Family or Personal Records

   Critically Endangered small

Digital content and communications generated for personal consumption in a domestic setting. These records are highly valuable to family members and those interested in genealogy. They can also have wider historical/research significance to collecting institutions.

Digital Species: Personal Archives

Trend in 2022:

No change No Change

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2017

Trend in 2023:

No change No Change

Previously: Critically Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within five years, detailed assessment within three years.

Significance of Loss

The loss of data, tools or services within this group would have a localized impact.

Effort to Preserve | Inevitability

Loss seems likely: by the time tools or techniques have been developed the material will likely have been lost.


Childhood photographs and videos; School or graduation photos; wedding photos and movies; electronic correspondence (email, messenger, WhatsApp).

‘Practically Extinct’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Storage on portable media or poor storage; dependence on devices or processes; dependence on obsolete or proprietary formats; storage media out of warranty; single copies; inappropriate dependence on service provider; inappropriate encryption or password protection; lack of awareness or planning; loss or lack of documentation; over-abundance; inability to act in a timely manner; confusion over intellectual property; lack of digital literacy.

‘Endangered’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Replication; action in a timely manner; open formats; selection and appraisal; archival agency; education of digital preservation.

2023 Review

This was introduced to the Bit List in 2017. Although research and advice on the preservation of personal records have been available for some time, outreach and training have not reached the audience, and there has been no material improvement in the risks faced by this category since 2017. It is reasonable to assume that the number of digital objects in this category has increased; thus, the consequences of loss have expanded but the 2021 Jury determined there had been no significant trend towards greater risk; content is being lost all the time despite digital materials that can easily be preserved with tools not widely available outside of institutions. Therefore, this is a public awareness campaign issue and more tools need to be made easily available for people to be able to better preserve their own digital content.

The 2023 Council agreed with the Critically Endangered classification but noted that the definition for this entry did not mention the potential wider historical/research significance of some personal archives to collecting institutions and recommended rescoping the entry to make this clearer.

Additional Comments

Personal papers can provide insight into the lived experience of a wider range of people - archives of ‘everyday’ people are invaluable to social historians and personal archives of people with national/international significance complement institutional/public records.

There is a strong overlap with community archives, except noting that responsibility is even more localized. There is room breaking the entry down further into a series of components to represent the complexity more effectively and present a more nuanced action plan.

This matter needs awareness-raising. Education is needed, such as digital preservation as a survival skill for teenagers. Also, simple and cheap tools or pathways to preservation are needed.

Education to the public is critical for advocacy - these are the societal records of the future! Though having said that, what has survived in hardcopy has largely been through luck, and the same thing I think will be the same for digital. The same issues exist with glass plate negatives, photographs and certain emulsions and even printed digital photographs, brittle paper, fading ink etc.

Case Studies or Examples:


See also:

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