A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]Karen Canwell's worst fears were realized last week when the hard drive in her computer self-destructed.
"It made a horrible grinding sound," she says from her home in Lewiston, Idaho, "and then there was a whiff of burning plastic. I knew that wasn't normal."
Karen took her computer to a local repair shop, called the drive manufacturer, and consulted with companies that specialize in data recovery, all to no avail.
"They told me that, with such a catastrophic failure, I had no hope of recovering my data."
This was devastating to Karen, whose entire genealogy was saved on the drive.
"Twenty years of research, and all of it was lost." Her voice trembles as she speaks. "There were scanned pictures of all my relatives, audio files of my late grandparents talking about emigrating from Poland. . . I never thought to back anything up."
Fortunately, someone else did have the foresight to back up Karen's data.
When the National Security Agency heard about her plight last Thursday on a wiretap, they contacted her with good news.
"I got a call from someone at the agency — I'm not allowed to say who," she says. "He told me that they have a recent copy of the contents of my hard drive, and that they'll send me the files as soon as I'm 'ruled out as a threat,' whatever that means."
It appears that Karen attracted the agency's notice when she signed a petition last year opposing the closure of her local library branch. She says that if she had known about the services the NSA provides, she would have signed up directly.
"This is a godsend for any genealogist. I'm getting my data back, plus they're giving me transcripts of all my telephone conversations for the past year. How great is that?"
Officials at the NSA refused to comment.