I usually republish an article on the first day of every month: It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files. A newsletter reader wrote and asked a simple question: “How do I make backups?”
I answered the question in email but thought I would copy that reply into a new article here in the newsletter in case other readers have the same question.
I cannot write a precise answer that will work for everyone as computer owners use a wide variety of the hardware and software. Also, each computer owner’s needs may vary from what other people need. Do you need to back up EVERYTHING or only a few files that are important to you? Are you using Macintosh or Windows or Android or Chromebook or some other operating system?
I decided to answer a few generic questions about how often to make backups, how many copies, and so forth. Then I will describe what I currently use. Admittedly, I constantly experiment with new things so what I am using today might not be what I will be using next month. Still, this article should give you some ideas about how you should constantly back up the important files that you do not wish to lose.
First of all, I use a Macintosh as my primary computer.
NOTE: I have several other computing devices, including Windows, Chromebook, Linux, and Android tablets, primarily so that I can experiment with different products and then write about them in my newsletter. I don’t worry about backing up those other systems simply because there is never any information on any of them that I consider to be valuable if it should be lost. However, my primary computer (a Macintosh) always has everything that I wish to preserve.
I make sure I always have CURRENT backups on my Macintosh systems (desktop and laptop) because those systems are full of information that is critical to me (newsletter subscriber lists, past articles from 25 years of these newsletters, my own genealogy information, income tax records that need to be preserved in case of IRS audits, and more.
Also, I never, ever depend upon having only one backup. I insist on having a minimum of two current backups at all times, stored in two different places. Three or four copies, stored in three or four different places, would be still better. The reason for multiple backups and locations is simple: an in-home disaster (fire, flood, hurricane, etc.) could destroy BOTH the Macs and the hard drives at the same time. That is why I don’t trust backups stored in my house.
I use Time Machine, an excellent backup program that is included at no extra charge with all Macintosh systems. It stores its backups in an external USB hard drive (that did cost extra) and is plugged into the back of the Macintosh. There are a number of good backup products available for Windows systems as well.
NOTE: Chromebooks theoretically never require backups as everything is automatically backed up to the cloud immediately in Chromebooks. I love the Chromebook but that is another story for another time.
I have two Macintosh systems (desktop and laptop) so I have two external hard drives, one plugged into each computer. Time Machine and the hard drives automatically make backup copies of every new and every changed file within a few minutes after each file is created.
Each Macintosh also runs ANOTHER backup program (I presently use pCloud but there are several other very good cloud-based backup services) that copies all new or newly-changed DATA files to an encrypted storage space in the cloud, specifically to servers that are many miles from my home. For still better security, some of the file storage space is outside of North America.
It is possible that the company that runs the cloud storage space could go out of business unexpectedly or have other problems. In theory, I could lose the files that are stored in the cloud (although that has never happened before). I also could lose the files stored on the external hard drives connected to my Macintosh systems, due to a hard drive crash or a fire or other disaster at home. HOWEVER, I doubt if I would ever lose ALL the copies of my files simultaneously!
In short, I always have at least THREE copies of everything: (1.) the originals stored in the Macintosh systems, (2.) the copies stored on the external hard drives that are plugged into the Macintosh systems, and (3) the backup copies that are stored in the cloud.
The file I seek or even all my files can be downloaded to my computer(s) or to any other computer in any location. (That’s handy as I travel a lot when there is a pandemic raging throughout the world, and I might need a backup of some bit of information when I am in a hotel room in Bangkok again.) All I have to do is to log onto the cloud file storage system, enter my user name and password, and then all the files previously stored instantly become available to me. I can select one of them, several of them, or even all of them. Of course, if I select all of the files, the restore may require some time. That’s especially true of many hotel Internet connections. However, restoring one file or a few files is usually a very quick operation.
If any one set of files gets destroyed, it would be a major inconvenience but not a disaster. I could simply restore whatever I need from the two remaining copies (one copy on the nearby external hard drive and also the backed up copy in the cloud).
Is this a perfect backup philosophy? Probably not. But it does allow me to sleep at night.
What are you using to frequently back up your files?