Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Importance of Backups

You may have noticed I've been a bit scarce lately. Unfortunately, this was due to a computer crash, my second since starting my genealogy addiction.

Thankfully, the first crash taught me a valuable lesson. Computers aren't infallible. They crash. Stuff gets accidentally deleted. If you haven't had an issue with your computer, it's coming. It's an inevitable fact of technology.

After my first computer crash, I became a little OCD about backing up my important files. I use a combination of methods to ensure I am able to restore everything in the event of my computer failing.

Automatic Backups

I have two automatic backup programs that run nightly, Dropbox and IDrive. I use Dropbox for my genealogy files and IDrive for my pictures. Both offer free backup space. Just download the program, tell it what files you want it to monitor and it does its thing.

Both backup options give you a way to get more space if you need it. You can pay to upgrade or refer others to get additional space. Note both links used here are referral links. If you sign up via them, I get more space.

Manual Backups

I also have Windows Live SkyDrive. It's not an automatic backup service. You have to remember to do your backups. Since it offers more space than the automatic backup services at the same price (free!), I backup both my genealogy and pictures files to it.

The important thing with SkyDrive is that you need to do it regularly for it to be an effective method. Set aside a day every week or month to do it. If you're concerned about forgetting to do it, write it on your calendar, set a reminder on your computer or phone, or make it part of your regular maintenance regimen (virus scan, spyware check, defrag, etc).

External Backups

I have two methods of external backup. The first is the 640GB portable external hard drive my husband bought me a couple months ago. I backup all my important files to it so if my computer goes down, I have it in reserve. All I have to do is plug it in to my new computer and I'm set. It has the added bonus of being small enough I can drop it in my purse when I leave the house so if something unfortunately befalls my home, I'm protected.

My second method is one I've been using for a while. Every few months, I burn a copy of all of my pictures and genealogy files to a disc and distribute them to family members. I make sure to label the disc with the date I burned it. In the event all other backups fail, I can simply go to family members to get the most recent disc. While it may not be as recent as what I had on my computer, it's still a lot better than starting over from scratch or losing irreplaceable pictures.

Paper Backup

There is a trend these days to go completely paperless. While I've made efforts to digitize all my paper files, I haven't destroyed them after the digitization. There's just something about holding the piece of paper that stirs something in me more than viewing it on a computer screen ever will. So even though it requires more space. I keep both paper and digital files.

Rebuilding your genealogy database from paper files isn't an easy process. However, it could be more effective in the long run because it gives you an opportunity to reevaluate everything you've found to date. In the process, you may realize that your initial interpretation of a record was in error or that you missed something on first glance at a record.

How do you protect yourself from unexpected computer crashes? What backup methods do you use?