Monday, November 16, 2015

I Almost Had a Genealogy Data Disaster...

I have a lot of computer files, and I am adding some almost every day.  I download record images, use a word processor to transcribe records, add content to my family tree database, save email attachments, etc. every day, like many of you.  I am using a Windows PC with Windows 7 that is five years old, so it is due to be replaced in the near (?) future.

I have a backup system that includes:

*  An external hard drive
*  A Dropbox account (but limited to the free portion)
*  A Google Drive account (but only the free 15 gB)
*  A account (but only the free 20 gB)

I use the Dropbox and Google Drive accounts to transfer computer files in the short term, and the Copy account for the long term.  I try to backup my files to the external hard drive on a monthly basis, but I don't keep records of when or what I copy to the external hard drive.  Looking back, the backups have been haphazard - not every file folder, not every month.

So on Saturday afternoon, a society colleague called and wanted me to send him a file for the latest newsletter.  "Sure," I said, "let me attach it to an email and I'll get it to you ASAP."

When I looked in my computer files, the file folder with that file was not in the My Documents file folder where it should have been.  My "genealogy-2" file folder has all of my files for Clients, Correspondence, Education, Forms, Funnies, Societies and Websites - almost half of my genealogy-related files.  Where did it go?

This occasionally has happened before when I work in my files - my hand slips, the mouse moves, and a file folder gets dragged into another file folder, but I'm almost always aware of it when it happens, and can find the file folder moved by mistake, and move it back to where it belongs.  In this case, apparently, I did not notice that it had happened when it happened.

I looked in every file folder in My Documents down at least two levels (I thought).  I didn't find the missing file folder.  I looked in the Recylce Bin.  I tried searching for a specific file folder in the Windows Start button and didn't find it (I think that doesn't work on my computer for some reason).

When I looked on my external hard drive, I had this file folder, but the last time I had updated it was in 2012.  So I copied it into my file folder system and was happy to have that much.  I went looking for files since 2012 on Dropbox and Google Drive, and as email attachments, and found some of them and added it to my recovered file folder.  But the retrieved files were not everything I had before, especially in the Education and Societies file folders, which held important files.

I decided that I had suffered a significant data loss and that I should have had a more robust backup strategy and execution.  I decided it was time to subscribe to a better backup and retrieval system - one that would save my stuff and update it on at least a daily basis.

I recalled that Thomas MacEntee had recently posted Genealogy Bargains for Friday 13 November 2015  with an offer for an online backup system at for only $5.95 for the first year (and $60 a year thereafter).  I checked it out on Sunday:

That looked like a pretty good deal.  I signed up using Thomas's link to get the first year discount.  I downloaded the program, installed it, and opened it and tried to figure out how to select files to backup.  After several futile tries, I managed to figure out the files I wanted to save, then I decided to have the system save new or changed files every morning at midnight.

I clicked on the "Start backup immediately" button this morning and the system started up.  If I looked carefully, I could see which file was being backed up at the time.  After almost 6 hours, it had backed up about 10 gB of 48 gB that I wanted backed up.  It may take another day or two to finish!

This is taking a long time, partly because I wanted to do some real work at the same time - blogging, transcribing, researching, etc.  It seems like the iDrive system gets bogged down when other tasks are done on the computer.

The really good news is that, when the Family Tree Maker file folder was being backed up, I happened to notice that the file location of a particular file was in the Genealogy-2 file folder - now in the Family Tree Maker\Templates file folder where I moved it without knowing it.  I missed that one when I was looking for it.  So I moved the Genealogy-2 file folder back into the My Documents file folder and had all of my missing files back where they should be.  Whew!  That was close.

Now I hope that the iDrive backup system works as advertised and saves me from my relatively poor backup practices.  We shall see!  I am chastened... I will also copy the Genealogy-2 file folder to my external hard drive and try to do better in the future with all of my important computer files.  As Dick Eastman says, "LOCKSS - Lots of copies Keep Stuff Safe."

Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver

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Michigan Girl said...

Good news Randy. Glad your found the folder that went missing and glad you are extending your backup protocol. I tried iDrive too when Thomas advertised it. However, I found it cumbersome. They offered me an alternative. They would send me a hard drive to back up to and I would mail it back. I allowed them to do that, but in the end, I never used it. I just wasn't comfortable mailing all those files back. In the end I tried Carbonite and have been happy with it. I haven't had to use it for recovery and hope I never do. But I get monthly reports from them and can see the little green dots when a file has been backed up. The bottom line is, we have to find some way to keep our files safe and we can never have too many backups. So, whatever works is a good system.

Rosemary said...

Like Michigan Girl I bought an iDrive but it really wouldn't do what I needed. I'm using the drive just as a regular USB attached hard drive and am still with Carbonite. I've used Carbonite for many years and with my NEW computer back on the bench it's wonderful being able to log on to Carbonite and just access the files I need on my laptop.

S Scott said...

I had used Carbonite for years, but when my hard drive crashed the end of July this year, I discovered that not everything I thought was being backed up, was. After getting a new hard drive and reinstalling all my programs, the repair technician helped restore what was backed up at Carbonite. I also got iDrive, which I've not had a problem with. It backs up all your devices, including iPad and iPhone, besides desktop and laptop. The tech also set up on my computer a program called Acronis True Image with an external hard drive. It backs up the programs/system as well as files. So I feel pretty comfortable now with three backup systems in place. I'm still using Carbonite but may discontinue next year when the time is up.

SurplusGadgets said...

Macrium Reflect Free for daily / hourly backup to your external drive. And Mozy for hourly / as needed backup to the cloud. Macrium can complete restore a working system to a new disc in the event of total disk failure.

SurplusGadgets said...

Macrium Reflect Free for daily / hourly backup to your external drive. And Mozy for hourly / as needed backup to the cloud. Macrium can complete restore a working system to a new disc in the event of total disk failure.

HepzibethClare said...

Coincidently, I'm currently trying the 2 week trial at Backblaze, also $5/mo and unlimited. They're at

HepzibethClare said...

btw, I was perusing the inventory of the Santa Clara County Hist. & Gen. Soc. and noticed this: Family
The Stone genealogy, J. Montgomery Seaver
Misc Rec #10, item 3
(Just in case you haven't found that yet...)

Sheri Fenley said...

Seaver! I have used Mozy for several years now. It automatically backs up my files for me.

Ed Hamilton said...

Aren't there utilities or small applications for Windows that automatically sync your files to a USB drive or external hard drive?

I use Linux and use rsync. I set it to copy any files that have changed to a USB drive, and it runs every hour. It doesn't keep incremental backups but I could set another instance of rsync to only run once a day or once a week to another USB drive if I wanted.

Try Googling "programs like rsync" or "rsync for windows" and see if anything useful turns up.