Saving Your Family’s Electronic Memories

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Communications that once took place on paper now buzz across wires and through the air, to be read and deleted or lost in someone’s inbox.

The instantaneous nature of e-mail means we rarely keep the resulting communiqués. Even the very first e-mail, sent in 1971 by a programmer named Ray Tomlinson, is lost. 

To preserve the US government’s e-mails and other electronic records, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) contracted with technology firm Lockheed Martin to create an Electronic Records Archives.

NARA’s challenge: Store an exponentially increasing number of electronic records created in ever-changing formats so they’ll be easily accessible now and in the future.

But what’s the average family to do with its important e-mails? Before hitting Delete, view your son’s jokes and your cousin’s new-baby news through a descendant’s eyes. You can save meaningful messages by copying each one to your hard drive, or by exporting an archive (look under the File menu in your e-mail software).

Digital files have their own preservation challenges, though, including computer crashes and technological obsolescence. The best way to save e-mails is to print them on acid- and lignin-free paper and keep them with your family letters.

With the messages on a tangible medium, future generations will be able to easily access them.