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Backup Options for Your Family History

Steps to Protecting Your Genealogy Files from Disaster


I absolutely cringe everytime I hear that someone has lost thousands of names and years of work because their harddrive crashed or a virus ate their file. Computer failure, virus mayhem, floods, lightning strikes, theft - these are just a few reasons you should backup your genealogy files on a regular basis.

Backing up your genealogy files is very simple. It basically involves copying them to a second medium - CD-Rom, DVD, Zip disk, removable flash disk or external harddrive - as a precaution in case the first medium fails. It can be done manually, or even scheduled to happen automatically.

Where to Backup

Genealogy files and photos are generally much too big these days to store on the old standby floppy disk. For genealogy backups you'll need to select a medium that can handle a large amount of data. Some of the best options include CD-ROMs, DVDs, removable flash drives and external harddrives.
  • CD-ROM and DVD
    One of the most popular backup mediums, recordable and/or rewritable compact discs (CDs) are inexpensive and hold up to 700MB of data and photos. Recordable CD-ROMs can only write a CD once. Rewritable CD-ROMs can write a CD, erase it, and rewrite on it again - good for regular backups of your genealogy software file. If you have large quantities of photos or video, digital video disks (DVD0 work in much the same way, but hold up to 4.7GB of data (about 6 1/2 CDs worth). If you've purchased your computer in the last few years, it may already have a CD or DVD writer. If not, you can purchase one at your local computer store. External drives, which plug in rather than being directly installed into your computer, are a bit more pricey, but a good option if you have more than one computer.
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  • USB Flash Drives
    USB Flash drives are miniature hard drives that you connect to your computer using a USB port. They are available in a variety of storage sizes, ranging from 128MB to over 2GB - more than enough for most genealogy files. Flash drives act just like a portable hard drive, meaning that you can choose "save as" and then select the drive, or drag and drop files directly to the drive's folder on your computer desktop. About the size of a pack of gum, flash drives are especially useful for backups when you take your genealogy on the road or for transferring data between computers. Some facilities, such as the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, even allow you to use flash drives to save images and records rather than printing a paper copy.

  • External Hard Drives
    If you plan to back up more than just your genealogy files (a good idea) then an external hard drive is an easy solution. Many come with backup software that will copy the entire contents of your computer with just a few clicks. You can even schedule automatic backups - ensuring you won't forget to backup for a few months at a time. Because it's attached to your computer, an external harddrive can still fall victim to the same viruses that attack your computer so it is important to keep your virus protection up to date.

Removable Storage Options

Built-in Backups

Almost all genealogy programs have an icon or menu choice you can select to create a backup of your family tree file. You will usually be given the choice of saving the files to a CD-Rom or other location of your choice. While all backups are good, the important step here is to choose a backup location that isn't on the same computer as your original genealogy file. I backup my genealogy file across my wireless network from my laptop to my main computer every time that I work on it, but you can also choose to backup to CD-Rom or other external media.

Tips for Extra Protection

  • Test your backup files occasionally to make sure that they really work.

  • If you use CDs or DVDs for your backups, then backup your files on more than one and then rotate them each time. That way if one gets scratched, broken, or otherwise damaged you'll have a fairly recent backup on another CD.

  • Keep your backups in a safe place - outside of your home, if possible. I send copies of my CDs full of photos and family files to my relatives and store copies in a safe deposit box at the bank.

Backing up your genealogy files takes a bit of time and money, but it is important insurance against potential tragedy. Hopefully, you will never need it, but if disaster strikes, you will really appreciate those backup copies.

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