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Back up your work!

Why and how to backup your work, so that you don't lose years' worth in a disaster!

[Adapted from a newsgroup posting by John Prentice, with additional information from follow-ups]

It's dangerously addictive stuff, genealogy, and "demoralising" doesn't scratch the surface of how it feels when you've lost your hard work.

At the risk of teaching Granny to suck eggs...

About the most important thing you can do in your researches is to ensure that you have bullet-proof backup, and to make sure that copies of everything you have has been stored somewhere that won't be affected if your computer is stolen or breaks down. Scan or otherwise digitise BMD certs and anything else that's relevant, and keep it backed up, too.

An attached disk drive or USB memory stick isn't adequate. If lightning hits your mains electricity supply, maybe at a nearby pylon or power pole, anything that's electrically connected to your computer,or your mains supply, will be just as fried as it is. In fact, any backup destination that's on the same site as your computer just isn't a safe place for your data.

Don't forget that "data" doesn't just mean stuff that you found online, or typed in. You'll have BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death) certificates, census transcripts, dog-eared photographs, hand-written notes from your relatives with lots of incidental work - and all of that is vulnerable to fire, flood or Acts Of Local Authority, not to mention leaving them on the train!

The first task, then, is to ensure that all of your material is on your computer, so that it can be backed up. Invest in a scanner. Unless you're really short of cash, invest in one with a sheet feeder, so that you can deal with wads of paper, and try to find one that can scan to a PDF file, not just a JPEG.

This sounds expensive, but you can buy an office inkjet all-in-one printer-scanner-copier-fax for £200 or less, particularly with cashback rebates. The Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet Pro range are particularly good, and can do duplex (both sides) scanning. You'll be spending about that amount in Ancestry subscriptions, BMD cert applications, and so on in a year, so it's really not that much money.

Scan everything you can into files on your computer.

The next step is to back it all up.

I strongly recommend the use of storage over the internet. If you have a BT connection, you may well have use of BT's "digital vault". If not, you can use Google Mail, or any of a number of other options. Internet-based backup has another advantage. If you find yourself at an unfamiliar computer, and you need to get at some of your notes or certs, you can get at it from anywhere. Recently, I was London, without my laptop, when an unexpected opportunity to check on some research details presented itself. Not a problem - I found a nearby internet café, logged into my storage, and pulled down the notes I needed to direct me to the places I was researching.

Others have suggested these:

Finally, for people with a more technical bent, Amazon offer their Simple Storage Service (or S3). There's a Wikipedia article describing it, giving advice and providing links at you really don't want to use online storage, get yourself a couple of USB memory "keys", as large as you can afford, and back up onto both, then remember to unmount/eject and remove each from the computer, label them, and store them somewhere safe (at work, maybe?), when they're not in use.


Last Updated on Friday, 10 February 2012 12:56