How to Backup (and Protect) Your Genealogy

dropbox

Today’s genealogy involves a lot of digital data.

You may have scanned documents, birth records, saved webpages showing your lineage, and perhaps most importantly, photos of your ancestors.

Yet in an instant, it all could be lost.

Hard drives crash. Files get deleted. Computers are stolen.

To protect your files, you want to make sure you’re using a reliable backup strategy. The best way to do this is with a combination of backup software and online (“cloud”) storage services.

The best part? You can do it completely for free.

Dropbox: Backup to the Cloud

Dropbox is an amazing service that offers you 2GB of free cloud storage space. By storing your data in the cloud, it protects your data from fire, theft, and other disasters a traditional backup can’t protect you from.

To use it, you’ll need to sign up for an account and download the Dropbox client. Once installed, this will integrate with your desktop and put a Dropbox folder on your hard drive.

Any files you put into your Dropbox folder will instantly sync to the cloud. Think of it as your own personal cloud drive.

Dropbox also lets you:

  • Access your files from any device
  • Easily share files
  • Rollback changes to files, with a 30 day version history

Version history is one of the most underrated features Dropbox offers. Basically, you can “undo” any deleted or changed files from the past 30 days. You can access it either from the web interface in your Dropbox account, or by right-clicking on any file stored in Dropbox and selecting “Previous Versions.”

Dropbox does everything: backups, sharing, and syncing. It’s one of my favorite and most-used tools; I use it almost every day.

It works on just about any device and operating system, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and even Linux.

Backup to a USB Hard Drive

Keeping backups in multiple locations is always a good idea. That’s why I recommend people backup to an external hard drive in addition to the cloud.

There’s a lot of free backup software out there. Windows even comes with built-in utilities for backing up and restoring your data.

However, one backup program stands head and shoulders above the rest: EaseUS Todo Backup Free.

It can backup your files to just about any media, including:

  • Local drives
  • External hard drives
  • Network drives
  • CD/DVD

Not only can Todo backup individual files, but it can also backup your entire hard drive.

It does this with “full disk imaging” which allows you to restore your computer to the exact state it was in when the backup was made. How awesome is that?

The software supports scheduling, so you’ll never miss a backup again. It can also do incremental backups, which only backs up changes since the last backup (saving you hard drive space).

EaseUS Todo Backup is by far the most versatile, free backup program out there.

Need More Space?

Sometimes, the 2GB offered by Dropbox just isn’t enough.

If you have lots of photos, files, and other data you want to backup, it’s time to upgrade to a dedicated online backup service.

The two services I recommend most are CrashPlan and Backblaze. They both offer unlimited online backups for about $5 per month, per computer.

Online backup services are “set it and forget it” – once the software is configured, any changes to your files will be backed up continuously throughout the day.

It’s also ridiculously easy. There’s no need to connect a USB hard drive. No CDs or DVDs to deal with. As long as your computer is connected to the internet, your files are backed up 24/7.

At about 20 cents per day, it’s a small price to pay for the ultimate peace of mind.

Protect Your Files

Backing up your files is important for any computer user. However, it’s especially important for genealogists because they store so much important, historical data.

Losing any amount of data is a bummer, but losing your family’s genealogical history is a tragedy.

Just as paper documents should be stored in a fireproof safe, your digital data should be be protected, too. So make sure you’re backing it all up.

Your future generations will thank you.

[Editor's Note: Geoff Akerlund of Backup Review provided GeneaBloggers with this guest post - thanks Geoff!]

Update on Ancestry.com Search – Input Needed

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[Editor's Note: We just received the following information from Ancestry.com and want to pass it on to our readers.  Please take this opportunity to let Ancestry.com know about the features in Old Search that you use most, if you are a current user of Old Search.]

In an effort to continually improve your experience on Ancestry.com, we are asking for feedback on our search function. Our plan is first to gather feedback from our core users. We will take all of that feedback into account when we are merging the functionality of Old Search and current search into a consolidated search experience.

You can take the survey here: http://ancestry.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_8ubNXU8IiQcxqVD

Many of the recent concerns and comments have cited functionality that actually exists in current search, as well as in old search – specifically:

1. Our current search experience allows users to view search results as a list of ranked records or as a consolidated list of categories.
2. Our current search experience allows users to do “Exact Match” searches.
3. Our current search experience allows users to specify a “Collection Priority” to filter results by country.

