Paper Outlasts Digital

Yesterday, I was in the process of scanning documents in one of my family binders when I came across what looked like a word processed document. After digging in my files for a while, I asked my husband what software I might have used prior to a specific date. His reply was that I didn’t use any software — but TYPED the document. After thinking about his answer, I know he is right.

However, in the process of trying to find the digital copy of the document, I discovered a lot of older files. These files need converted from the older software to newer versions so that the information in the files can be accessed. Basically, there are three types of files and three distinct challenges.


The .wps files proved the easiest. I used the online service, ZAMZAR, to convert the files. Basically, the free version requires the uploading of the file, patience, and retrieval of the converted file via email. It is possible to purchase an account that allows for uploading batches of files and downloading them as zip files. My .wps files converted to .docx files without issue. These files can also be converted to .pdf


My .wdb files are proving to be more challenging. Unfortunately, Zamzar doesn’t handle this type of file. So far, I haven’t found a converter that will allow Microsoft Excel to open the file. After discovering that I still have Microsoft Works installed on my computer, I tried opening the files with that software only to be told the file was corrupted. I was able to open the file with Notepad and verify that there is data in the file. Since several of these files were indexing projects from naturalization books, I need to figure out how to retrieve the data. (This data was published in the newsletter at the time.)

Fortunately, some of the files will open. This should allow me to export the data from those files.


After struggling with the Microsoft Works files, I decided to open my Microsoft Access files and get the data exported to Excel. I’ve found that some of those files will not open. Based on Google searches, I’m going to try locating an older version of Access to see if I can open the files and get it converted either to a newer version or to excel.

I know that I should have tried to convert these files before now — especially since that is one of the comments about going digital. However, I let my genealogy sit and didn’t think about trying to open the files — particularly the indexing projects.

Fortunately, these projects had been placed online at the time and I have the old .html files. Thus, the data is still available on the web — just not on my local computer.

Lessons learned:

  • Paper outlasts digital
  • Open files of various types annually
  • Keep old copies of software around (and potentially an older computer to run it)
  • Put it on the web
  • Possibly — save it in .txt format