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Dying Data


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What if, this moment, as your reading this sentence all of your genealogy data vanished? All your research notes, all the pictures you’ve diligently collected and scanned, all your ancestry and kinship reports? How much time and effort would you have to reconstruct? OK, I know some of you are backing up frequently and are well prepared to deal with it if your hard drive crashes, but how many of you aren’t? This article is for both groups because no matter how prepared you THINK you are your data could be at risk of dying abruptly.


Hard drives fail abruptly and suddenly, usually without warning. Can’t you recover the data? Many times the answer is no, most times the answer is well, if you pay $2000 to a data recovery company. Ouch, that’s outside most peoples budgets. So, here are some questions: do you backup your data? how often? do you ever test your backups to make sure you can read them? could you restore your data to a new computer easily? Do you keep your backups in more than one location (a copy at home and another in a safety deposit box or a relatives or friends?)

Let me take a moment and let you re-read those questions. If the answer is no to any of those you need to really seriously make a plan to keep copies of your genealogy data. Don’t let the time you’ve spent researching your family history vanish in an instant because you failed to back up. So how do you do it? You can make copies of your data to cd and dvd, I’m fond of those for backup purposes. Send a copy to relatives. In fact, send copies to several relatives. Even if it’s unfinished work, that’s fine. Just make it clear that this is a backup of the current state of your genealogy research. That way there are other copies of it out there in case something happens to your pc, or to you.

Online backups are a possibility as well. There are many sites online like carbonite that make it easy to backup your data online. My only question with those is how easy it would be for someone else to retrieve the data. Let’s face it, we want our data to be passed on to our relatives so they will be able to enjoy the fruits of our research and if there’s no clear and easy way for them to get the backup (or even know it exists) it’s probably not as useful as a dvd or cd of your data.

The essence of a good backup strategy is duplication. Make clear date marks on your backups and throw out the old when you make new backups. Genealogy research is a rewarding past-time and your family usually relies on you to tell them about their great-grandparents, etc. Rely on them to keep copies of your backups from time to time as well. That way your research will hopefully continue to outlive even the most cantankerous hard drive.

For suggestions on how to do backups, it might be worth reading online if there are suggestions for your favorite genealogy software and backing up to various media (cd or dvd.) Each genealogy program is different and some may offer to create a backup file directly from the genealogy software. The only problem is most people usually just save to their hard drive and forget it. It NEEDS to be saved to something that you can remove from the computer and file away in a safe place.

Good luck and see you next week.

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