Keeping Records

Reading and writing are two things which separate humans from animals, giving us ways to record information and relay it to others, or refer back to it  ourselves, at a future date. Keeping records is a two-edged sword for preppers: it helps us keep track of things, but is also a potential security risk if those records fall into the wrong hands. For example, having a map of all of your cache sites might make it easier for you to find them, but if a thief were to find it, that map would lead them to your carefully hidden supplies.

(Use the search box in the upper left corner and search for “OPSEC” if you want more articles that cover Operational Security and some things that need to be kept secret.) 

There are other types of records that don't require secrecy and just make your life easier and safer. Electronic records are open to easily hidden deletion or alteration, and they require electricity to use. I like to keep things simple; pencils last longer than pens and work in the cold, but most inks will outlast the graphite markings a pencil makes, so it's a personal choice and I use both as needed. 

Records require media; I prefer pencil/pen and paper for most of my records, and have supplies of both set aside. Hitting the stores well after the start of school season and in the spring after schools let out is a good way to find sales, and buying in bulk and at estate auctions are other ways to keep costs down. Not everything has to be in a hand-crafted, artisanal journal, but keeping good notes somewhat organized will help.

Here are a few examples of the types of records I keep:

When I start a garden, I start some of my plants from seeds. These are planted in starter trays inside the house before winter is fully over in order to have seedlings ready to transplant as soon as the threat of frost is gone (mid to late April around here). Since a lot of plants look similar as seedlings, I note what is planted in each cell of the starter tray on a simple “map” drawn on a piece of paper. If I have too many starter trays to keep track of easily, I'll mark the trays with an identifying number and use the same number on the map.

I try to keep track of information such as what plant it is, where the seed came from, when it was started, and any other details that can help me decide if I need to make changes next year. Some brands of seeds aren't worth buying, but the only way to find that out is by keeping records of germination rates and the general health of the plants. Commercially grown hybrids won't breed true, so their seeds aren't as useful as heirloom seeds, which is important to know when you've got a fairly large garden and want to keep growing the good stuff year after year.

A few of us have written about reloading over the years. It's a good way to get the most bang for your buck, being cheaper than buying factory ammo, and it allows you to “tune” loads to your specific weapons, all of which means more practice time and better accuracy. This is a rabbit hole of a hobby -- you can get lost in the amount of data available -- but one that is common among preppers.

At the basic or beginner level of reloading, there are things you have to keep track of for safety: powder and primer selection, bullet weight, bullet material, and brass brand are all basics that influence your final product. Getting a little more advanced, you'll be recording overall length of finished cartridges, lot numbers of powder/primers/brass, and test velocities/group size. Going whole-hog into precision reloading will mean testing and recording lots of information about each piece of brass and each projectile, aiming for as much consistency as possible in every round of each lot.

Feeding a self-defense pistol will require less accuracy than feeding a long-range hunting rifle, but you do need to keep track of which components you used in order to weed out bad combinations or bad lots of components. Both need to go bang when you pull the trigger, but the pistol's use requires more attention to reliability than accuracy. 

Practice ammo is generally the least restrictive type to reload, but still needs to be kept track of. Look online for examples and you can tailor your log book to the information you need, making your own log book if you can't afford a pre-printed one.

Vehicle Maintenance
I keep a log book in the glove box of any vehicle I buy for at least a few years. The first few months I'll log fuel and mileage to see if it is performing as expected; after that I keep track of all of the things I have to fix or replace. At some point the vehicle will start to cost me more than the benefits it provides, and having a log of how much money I've dumped into it makes that decision a bit easier to make. My memory is good, but it does have limits, and tracking tires and oil changes is a lot easier when you write them down. Trying to track my wife's car as well as my own makes having a log book a necessity. 

For this I just use a cheap notebook with a few dozen pages. The first page will have the make, model, engine model, VIN, and other specific data on it. This makes trips to the parts store much quicker since they're going to ask for that information to find me the right parts.

Things Not Recorded

  • Locations of caches. I know where they are, as do a few trusted people.
  • Serial numbers of “paperless” firearms. I do buy guns from private sellers that have no government papers.
  • Information on anything that might be illegal, or could become illegal in the near future.
  • Combinations to safes and lock boxes. I have encoded methods of keeping track of the ones I can't change to numbers that I can easily remember. Passwords are the same.

Records don't have to be a four-drawer filing cabinet, and keeping log books near where they're used is simple and efficient. Keep the records you want and need, try to set aside a few blank books or binder for keeping records after TSHTF, and use common sense with what you record for posterity.