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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Have You Backed Up Your Database Lately?
by Rhonda R. McClure

December 5, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

As I was visiting one of the nearby genealogical societies as a guest lecturer, there was general chit chat before the event actually got underway. Among other things our conversations turned to viruses and backing up our databases. I was dismayed to hear that one woman had no virus software installed and that another admitted to not having backed up her database and it was of impressive size now.

After they restarted my heart, yes I was envisioning these women's computers having problems and it was more than I could handle, we began to discuss some about virus software and backing up. It turned out that the woman who had never backed up her database did have a Zip drive, to which she could have backed it up, but she didn't know how to use the Zip drive. Which of course prompted another discussion on getting to know your computer.

It's up to you to have a back up.

The Tales of Woe

There are a number of different lectures that I give that talk about storing information and data on the computer. With each such lecture I remind those listening that they need to back up the data on their hard drive, because it isn't a question of if their computer will crash but when. Usually the answer to when it will crash is when you have done the most work that is not backed up and would be completely obliterated should something happen to hard drive or the computer.

I have heard so many tales of woe over the years. My own tale was fortunately back when I was working on my laptop computer - a suitably hefty little machine that had two floppy drives. As a result I did not lose as much as I could have, given that it was about 13 years ago. As it was I lost about 150 individuals I had entered into my genealogy program. I was none too happy about it, but it was not an insurmountable loss. However most of the stories I hear each week are devastating, as in the loss of thousands of individuals.

The unfortunate part is that these individuals feel that companies, such as and the Family History Library are their back up. They have submitted GEDCOM files to such databases as World Family Tree or the various databases available through the Family History Library. They feel that now that they have lost everything that the company should be responsible for the data and give the individual a file. Those who have accessed their family in World Family Tree are dismayed to discover that the living individuals now have just a name and the word "private" where the details used to be.

A Variety of Backup Options

Do not make a similar mistake. Companies to whom you submit GEDCOM files are not responsible for keeping that GEDCOM as it is and making it available to you in the eventuality of disaster. Instead you should be responsibly backing up your computer's data files so that you are never caught in a bind.

Many of you have purchased computers in the last couple of years. In most cases you have either a CD-ROM writer or a re-writer. Regardless of which it is, you have within your computer the ability to save your data files to CD-ROM, These are easy to use, and usually some version of CD writing software came with your system or with the CD-ROM drive, if you purchased it separately.

Another backup option is to purchase a specialized disk drive such as a Zip Drive or a Jaz drive. These range in storage size per disk and use a disk that resembles a floppy disk only larger, and usually with a thicker plastic case. These can be purchased relatively inexpensively, for about $70. You can find these types of drives, whether Zip or writable CD-ROM at your local computer store. You can even get them installed through many computer stores if you are unfamiliar with such things or are intimidated by adding anything such as this to your system.

Online Options

One way to save your information online is to upload GEDCOM file to your Web page. You can do this on your home page, where it will then be available for downloading by those who visit your page, including yourself.

If you would prefer to just make it available to yourself, see what you have available through your local Internet Service Provider. Most ISPs offer some server space for uploading a Web page. I encourage you to share your family history this way. You can also upload GEDCOM file to this server space, and as long as you do not link to it on any of your Web pages, it will remain invisible to those visiting your Web page, but you can access it should you ever need to.

If you would prefer a simple online storage site, you may want to investigate the following. Some of them have gone to a fee-based structure, while others are still available for free. You will need to check each one of them out to see what is best for you.

In Conclusion

Regardless of how or where you back up your data files, the important point is to back them up in such a way so that should something happen to your files, your hard drive or your computer, you can still access them. I have elected to back them up to another computer in my home, to Zip disks or CD-ROM, depending on what the files are, and then also uploading as well. I hope that by having them in so many places that I will not end up crying should something happen.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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