Friday, 2 August 2013

Back Up your Genealogy - carefully - this is really important!

You wouldn't want to lose your precious family tree research would you?  All that work, all that history, all those memories!

But what would happen if your computer failed?  Or heaven forbid - was stolen?  Do you have recent copies of your gedcom files, your photos, your scanned census and certificate images?

When I still worked, which was more than three years ago now, I used to back up my data to a CD and take it to work and keep it in my desk drawer.  When I cleaned out my desk I found around a dozen of these disks which are now, uselessly, in my desk drawer at home.  Of course the problem with this plan ... making a back up and keeping it somewhere 'off site', that is somewhere physically distant to your original copy, is that you have to remember to do it on a regular basis.  Finagle's Law says that, "Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment" - and in this case it would probably be the day before you planned a regular back up when you hadn't done one for a month! 

I keep saying I'll keep copies at my mum's house, or leave them with a friend, but some how I never get around to it ... there seem to be so many other ways of keeping your important documents safe now-a-days.

Another home based option is backing up to an external hard drive - I do this as well but my four year old hard drive is getting a bit full - I really need one of these new terabyte ones, I'll put it on my Christmas list!  A disadvantage of this system is that the hard drive is usually in the same building as your computer - so not proof against major disasters such as fires or floods.

I used to keep a copy of my gedcoms (the universal standard file for transferring genealogical data) on the BT Digital Vault - some space online that BT provided to account holders - however this is about to be closed down - so if you have your backups on this piece of the Cloud - move them!!
A colour picture of a desktop screen, a tablet and a phone all showing the white cloud on purple background of the BT Cloud logo
BT Cloud

The replacement system is simply called BT Cloud and if you are a BT customer and you don't mind signing up for another year's contract you can get up to 50Gb of storage (depending on your account type) straightaway. I wouldn't recommend using this service for your actual working gedcom files - I found my computer froze when I was trying to work on my trees.  Plus it's not so much a back up service as a mirror service - it doesn't keep versions of your files, just a copy of your present file.  This could be catastrophic if you were depending on it for backing up your family tree and your main programme became corrupt ... the online file would be a mirror copy and thus also corrupt!  I've found it best to use this only to copy my backup zipfiles (automatically created by Family Historian everytime I save and close my programme) and my photos and images, which shouldn't change once they have been saved.  It comes in handy for accessing files and pictures on my tablet which is also connected to my BT Cloud account - but used that way it's more like having a bigger (and less safe) Dropbox than a back up.  A fatal error in my media folders on my laptop and the whole lot would be wiped from BT Cloud as well.  ('and lo and behold it was proved' ... just keep reading to see what I did ... disaster!)
The Dropbox logo consisting of an open flapped blue box and the word Dropbox alongside
Dropbox logo

Talking of which I think Dropbox is wonderful, but of course you only get 2Gb on the free account although this can be extended if you use the camera upload functionality cleverly (up to 3Gb extra available if you work at it) and invite lots of your friends to use Dropbox too (if they haven't go it already you get a free 500Mb for each person who signs up following your invite).  I got 48Gb free when I bought my tablet, but that is a time-limited offer from Samsung for just one year.  I'm not going to get dependant on that space and find I have to pay for it next year!  As there are alternate options I use my Dropbox space for sharing family photos and CAMRA related documents instead.
Amazon Cloud Drive logo

I try to back up my gedcoms to the free storage on the Amazon Cloud Drive at least once a month; setting an alarm for the first day of the month is a good way of doing this, but it still relies on the human part of the equation.  You get a free allowance of 5Gb on this site, more can be purchased.  You can only upload files on the basic app, you need to download the Cloud Drive desktop app to save folders.  It seems to work a bit like Dropbox, a folder appears in your Windows Explorer Favourites list - but I think there's just a shortcut on my computer not a whole copy folder, so the items will only be available when I've got an internet connection.  I've just updated to this version today and made the dreadful error of moving rather than copying my family tree media folder, I had to wait impatiently to copy it all back again (duh!) ... be careful out there!

Remember what I said earlier about a catastrophic failure of any of my folders and the BT Cloud - well I've just proved it - accidently moving my media folder to the Amazon Cloud Drive folder effectively deleted the entire contents of that folder on the BT Cloud into the trash - from where I am currently trying to retrieve it 100 items at a time (it is a massive folder with over 1600 images).  Don't be me - be very, very careful!!  And incidentally while poking about in the trash of BT Cloud I notice that files stored in there are kept indefinitely (well as long as anything else) and count against your cloud space - so if you can't work out where all your gigabytes have gone - check the trash! 

There is a helpful and fairly recent (March 2013) article here about the above and various other Cloud storage sites.

"The Easiest Way to Preserve Your Family's History" - headline and then various explanations about the site's functionality - click on the link in the caption to go to the site
Screenshot of the BackupMyTree landing page

In Googling for this post I discovered a dedicated service from the same company that runs the My Heritage online tree site.  Called BackupMyTree it claims to keep up to 25 versions of your gedcom files online and to be able to find all the family tree files on your computer to back up once you have installed the software.  There is a very favourable review of the product on Dick Eastman's site.  He does mention it can slow your computer down - is it saving while you work on your file?  If so I would have the same problems with this as I had with the BT Cloud - Family Historian freezing when I added a lot of census images and photos and started tagging the information.  Currently this service only saves your gedcoms or similar tree files - it does not save your associated images.

I'm giving it a go ... I'll let you know how it works. 

Worryingly I have since discovered that the terms and conditions (under My Heritage) of BackupMyTree say that My Heritage can copy your stored trees to their website whenever they want - they have to send you an email giving you 30 days notice and another to tell you the transfer has occurred and at either point you can decline the transfer.  This bothers me because my working trees contain information about living people, myself amongst them.  If you miss the emails your trees become part of the My Heritage site and probably? searchable by people looking for matches.  Hmm, bears more investigation.


Unknown said...

I had problems deleting my data from BackupMyTree. I had to ask them to delete my account. They wrote and informed me they'd deleted it but then I found I could still log in. This was two years ago. They used to backup all Gedcoms on a computer but there was no option to actually delete them from their servers. Supposedly, if you deleted a Gedcom on your computer, the BackupMyTree service would stop syncing it and eventually delete it from their servers....but I found they just stopped there for months after, presumably forever. Personally I'd avoid it like the plague unless they've improved their service since December 2011. I now back up my Gedcoms in a DropBox account. Prior to that I stored them on a removable flash drive.

BarnsleyHistorian said...

I have since found that BT Cloud slows my computer down to crawling pace especially around closing the computer down, so I have removed the software from my machine now. It's disadvantages outweighed any advantages and as I said above it was not a reliable way of backing up a Family Tree anyway.

Cross fingers, the Amazon Cloud is still behaving itself and Dropbox have just given me some bonus space so I might be using that now after all.

Unknown said...

I think when I tried Amazon Cloud, it did not automatically back stuff up. You had to instruct it to backup. Dropbox, Box Sync, SugarSync, Google Drive and SkyDrive are my favourites.

Ruby said...

Finagle’s Law does seem to be more apt that Murphy’s, but the idea is almost the same. So before that moment even happens, it is best to be prepared. I really like using Dropbox as an online backup measure because I can just download the client and make anything saved in the folder automatically sync with the server and other devices that has my Dropbox account. BackupMyTree looks promising, but that “copy your tree anytime” part bothers me.

Ruby Badcoe