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by Abigail Van Buren

Family History Too Precious to Trust to Computer Disks

DEAR ABBY: I have been a fan for many years. I grew up with my mother reading your column, and have used your wedding booklet to assist with our special day.

The response you gave to "Wondering Mom" about the computer letter left for her child prompts this letter. My father-in-law passed away six years ago, and I would never think of letting someone read a letter intended for one of my children before he or she had a chance to read it. The letter "Wondering"'s father-in-law left for his granddaughter was for HER. Had he wanted anyone else to read it, he would have said so. To let someone else read it before the child did would diminish the special meaning to her.

This grandfather created a wonderful thing that his grandchild will have forever. She may want to keep it as her special link to her grandfather, and she should be the one to decide with whom she shares it. -- LOVING DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, VIENNA, W.VA.

DEAR LOVING DAUGHTER: I disagree. The mother-in-law is mourning the loss of her husband in a more immediate and painful way than the 2-year-old possibly could. The fact that her grandmother had seen the contents of the letter should not make it a less precious link. However, that is not the most important reason why the letter should be shared now with her grandmother. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: There is a genuine tragedy awaiting "Wondering Mom" and anyone else who thinks that storing precious family information on a computer disk is the perfect high-tech solution to the problem of combining preservation and privacy.

By the time her 2 1/2-year-old daughter is old enough to care about her grandfather's autobiography, no one outside a couple of computer museums will be able to retrieve it from the disk -- if she's incredibly lucky. I've been using computers for 20 years, and I have multiple generations of disks gathering dust now that, for all practical purposes, are unreadable. The hardware changes. The software changes. Beware!

If "Wondering Mom" wants to save that document, she should print it out now, giving thought to the printer and print cartridge, on 100 percent cotton or linen rag buffered paper with a neutral pH, and store it in a nondestructive archival folder in a dark, safe place, like a safety deposit vault.

Abby, you should have told her to use the silly disk for a coaster (after printing the file). That way it would be good for SOMETHING. -- DENNIS GRAFFLIN, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, BATES COLLEGE, LEWISTON, MAINE

DEAR PROFESSOR GRAFFLIN: Thank you for offering your computer expertise, and warning my readers not to blindly expect technology to solve their archival problems. In many instances, paper is still the way to go.

DEAR ABBY: I read your column daily and enjoy your articles. I am a 65-year-old federal agent who is totally disabled from a line-of-duty injury.

You might say I've been there -- done that! However, tonight, when I read your response to "An Old Softy in Grand Rapids, Mich.," I was not prepared for "The Rainbow Bridge." I'm not ashamed to admit, I cried! It is sadly beautiful, but gives grieving pet owners hope that they will have their pets meet them down the road, at the Rainbow Bridge. Thank you, Abby. -- JACK IN DALLAS

DEAR JACK: I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried when I read your lovely letter. Thank you, Jack.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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