July 16th was not a good day. As a Florida resident, Iâ€™m accustomed to a lot of unusual weather. During the summer, hurricane season is always on peopleâ€™s minds, and there is usually a strong downpour every afternoon around rush hour. More often than not, the rain is accompanied by strong lightning and thunder. After all, whether you know it or not, Florida is the â€œlightning capital of the world,â€ with more direct strikes per square mile than anywhere else. As a result, Floridians must be more attuned to protecting their homes, appliances, and electronic equipment than most people elsewhere. Still, we all need to be conscientious about protecting equipment and data.
You have invested hundreds or thousands of hours in researching your genealogy and entering data into your computerized database. It doesnâ€™t make any difference which program you use–Family Tree Maker, Roots Magic, Legacy, The Master Genealogist, PAF, or another program. The data you have so carefully and lovingly entered into your computer database is vulnerable to destruction or corruption by any of a number of perils. Here are a few tips to help you protect your investment of time, money, and research.
Simple Computer System Backups
There are essentially two types of backups you can perform on your own computer. One is a program backup. A program may offer to back up your data to a unique file on your computer, usually when you are shutting down the program. This only takes a few moments but, if your data gets zapped somehow, that backup can restore you to exactly where you were. I urge you to always take advantage of this type of backup. If a program does not offer a box to backup your files, go looking for it. Go to the FILE menu and look for â€˜backupâ€™ or â€˜export.â€™ In a genealogy program, itâ€™s often â€˜export GEDCOM file.â€™
The other type of backup is a complete system backup. This means that you are physically copying everything on your computer somewhere else. You could back up the entire system (or specific areas) to CD or to another disk drive. There are numerous manufacturers of external hard disks today in various sizes, ranging from gigabytes to several terabytes. The prices of external hard drives are exceptionally good for the amount of data that you can store on them.
Moreover, they come with software that you can install and configure to cause a full system backup or an incremental backup (just those files that have been created or changed since the last backup) to take place on a specific schedule. This automatic, full-system backup becomes a â€œno-brainerâ€ for you. If, in an emergency, you have to evacuate your home or office, simply unplug the external drive and take it with you. Western Digital makes a product called My Book, and it will work with any computer through a simple USB cable attachment. (Note, though, that there have been problems with their firewire cable connections.)
There are numerous companies now offering cheap and secure data backup services for your data on their computer servers. The advantages are pretty obvious. First, this is a very inexpensive way to back up your data. Second, when you sign up for the service, a small piece of scheduling software is installed on your computer that allows you to schedule the backup. Your choices usually include selecting one or more specific times to commence the backup, or you allow the software to back up your data after your system has been idle for some period of time, such as one-half of an hour or an hour. Second, your data is stored off-site–away from your physical facility. That means that the chances of disaster striking both places at once are minimized substantially. Some backup services even have multiple, redundant sites at which data is stored. That protects them and it doubly protects you.
One of the services that has become popular as a backup site is Mozy, an award-winning online backup service that is available through the Ancestry Store. For $4.95 per month, you can backup your entire computer, unlimited data size. You donâ€™t have to be a computer expert. You simply go to the configuration screen, check the boxes next to the files you want to back up, schedule the times, and Mozy does the rest. Your data is secure at all times. That is because all files are encrypted on your computer with military grade, 448-bit Blowfish encryption. After the files are encrypted, theyâ€™re sent to Mozyâ€™s world-class data center via a secure 128-bit SSL connection– the same type of encryption technology used for online banking. All encrypted data is stored on servers located in a locked room monitored by a 24/7/365 security team. You will definitely want to check out this option.
Ancestry.com also provides you with a backup option for your GEDCOM file. When you upload your GEDCOM file to create a personal Family Tree under the My Ancestry tab, you are storing a copy of your genealogical data on their computers. If you then use that online family tree as the place where you, and possibly other collaborating genealogists, enter your data, you always have the option under the â€˜Manage Treeâ€™ link to download a copy of a GEDCOM. This will contain all the changes and additions you have made to the data since you uploaded the original GEDCOM. The GEDCOM will not include the images you have linked from online image databases, photographs you have added, written stories, or recorded audio stories. However, you will have an up-to-date backup copy of names and dates to download to your computer and to import/open in your genealogy database program.
Two other ways to back up your genealogy database (and other collections of data) are to 1) create a GEDCOM file of your database and a compressed ZIP file for your photos, attach them to an e-mail, and send it to yourself–or perhaps to another family member; and 2) create the GEDCOM and ZIP files mentioned above, burn them to one or more CDs, and store them in a safe-deposit box or with someone you trust outside your home for safekeeping.
Donâ€™t Lose It
Consider the grief and stress that you would experience if you lost your computer or your genealogy data. A little time invested in backing up your data will let you sleep a lot easier at night.
George G. Morgan
AWJ Editorâ€™s Note: In light of this past weekend, I am compelled to add a sad footnote to Georgeâ€™s column. Iâ€™d been â€œgoing toâ€ download Mozy for some time, but other things kept taking priority. I kept telling myself I was too busy and that it would have to wait. Well, this week my computer started acting up. It spurred me to action, but unfortunately, Mozy wasnâ€™t done downloading by the time I figured out that the cause of my problems was an external drive. It was too late. Mozy managed to save a few things from this drive, but I lost photographs and much more.
The drive was originally my backup, but as space was getting lean on my laptop, I began loading pictures and other large files exclusively to the backup drive. I was fortunate that I have shared pictures with family and that my husband and daughter also have copies of many pictures on their computers, but there are probably quite a few that are gone for good.
Donâ€™t make the same mistake I did. Whatever backup method you choose, do it now. If you think youâ€™re busy now, think of how busy youâ€™ll be trying to restore and recreate all that youâ€™ve lost.
Listen to The Genealogy Guys PodcastÂ each week for fun, entertaining, and informative genealogy discussions. George’s new book, The Official Guide to Ancestry.com, is now available from his company’s website, Aha!
Seminars, Inc.Â and is personally autographed by the author.