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Geneaology - Tips for Protecting Your Family History Data

Updated on July 16, 2013
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Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She has been researching her family history for over 40 years.

Researching your family history can easily become an obsession. Wanting to know more about your ancestry can drive you to extremes. You will lose sleep, forget to eat, neglect your housekeeping duties, all in the hope of finding one more tidbit of information if you just keep at it. The obsession with your family tree can strip you of all logic, if you aren't careful. So, it is confession time. They say it's good for the soul. We'll see.

I screwed up again, even after swearing I would never let it happen - again. I don't know why I do it. There is no rationalizing because it's just stupid, stupid, stupid. But I'd bet you've done it too.

After spending two months of pretty intense work on my family tree, I just didn't take the time to make a backup copy. Since being laid off, I've had some extra time and have used it to continue my research into my family's roots. And I've had some really productive days too. In only two months, I added over 2000 new names to my database and acquired dozens of new/old photographs that are irreplaceable. The photographs were loaned to me so that I could scan them and keep digital copies. And the data, well, it wasn't just names. Using all of my usual Internet resources, I had found several "nests" of data that provided tons of information on my relatives. It doesn't happen very often so I have been very excited. It's like that with research sometimes - feast or famine. Statistically, the last two months of researching had been very successful.

Reality Check

And then it happened. In the wee hours of dawn, I started having problems with my Internet searches. It only took a few minutes to realize I had been hit by a Rootkit computer virus. OMG!!! I've been here before and I am smart enough to know that the fix will either be easy or - I will end up having to wipe my hard drive clean and reinstall all of my dozens of software programs. The last time this happened it took me three days of working around the clock to restore all my saved files and programs. Ugh! I'm not sure I can face it again, not now.

It was about 3 A.M. when it hit me. I had added all that new data to my family history software and had been too dang lazy to make my back up copies. What is wrong with me? Why does it always take a crisis for me to realize how much time has gone into collecting my family stories, photos, and demographic data? Seriously, it takes less than two minutes using the software's back up tool and even less to just copy the files off to a flash drive or portable hard drive. And I have both.

With my head in my hands, I berated myself once again for being so trifling and made myself the promise once again. If I can recover from this virus attach without losing the data, I'll never let this happen again. It's too late now though. I've just got to take my chances. Not knowing what is infected or how it got that way, I am reluctant to transfer any files to external data sources for fear of transferring the virus too. Damn it !

The Good News Is...

things turned out okay for a change. It took me twelve hours of Internet research to find the fix for the virus but the fix worked and I didn't lose any data - this time.

Will I let it happen again? Of course not. lol I've learned my lesson. More importantly, I've copied my data now, to an external hard drive and two flash drives. Yes, it's a nuisance to have to keep them updated but when you think about it, it's a small nuisance compared to what could be lost. After all, aren't we the family historians? We have a responsibility to protect the data we've collected on our ancestors. All those little tidbits of information don't exist anywhere else in the world; not in one place anyway. It is a heavy burden but we have to embrace it and be more responsible.

Use The Tools !

Most of the popular family history software programs today have us heathens covered. The programs won't let you exit without reminding you to back up your data. How great is that? It takes one click and a file name and it's done.

However, the software companies also assume that we know what we're doing so they sometimes give you the option to skip the back up. Nice of them, huh? They shouldn't make it so easy because saying yes to "skip back up" is what almost sent all my hard work down through the virus infected black hole.

So, for all of my dedicated family history/genealogy friends, a word of advice. Really, just one word...BACKUP!


© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

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    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Millionaire Tips. These are the hard lessons to learn sometimes. I've been there. I thought my recent experience might be helpful to someone who had not been there. Thanks for letting me know it was helpful to a seasoned researcher too.

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    Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

    This is great advice. I actually lost years worth of data back in the day when we had to use 3.5 inch disks. It was awful. I had some backup disks, but one of them failed. Now I do several backups. I want to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. I do need to remember to do regular backups though, so that even a day's worth of info doesn't get lost. Thanks for the reminder.