Crista Cowan has a great educational video which demonstrates this functionality in the current search experience: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c423yU5Ccs0

We also have a helpful article which does a side-by-side explanation of how to achieve the same types of results with the current search as in Old Search: http://ancestry.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/5569/kw/old

Thank you,
The Ancestry.com Product Team

Ancestry.com Changes Search Functionality and Removes Old Search

ancestry ends old search

That’s right! More changes in genealogy technology! This time changes to various search functions at Ancestry.com and the end of Old Search. Despite what the cover above looks like, there is no reason to panic and there are good reasons for change . . .

What The Changes at Ancestry.com Will Mean

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with Ancestry.com product managers and saw a demo of the changes to search.  Not only was I impressed, but I was actually blown away by some of the new ways in which search results can be displayed.  For me, the most important features were those where you could customize what you did or didn’t want to see.  With any site that relies on Big Data and ways to display it,  I appreciate it when I site doesn’t “assume” what I want right away but allows me to select the data fields I want.

As noted in the email from Ancestry.com to its users (see full email below), here are the anticipated changes:

  • More relevant search results with the best results at the top
  • Easier refining and control of your search results
  • Keeping a better history of the work you have done
  • Publishing more new content and more corrections to existing content
  • Performance improvements to return results faster

The Death of Old Search on Ancestry.com

One change, which some might see as radical, is the removal of Old Search. I have to confess that I am still among the 2% of Ancestry subscribers who still rely upon Old Search.  I know that things changes, that platforms have to change in order to improve performance.  PAF is going away (understandable), Google Reader is going away (still blows my mind), and now Old Search.  I’m actually surprised it took so long; I know it isn’t easy to support two different search mechanisms and then continue to make changes to each.

During the conference call, I and other genealogy bloggers on the call urged Ancestry.com to “manage expectations” when it came to announcing the removal of Old Search and to get input from the community.  From the email below you’ll see that and I urge those users passionate about Old Search to click the survey link and send your feedback.

Technology Changes – Get Used To It

I’ll admit it isn’t easy even for a tech guy like me to keep up with changes in technology, and yes I get frustrated too.  But I’ve come to realize that I need to evolve and “change with the changes.” I also think about how my ancestors reacted to technology changes: the automobile, the telephone, etc.  Yes the changes seem to come more rapidly nowadays, but we use way more technology than our ancestors.

I look forward to the changes in search at Ancestry.com and I’m keeping an open mind, especially knowing that they want feedback and want search mechanisms that best serves its user community.

* * *

Here is the text of the Ancestry.com email to its users:

Ancestry.com is continuing our efforts to improve the search experience across Ancestry.com and will be making changes to our search functionality in the upcoming months. Some features will be added and some will be discontinued. As part of the 2% of our subscribers that use the old search function on the site, we know that you are passionate about the search experience on Ancestry.com and we are reaching out to you to get input on potential improvements. We hope you will take the opportunity to share your insights and feedback on our plans.

To identify which areas of the experience we should focus on this year, we have drawn on customer input, usage data, usage patterns and our old search function for inspiration. From all of that, we are looking at making your time on Ancestry.com more productive by improving these areas of the search experience in 2013:

  • More relevant search results with the best results at the top
  • Easier refining and control of your search results
  • Keeping a better history of the work you have done
  • Publishing more new content and more corrections to existing content
  • Performance improvements to return results faster

As we begin to make these improvements, we will no longer maintain two separate search systems for the site. Maintaining two systems limits the resources we can use to make improvements and increases the complexity of every improvement we try to make. Additionally, continuing to maintain the two systems limits our ability to direct more investment into other areas like adding more record collections and correcting existing collections.

Based on that, as a part of the work this year we will be bringing together the two search experiences into a single search experience on Ancestry.com. We hope to bring forward the best features of both the old and new search systems into the consolidated experience to facilitate the transition for our users and to improve the overall search experience. We expect to discontinue the old search function as a separate experience within the next 6 months.

As a user of the old search feature, we wanted to give you advance notice and let you influence the changes we are making in search. Please take this survey to share your feedback and ideas on key features to improve.

Best regards,
The Ancestry.com Product Team

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee