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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Do You Have Backup? -
How They Got There
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 10, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

I have often referred to genealogy as the safe man's mystery, so why am I now asking you if you have back up? Well you can relax, I am not referring to someone making sure you are safe, at least not in the sense of a police show you see on television. The back up I am talking about is for your computer and is to ensure that all that hard work you have done is safe.

While you may be saying it won't happen to you, I am here to assure you that it will. At some point, usually when you can least afford it, something will happen to your database and you will be stuck.

It isn't if but when your computer will act up.

Newbies and Experienced

Genealogists come in one of two brands when it comes to computers. There is the newcomers to computers who are still intimidated by those nasty machines, and then you have the computer experts. Both of these groups have something in common though — neither one seems to think about backing up the data on their computers. And there are a few ways to do this.

In the old days, which in computers means about ten years ago, it was easy to back up the hard drive onto floppies. That was back when a 20 megabyte hard drive was a big deal. Today we have 13 and 16 gigabyte hard drives. It is impossible to back these up to floppy disks. But backing up is very important.

Back-up Options

Backing up offers you the chance to recover data should something happen. Computers are machines built by humans. This pretty much guarantees they will have a hiccup or two. And that hiccup is almost certain to take place about three days after you have just finished entering about 400 new individuals into your genealogy database. So how do you avoid this catastrophe?

You will want to look into backup systems. With writable CD-ROMs, you may already have a backup system available. Or you may want to look into a tape back-up system. Finally for those with smaller hard drives, one of the Zip or Jaz drives might be an alternative.

What's Best for You

Deciding what is the best option for you will depend largely on your computer system and your computer knowledge. If you are not very secure in your abilities where your computer is concerned, you will not want anything that is going to require opening your computer, unless you get someone else to do it. You also want to keep in mind what is involved in creating the backup. Will your complete hard drive fit on one disk or will you need to have multiple disks?

One of the best ways to learn about the different options for backing up is through computer magazines. There are a variety of magazines you can purchase at your local bookstore that will frequently review backup products. And sometimes you will find that they do a feature article comparing the different products side by side.

In Conclusion

Regardless of what system you decide on, be sure to actually do it. Computers are not fail-free. At some point you will find that you need that backup. I don't want you to be one of those people who is lamenting that they "should have" backed up their data.

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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