Digital vs. Physical: What’s Best for Your Family Tree Book?

Digital vs. Physical: What’s Best for Your Family Tree Book?

Historically, family history has been handed down in physical books (if we're lucky) or reams of loose paper and documents (if the universe would like to challenge us a bit). Today, though, we often deal in digital documents because they're easier to send, update, and store. Does that mean we should be handing down digital family histories?

Maybe. Actually, my answer is a yes...but it makes me nervous. Let me explain. 

Digital family history books are easy to update and expand, which is perfect since we can always be adding to our family histories. As more records are digitized and as scanning capabilities get better, we'll find more to add to our ancestors and with a digital book, we can even add multimedia like videos, audio, and hyperlinks. 

Digital family history is also easy, quick, and often free to share. You can send out a copy to multiple family members at once or store a copy in cloud storage where everyone can access it. Depending on how your book is structured, your family members may be able to search it easily to find a specific ancestor, story, recipe, and so on.

Finally, younger generations may simply be more comfortable with a digital document because they've grown up looking at information on a screen. Engaging those family members is a challenge that many genealogists know well, so anything we can do to get them interested is a plus. 


I wouldn't trust all of my family history to live in a digital format and nowhere else. There are too many glitches with technology and software and compatibility and platforms releasing updates all the time. Plus, digital privacy and data breaches are real concerns, not to mention the universal problem of "where did I put that digital file and what did I call it?" 

Call me sentimental, but I love to manually flip through a family history book. I want to feel the weight of it and peer at the pages side-by-side with my relatives. I want the tactile experience and the comfort of knowing that our genealogy is there on the shelf for anyone who cares to look (or inherit). 

And yet...

Mold. Dirt. House fires. Binding problems. Paper that gets brittle and starts to chip away at the edges. It's not like books are without their problems. Plus, making a book for every family member gets expensive, especially if you have to do reprints because you've found new information that can't be missed. 

So, for me, I keep both. I print as I go, occasionally printing and binding a book for a relative, but I update my digital family history book and keep a copy on a hard drive, in cloud storage, and on my devices. I'm comforted with the knowledge that if my house burns down, I'll have the cloud copy and, if the cloud copy gets hacked, I'll have the copies on my devices and on my shelf. My kids will inherit physical copies, digital copies, and the usernames and passwords for the cloud copies. It's basically going to be unavoidable for them - a tsunami of family history information wherever they turn. 

So yes, I'm a fan of the digital, but let's not give up on our printed family histories just yet. Or what do you think?

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