Genealogy: Regularly back up data to digitized archives

Genealogy: Regularly back up data to digitized archivesNow that you are well into digitizing your family history, safe storage and backing up should be your first priority.  The type of files that will be part of your backup plan includes images, email, website files, and notes.  Imagine losing days, weeks, months or even years worth of work. If you haven’t felt the pain of losing files yet, your day is coming. Count on it, you will have a crash and loss of data, it’s just a matter of time.  Some of the important questions you must consider include

  • Where should I keep my files?
  • Who can access and possibly alter them?
  • What happens if there is a fire or flood?

The fundamental rule of storage is to have copies or “backup.”  It’s not uncommon for us to get caught up in the false security that “it won’t happen to me.”  I personally spend a minimum of eight hours a day at a computer, back up weekly, and never had a hard drive crash, except in the last six months when I lost four hard drives.  That’s right, four gone, I couldn’t recover the data.  One of the drives had my entire ten years worth of research on it.

Why? After extensive consulting with the several hardware “gurus,” extensive reading, and a lot of solution combinations, I/we were able to rule out every possible problem.  That’s right; the answer to my problem was “fate.”  I was grateful that I did have a backup system in place.  I did lose a couple weeks work in one case, but imagine losing ten years worth of work.  What did I end up doing you ask?  I took the opportunity to upgrade to a new system, making sure I had sufficient and continuous power supply, airflow, and backup capability.

Backing up doesn’t need to be a complex strategy.  The following are good practices that will help ensure the preservation of your family history:

  • Store copies in more than one place:  For example, store a copy in a safe-deposit box at your bank, desk drawer, or give sets of your files to different family members on DVD/CDs.  It is wise to keep at least one copy of your files away from your home.
  • Refresh or recreate copies of your backup on a regular basis such as every Tuesday or the first of every month:  A lot of it depends on how much work you are doing and how comfortable you are with data loss.  If you are in a period of time where you are doing extensive amounts of scanning, data entry and so forth, you will probably want to back up every day.
  • Check to make sure, every so often, that your copies are readable:  For example, if you have your work out on another Web server, chances are they will be ok, but these servers have been known to fail also.
  • Tell others or record on paper the location of backups so they are available if you are not:  I would encourage you to have at least one copy of your backup as a hard drive. They are the fastest way to back up and transfer information.  And then I would have at least one other copy on another form of media, CD/DVDs (recordable for PCs), tape, and high-capacity digital cassettes.

Do you realize that there have been no fewer than 32 distinct media formats for packing up digital information since the advent of computing?  I remember when I bought my first computer in the early 1980s, it came with a diskette.  Since then I have used 5 ¼ inch floppy disks, Syquest cartridges, tape backups, and Zip disks. If there is anything I have learned, it is to stay with the mainstream media.  CD/DVDs and their next generation replacements will generally have media that will be inexpensive and low cost hardware to record to the media.  For less than a $100, you can take care of most, if not all of your backup needs.

What about other media (e.g., zip drives)?  The biggest issue is readability and distribution.   Relatively speaking, few people have adopted the other media formats.  The costs are usually far and above the other formats; for example, a zip disk will cost a minimum of 20 times more for the CD/DVD with the same capacity.

One of the popular mediums today is the “thumb-drive” or “key-chain” USB drives.  They are both a drive and storage device.  They are great for mobility, but if you need more storage, you can’t simply expand the storage; you have to buy another drive.

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