When most of your genealogy data is kept on your computer, it can represent years or even decades of work. You don’t want to lose it to computer breakdowns and thefts. Some of that information may not be able to be reproduced, and you definitely don’t want to have to copy hundreds of pages of handwritten notes back into a new software program. It can happen if you are not careful with your data, though. Here are some steps you can follow to make sure you always have access to your genealogy data, no matter what happens to your computer.
1. Make a Backup of Your Genealogy File
Most genealogy software programs have a feature that allows you to back up the data. You should do this as often as you can remember to do it. Ideally, you should back up your data each time you add new information to your family tree. If this is too cumbersome of a routine for you, and you feel like you don’t have time to take a few minutes and do it every time you use the software, then do it on a schedule and stick to it. Backing up your data weekly or monthly, on the same day or week of the month each time, is a good practice anyone can do. Make sure to put your backup data in a separate file, and organize your backup files by date in a desktop folder created just for them.
2. Invest in an External Hard Drive
Whenever you make your backup files, don’t just store them on your computer. Keep a copy of them there, yes, but also keep some copies off of your computer. If your computer is lost or damaged, you will still have a way to restore your genealogy data. Moving your backup files onto an external hard drive after you create them is an excellent idea. Keep the external hard drive in a location completely separate from your computer, so you won’t lose your data if your computer is stolen.
3. Put Backup Copies on CDs
At least twice a year, move your most recent backup file of your family tree onto a thumb drive. It’s simple to burn a copy from your desktop or external hard drive onto the thumb drive. Keep the thumb drive either in a fire and waterproof container at your house, or, ideally, away from your house, such as with a relative or in a safe deposit box at the bank. If you want to make sure your data is really secure, purchase more than one thumb drive and keep these different copies in different places. It is highly unlikely all of your sources of genealogical data will ever be lost or stolen.
4. Make a GEDCOM File of Your Family Tree Data
As the recent incident with Ancestry.com discontinuing its highly popular Family Tree Maker software highlights, you need to be sure you can import your family tree data into a new program if it becomes unusable on the program you usually use. A GEDCOM file is transferable to most family tree software programs, and the vast majority of them, including Family Tree Maker, allows you to make a GEDCOM. As with your regular backup files, make GEDCOMs on a regular basis and store them on a variety of mediums that are kept in two to three different locations away from your home.
5. Keep a Copy of Your Family Tree Software on Thumb Drive
The backup files you’ve made won’t do any good if you don’t have the software to import them to. If your computer is stolen or broken, you will need to be able to re-upload your software onto your new computer. If your software is discontinued, like with Family Tree Maker, and you haven’t made a GEDCOM, you won’t be able to access your data at all, so keeping a copy of your software on thumb drive is extremely important. Even if you just use it to upload your information to make a GEDCOM to use with a new software program, you’ll need to have the old program to do it.
Follow these steps, and you will never have to be concerned about losing your precious genealogy data. No matter what happens to your computer or in the software world, you will always have access to your data, and that is a good thing.
Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)