Digital Journaling, Digital Up-Keep and the After-Life

Spinning off of my previous post into new topic.

I do lots of journaling in Day One, add photos, videos, etc the works. I debated where should the videos or photos come from (for the first time in a long time). (i.e. should they be iCloud links, Synology links, or just straight embedding)

But more than that, what’s the best solution for family to access these journals (or regular documents) after I am gone? Not necessarily passwords. I store most stuff on my NAS, so what happens when no one in the family knows or understands what a NAS is or how to access.

The push for digital is great, less paper in the house. Sometimes, it’s also much easier to say “go to the fire-proof box in the garage, its all there” LOL.

We created two letters: the first one is a detailed list of instructions including bank account numbers, computer passwords, and lots of other stuff that our children would need to know in case of a catastrophe. This information changes frequently enough that it’s a nuisance to update everyone. It stays in our safe deposit box at our local bank. Two of the kids are on the signature card for the box (this is important).

The second letter tells the kids where to find the key to the box. It never gets changed. We mailed a copy to each of the kids and told them to keep it somewhere safe.

This way we are free to update the important information whenever needed, without having to involve the kids.


Print the important things?

I have no access to any electronic files I created 15, 20, 30+ years ago. The technology changed; drives aged out / wore out / were trashed, etc. etc.; clouds and ISPs came and went or grew obsolete.

Our son (who will be our executor) is in IT. I gave him written instructions on where everything is and the passwords to access.

All our children have disks containing all the family photos. I expect that’s all they will really care about.

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Which is why every 3-5 years I do a revamp of all my digital assets and update as necessary. I can still get to and reference emails and other documents I created back in 1982! I also do a check before decommissioning any older computer and bring things along as part of the update to new hardware.

I haven’t finished going through the Paperless Field Guide yet but I sure hope @MacSparky gives at least some info on how to handle long term storage and upkeep of digital files. Actually it could be its own full Field Guide.


I should have added to my post … “and I don’t care that they are gone”. A few months ago I put a box of 3.5" floppies into an industrial shredder because (a) I had no device to read them; and more importantly (b) I hadn’t looked at any of them for more than a decade so there could not have been anything there that mattered to me.

The only long-term digital thing I guard assiduously and ensure are backed up in multiple locations and are usable generation after generation are my 3 decades of digital photographs.

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I too have created a document that details what I hope is everything, from descriptions of insurance policies to bank accounts to digital assets. All of the “secure” information is in 1Password, and my master password is in a note in a shared vault in 1PW which my daughter can access. All contact information is referenced in the document and all contacts are, of course, in Contacts.

Maintaining access to old data is hard and does require a periodic updating. Years ago I had things backed up to CD, then DVDs, now external drives, and servers, and the cloud. As storage media become obsolete you do need to migrate your data, and if you are storing on hard drives, periodically spin up the drives to ensure they still function.

A possibly harder question is the format in which to store data. The Library of Congress has a document on preferred data formats for various types of data, which can be a somewhat helpful guide.

I try to keep things in formats that I expect will stand the test of time, at least for the relevant time for me, such as plain text files and PDFs, but you never know what the future will bring. Some things are very hard to put into such formats. For example, video formats change and evolve, but I don’t know of a way to convert our old family movies (now in .MOV files, after surviving conversion from 16mm film (from the 1960’s through 1970’s) to VHS tape, to digitization by feeding the video through an old camcorder which output a digital stream on FireWire into a Linux box in the 90s… to something “permanent” like plain text! What of Numbers spreadsheets if Apple changes the format for Numbers files down the line and you don’t run through your old files and update them?

I have files I can access that are over 30 years old as well, but some code that I wrote in the 90s in for a research project would be great to be able to look at today, but it was written in some early version of Visual Basic that I am sure no longer exists and so the files are a mishmash of data and code that is virtually uninterpretable, even if the files themselves survive.


I’m adding this thread to the next feedback outline. Feel free to share interesting strategies for this stuff. We’re not recording that show until (probably) late next month.


You really don’t want to save in Number’s native format. Export to CSV if you just have data to preserve (not formulae). Otherwise your best bet these days is Excel format. Sure it is proprietary but so much of the world’s spreadsheets are in that format that there are bound to be converters for it 100 years from now! If you just want to see it, PDF is also certain to have a long life.

I avoided video for many years so have no old MOV files, but there seem to be many converters and free converter services out there.

This is really an interesting and important topic for being able to access data. So far, i’m using plain text for some documents. I’m not sure how to handle photos but I have some starting from the late 90’s that I should revisit to see if they’re still readable since they were jpgs.

I forgot to mention: Our safe deposit box also contains clones of each of our computers at all times. The way I do this is to create a clone after any “significant” event, e.g.returning from a trip (with a jillion new photos), or reaching a major milestone with some computing project. I have two sets of backup discs, so after a significant event I create clones, then exchange them for the older clones in the box.

Echoing JEC0047

I would suggest that you prepare a letter that states that you are willing to authorize your heirs access to your equipment and its associated cloud support.

We have been assisting aging parents with a lot of their online interactions and keep their logon on data available in dropbox. There have been many occasions that where we have had to assist because poor eyesight/memory/muscle coordination coupled with more complex password requirements have them locked out of a site. Getting them to understand and relay a confirmation code is challenging. Add in the covid isolation and the challenges grow.

We are dealing with the digital footprint of a deceased parent and one of the devices that we provided and want to recover and repurpose.

Even though we own the equipment we are required to provide a historic logon to wipe the data from the device so it can be reused. While we have a list of common logons, we don’t seem to have this specific one. Trying to change the logon on with the deceased’ normal ID requires their email and cell phone which have both been discontinued.

Apple would prefer a court order to do unlock the device - since they don’t know what the deceased’s privacy desires were. Evidently the right to privacy outweighs the right of ownership. Fortunately we have a power of attorney and receipts for the equipment. However if they require more specific documentation from a court - the cost of getting same may outweigh the cost of replacing the equipment.

@tomalmy: I think your comment underscores my point. I don’t agree that you “shouldn’t” keep data in Numbers. Sure, you can export to csv or some other generic text format, but that defeats the purpose of a spreadsheet and all of its functionality. If your Numbers spreadsheet is purely for putting data in a flat tabular format, then sure, export to cvs or even a markdown text file table format, but if you are building something that is dependent on the calculations and functions of a spreadsheet, I’m not sure how you retain that functionality when you export to a cvs or other non-app-dependent format. That’s just the point, though - at some point in the future your file is likely to be both obsolete and potentially unreadable.

I suppose that whenever a new version of Numbers is released and you know it has changed the file format, you could find all your Numbers files and convert them to the new format, but very few of us are going to keep up with that overhead.

@ddunbar3: I think you raise a good point about declaring legal proxys who are authorized to access your digital life just like you have an authorization for someone to access your safe deposit box.

Having been burned by an older Pages format not being readable in a more recent Pages, I wouldn’t trust Numbers either! But if you want to preserve the formulae then save to Excel. It’s not going anywhere.