Sunday, November 01, 2009

Organizing My Life - Backups

I have two new toys that I have been playing with lately. One is a 320GB Western Digital MyBook and the other is a 320GB Western Digital Passport Mini Portable. They are the results of the evolution of my backup system. The last process I had, was to backup up nightly to a 80GB Western Digital External Hard Drive, plus offline to Mozy. Then approximately once a month I would create some DVD copies of my files. I say approximately because I was getting more and more sporadic about making DVDs, because they took so long to make. Sometimes I wouldn't back up everything, like my music, because it didn't change that often.

Several weeks ago, I decided to rearrange all my genealogy files. Before doing that I started to make a DVD backup of my files, in case something went terribly wrong. I spent 5 hours trying to figure out how to fit the files, without breaking up the main folder, onto a DVD and then waiting for it to burn. I was sick of the process by then and hopelessly realizing I had an estimated 7 more hours to go to finish. Out of frustration I commented on Facebook that there had to be a better way.

One friend suggested that I get a second external hard drive and skip the DVDs altogether. Yes, that was reasonable to me. No more breaking up folders to make them fit on a DVD. I was then on the quest to find a second external to backup to. My 80GB External Hard drive was nearly full anyways. At first I wanted to just buy one new external, I was thinking a terabyte here. Then later on get another external to replace my 80GB. After looking at prices, reading reviews and thinking things over, I realized I could get two 320GB externals for about the price of one 1TB external on eBay. It wasn't the size I was hoping for, but 320GB was plenty big enough for me. By the time I want/need a TB, the prices would have come down even more. This was a win-win solution.

I was very picky about what type of external hard drives I wanted. For my main external, I wanted it to have a separate power cord to plug in. It would be always plugged into my computer and backed up to every night. I bought the WD MyBook to suit that purpose. Here's an interesting side note: Never move an external hard drive when it is writing/reading. You could damage it or make it wear out prematurely.

For my second external I wanted it to be tiny and portable. Something I could store away in a safe place and not be connected to my computer all the time. I bought the WD Passport Mini Portable for that need. The portable external will be backed up to at least weekly, or sooner, dependent upon if there are major changes to my files before that.

Within a week of my order my new external hard drives arrived at my door. I just love eBay. (I use SquareTrade to buy extended warranties on my items.) The only issue I had backing up was the software that was included with my hard drive to sync my files. I just couldn't get it to do what I wanted it to do. I had used a freeware program called Syncback previously on my old external. It allowed me to customize things just the way I wanted them set. I dumped the external's backup software after two days and went back to Syncback. If I win the GeneaBloggers' contest I would happily give Handy Backup a whirl.

I guess, I really backup more than sync files. When I delete a file off my computer I don't want my external to send it back to me when you sync them up. I also don't want real time backup (at least I don't think I do). After I make changes, I am comfortable with, I run Syncback to make the same changes on the external. My external is a mirror image of my computer files. My second hard drive is not as current and would give me a week to decide if I made mistakes in deleting files.

So far, once I delete files, I have never really wanted them back again. That being said, there are times you need old copies of your genealogy software database. During the first beta period of new FamilySearch, I actually had to send an old 1993 GEDCOM file to them so they could determine what was happening in some old Ancestral File submissions. I felt so clever that I could actually give them such an old GEDCOM. I save my genealogy database in GEDCOM format for long term storage.

Besides GEDCOM format, I also save all my current or working databases as zip backup files. They are dated so I can go back in time and restore from them if needed. Thankfully RootsMagic helps me by automatically including the date when I backup. Sometimes I just need to add a b, c, d, etc., if I am making a lot of changes that day.

renee (2009-09-10b)
renee (2009-09-12)
renee (2009-10-13)
renee (2009-10-13b)
renee (2009-10-13c)

Here are two older posts of mine that discuss my genealogy database backup process.
Backup vs GEDCOM - 10 Nov 2005
The Art of Storing Your Genealogy Database - 11 Nov 2005

The articles are a little dated but it will help you understand why you need BACKUPs and GEDCOMs of your database and the importance of a BACKUP SYSTEM. With my new system, without CD/DVDs, I needed to work out when I would make my GEDCOMs. Since I wrote the older articles I have used Legacy 6, Legacy 7, RootsMagic 3 and RootsMagic 4. Having a GEDCOM of my database, as long term storage, is more important than ever. Who wants to uninstall a new program for an old version just to find out if an old backup has something you needed.

My plan is to every month make a GEDCOM of my genealogy database for long term storage. I will name it using the database title, date created and what version of software I am using, i.e. "renee(2009-11-01)RM4". I would suggest running file maintenance on your database before hand if you have that option.

When you keep all those zip files of your working database, your backup folder can get pretty full. I used to burn a CD when it was getting crowded and then delete all but the last six zip files from my computer hard drive. To replace that system I made a "Archive" folder with sub-folders by year>month to hold them. Once a month after making my GEDCOM, I will then move my older zip files into the archive folder where they belong.

When a new version of my genealogy software comes out, and I feel comfortable with it, I will delete the archive for the old program, and just keep the GEDCOM files for long term storage. I think this will cover all my bases. Now I just need to go back through all my old CD/DVDs and finish migrating my older GEDCOM files off them. It will be wonderful to shred and get rid of all those old CD/DVDs. YIPEE!!! more physical space!

Here are my recommendations now:
1. Make multiple backup copies of all your files, using various storage devices.
2. Have an off site storage plan for a copy of your files.
3. Make a Backup of your working genealogy files, daily or as needed.
4. Make monthly GEDCOMs for long term storage.
5. Move backup zip files monthly into their Archive>Year>Month folder
6. Name and date your backups - "renee (2009-10-13c)"
7. Name and date your GEDCOMs - "renee(2009-11-01)RM4"
8. Do file maintenance on your database before creating a GEDCOM.
9. Delete your backup zip file archive once you migrate to a new version of software.

Now after saying all that....DO IT!

See ya tomorrow, for tomorrow is always another genealogy day!


Anonymous said...

Hi Renee,

I use Carbonite and hardly use my WD 160 GB portable backup anymore. So much easier - although having multiple backups is desirable. Carbonite is $55/year... pretty cheap -and does backups every day.


Renee Zamora said...

Off site storage is the best with companies like Carbonite or Mozy. The only issue I have is if you have a large number of files to restore, say from a computer crash. It costs big money to get them to send DVDs of your files. For 50GBs of storage restored to CDs and mailed it's about $100+.

You could restore from online but it could take weeks to do so. Having an external makes restoring files, especially after reformatting your hard drive, a piece of cake.

I speak from experience...

Bottom line I got tired of waiting and paid to get the CDs instead. Mozy is located near my home so they waved the shipping price for me. I was worth it for me. I shudder if I had to pay the full price.

Hugh W said...

I send an email to myself in gmail with my latest gedcom as an attachment

I also upload gedcom to WorldConnect on Rootsweb
(with the passsword I can download an unprivatised copy)

I would like to contribute to familysearch but my tree is a work in progress and contains errors which could not be corrected if on Familysearch