This is a true story that I originally published in the Cairns and District FHS Newsletter.  

 A  GHOST IN THE MACHINE

by  Allison Hale

            This is the title of a science fiction movie I saw a couple of years ago about the spirit of a dead man travelling down wires into computers and electrical equipment causing havoc.  Of course this couldn’t happen! Could it?

            Nevertheless, I have read accounts in British family history magazines about similar occurrences with computers. One that comes to mind was in Family Tree Magazine about 18 months ago. It was about the trouble one fellow had with his computer crashing, his printer not working, and data becoming jumbled. He had taken his machine back to the retailer, thinking it was the computer, a few times and nothing could be found wrong. However this did not solve his problem. He was involved, like many of us, with helping the local history society compile booklets of cemetery records. It involved a lot of time consuming work, and with the failure of the computer and the printer, it was work that had to be redone. He eventually printed pages as he did them until the project was complete. The computer and printer have worked well ever since.

            Similarly, one of our past members had trouble computerising Gordonvale Monumental Inscriptions and Burial Records. Her computer also crashed, and her printer failed many times. It was not until she realised that the problems always occurred at the same point in the data that she checked the burial card against the monumental inscription, and there was the problem. Different years occurred on the cards which led to her having to go back to original sources to find the correct date. Once this was done, no problems. Coincidence? Maybe.

            I have been copying burial and monumental cards for cemeteries in the Mareeba Shire. I only had about eight letters left to do for one cemetery, when my computer crashed. I know I have always told everyone to backup and backup and backup, but I didn’t!!  Seventy pages of this Mareeba Shire Volume lost, among many other files that I was also working on. Peter, my husband, spent many hours getting the computer back into working order, only to find that some files could not be opened, one of them being my cemetery file. I then spent the next two days going through every file in the computer. At two a.m. I found a temp file that had the cemetery, all 66 pages. Yes the last letter I had been doing when it crashed was not there. I immediately backed up that file, and the others that I had found. I was so relived that I only had to redo 4 pages instead of seventy. The next day we took everything out of the computer and re-installed all the programs and the back up files.

            I began to redo the missing four pages, only to have the computer freeze on the same burial card as it had crashed on previously. My husband thought I was crazy talking to a card, but that is what I did. I told Christine that I would try and find out what the problem was. I placed the card on the shelf, re booted the computer, and all was well. I finished the letter and went moved onto my Celtic Newsletter (also lost in the crash). The weekend came, and I got the card down. In the remarks column was written ‘sent to Molloy’. I went through my cemetery papers to find Mt Molloy Cemetery, and there she was Christine Henrietta GRAY, buried 2 May 1969, aged 88 years. She was buried at Mt Molloy, not the cemetery I was doing. Nevertheless, Christine is included in the burial register, so I have left her there with the footnote that she was buried at Mt Molloy, where her headstone stands.

            You might think this is all a little strange, but wait until it happens to you. Christine, by the way, was obviously grateful that I had included her in the right cemetery, as when I opened an account file that had lost its excel table in the crash, the table was there.

I believe Christine put it back.

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Created January 2003                    Updated 10 April 2007

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