Sunday, December 9, 2012


          I will be honest--my eyes glaze over when I read articles or blog posts about backing up computer files. I see the B word, and I immediately find something else to do.
     But, I have always been careful about preserving and sharing paper copies of my stories and records. So, I should not be afraid of the B word. After all, preserving and sharing are simply other words for "backup."
     Luckily, my husband Doug is obsessive about backing up computer files, including my family stories, photographs, and records. Years ago, he had called Gateway customer service for help with fixing our hard drive. He followed the service agent's instructions, and the result was a hard drive wiped clean of everything--our photos, my data, our daughter's term papers--all  lost permanently. The agent never bothered to warn him! Our marriage survived, but Doug was a changed man, obsessed with backup systems.
     Doug and I were discussing backing up our files and computers in preparation for moving back to the States. I will share our conversation below.
    Deb:  What backup methods are crucial for family historians who want to preserve and share photos, videos, or stories?
      DOUG: "Online Cloud services are the key methods right now to back up files. Services like Dropbox and Carbonite make it easy to sync what is on your hard drive with the Cloud. And the cost of online Cloud back-up has come down drastically in recent years, making it possible to back up even an entire hard drive in the Cloud."
     Deb: Why two services?
     DOUG: "Carbonite is meant to run in the background, and is most effective to back up key data files. Whereas Dropbox is best to keep files in sync among several different computers."
     Deb: What about just putting our family history files or photographs on DVDs?
     DOUG: "Some computers now, like the latest Apple computers,  don't even have CD ROM drives to back up files, making Cloud services more important."
     Deb: Huh. Sounds like one day there won't be devices to play all those DVDs I have made! My DVDs will be like a stack of old 78 rpm records! How about for videos, there are sites such as You Tube. Aren't they are form of preservation?
     DOUG:  But web sites like You Tube are not true back up services. The videos upload at a lower resolution.
     Deb: You know me, I am always wary that a solar flare will fry the Internet.
     DOUG: "Some people don't trust Cloud services. In that case an external hard drive can be used to back up files locally, at a very low cost. And your files are available immediately without having to download them from the Cloud. So I use both, which might seem like a belt and suspenders approach, which is the best of both worlds."
     Deb: Any other methods of preserving family stories?
     DOUG: "Sure. For computers that still have CD ROM or DVD drives, you can still back up your files to a disk. And you can buy DVD ROM drives even for the latest Apple computers if that is the way you want to back up your files."
     Deb: What about the thumb drives?
     DOUG: "Thumb drives, or USB drives, are useful, but they have a small capacity, so they are really best for backing up a few key files. They won't hold a lot of video files. So even though they are not the key choice for backing up your entire hard drive, for family historians, they are useful for preserving and sharing important  files, such as a collection of photos or stories. "
     Deb: How are my own family history files backed up?
     DOUG: "Yours are backed up on two Cloud services (Carbonite and Dropbox), and, because all of our computers have Dropbox on them, all of our files on Dropbox are being copied to every other computer we own, so the files now reside on multiple hard drives."
   I also have my records and photos on thumb drives, and I use to back up my family tree data and to sync my tree with my computers and devices.
     Plus, I have multiple "paper" back-ups. I have several volumes of all my research and family records copied, bound, and kept in a safety deposit box. I have also distributed some of these volumes to relatives.
     But my favorite preservation tools are the family history books I have self-published using These books contain it all--family stories, photographs, records, and data. (Blurb turns out a very high quality product at low cost--I am not connected with Blurb or get compensated for my endorsement. I am just a very satisfied customer).  Not only are these books heirloom quality items, they are fun to explore and easy to share. And I distribute many copies, hoping that, long after a solar flare has rendered the Cloud obsolete, one of my family story books will survive through many generations.
     Preserve and share--great keywords for family historians!