORE stands for Citizens of Oakland Respond to Emergencies. Berkeley has a similar group. Our neighborhood has a stash of emergency supplies, we have had practice drills, many of us have completed the three-course emergency preparedness training offered by the City of Oakland, and we meet twice every year to refresh ourselves and inform new residents.  This has been happening in my neighborhood since 1998.

From all this training the most valuable lesson I learned was to take time well in advance of a real emergency to think about what you value most. What things would you try to save if you had to evacuate your home during an emergency? And write it down so that when the time comes you won’t have to think about it.
My list of what to evacuate fits on one page.
Items in red are what I'd try to grab if
I had only a five-minute warning.
Our home was threatened during the Oakland firestorm but saved when firefighters stopped the fire in Mountain View Cemetery, so we take these threats very seriously. This week, while the Kincade, Carquinez Bridge and the Getty fires were burning, we checked our lists and got everything organized – ready to load and leave if we got a call to evacuate. It’s all stacked neatly on my dining room table. Doing so helped reduce my anxiety a lot.

The process of preparing the list is very interesting. I encourage everyone to prepare such a list just to experience what if feels like to think about what you value most. What do you own that would tear your heart out to lose? What each of us would choose to save will vary. For me, and I suspect for many of you, it’s family things – both old and new. For me my box of favorite Christmas ornaments is sitting on my table, I cannot reasonably pack all the china and crystal but I did pick out one particularly treasured plate. I have a favorite vase, 3 carved polar bears, a mug I bought in Kentucky while on my 2017 Genealogy Journey, my grandmother’s cookie jar which happens to be full of homemade cookies, our wooden salad bowl, my Snap-On rachet and screwdriver set, and my favorite recipes including our traditional Christmas cookie recipes.

Copies of all of the family history books I’ve made were the first things I grabbed and some of the original family photos, though all of those were scanned years ago. Oh, I added a few practical items – my two favorite, most comfortable pairs of shoes, my favorite slacks and blouses, favorite earrings and enough undies and socks to get by before I could buy more. I added some food in case we need to live out of my motor home for a few days. Medications, checkbooks and cash. That’s about it.
This lightweight box holds all my favorite Christmas ornaments

Nancy Cork was impacted by one of the two fires that sparked in Lafayette this month. Here’s what she had to say: “When I was told that a grassfire sparked by downed power lines had threatened houses on my street in Lafayette this Sunday, my first thought was that I wanted to save our family's boxes of home videos... if only I could rush in and grab them, then everything else could burn. That desperate panic has lasted after the threat has gone (for now...this IS California). For years I have been trying to preserve my family photographs by scanning and digitizing them, sending files to relatives out-of-state, storing them in 'the cloud.' The video recordings also need to be duplicated, digitized, shared and stored remotely. This is my next big project. Until then, the boxes of videos are sitting on the desk, near the door, ready to go at a moment's notice."

So, do you feel prepared? Have you:

1.       Finished scanning the family photos you’d hate to lose?
2.       What about documents you inherited - have those been scanned?
3.       Have you made backup copies that are safely stored away from the fire zone?
4.       Have you uploaded your digital files to the cloud?
5.       If you had five minutes' warning, do you know exactly what you would grab in a panic?
6.       Have you sent copies of your most valuable photos and documents to other family members?
7.       Have you thought about the practicality of taking large items? The original painting of an ancestor – one-of-a-kind, but framed in a 24” by 30” wood frame – will it fit in your vehicle along with everything else? I know there is no way we could ever pack Dianne’s great grandfather’s rocker but we will always have the photos of it.
8.       Do you own a fireproof safe? Is it rated to withstand the likely temperatures in an intense inferno?

Past President Linda Okazaki had five minutes to evacuate her home in Lafayette a few days ago. “We were out of the house within five minutes of receiving the text to evacuate. Having already pondered what to bring, the car was in the driveway, we grabbed the two fire-resistant boxes with important papers, and filled a large suitcase with other items such as laptop, phone, chargers, dog food. In the scheme of things, nothing else really mattered. My genealogy is backed up once a month. Most of the very old photos have been scanned. In hindsight, I should have been prepared to not be able to bring anything. As it turned out, we were back home within a few hours. It was a good lesson.” Coincidentally, Linda just wrote a post on this very subject for the Nichi Bei Weekly. It is well worth reading.

My grandmother's cookie jar has no monetary value but it is
priceless to me.
For all of us who’ve been spared disaster this time there have been many good lessons during the power outages and threats of fire. Let’s all heed the warnings and prepare to save our most treasured possessions. 

Copyright © 2019 by California Genealogical Society

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