A Simple Backup Plan

by JL Beeken on 3-23-2011

I just watched Thomas’ webinar (available at Legacy webinars on CD) called Backing Up: Your Genealogy Data and if I didn’t already have a simple backup plan I still wouldn’t.

Although he gave reasons why we should back up our files and various backup resources, he didn’t show the backup process outside of using Dropbox. I’m a huge fan of Dropbox but maybe I’m not an average genealogist because I don’t get this thing where people are backing up their genealogy files to 2GB of free space. My files are way over that amount, around 50GB and I’ve hardly begun.

In a poll taken at the webinar, 42% of people were backing up their files less than once a week; 27% a month ago, 8% a year ago and 7% never. That’s a gargantuan number that are not taking backup seriously, and I think the only reason must be because there’s something about backing up our computer files that seems too difficult.

It isn’t difficult at all. I just showed my cousin, Sam, how to do this for her new laptop and, as ever, if Sam can do it so can anyone.

If you have files on your computer that you care about they also need to be regularly backed up to somewhere else. And a simple backup plan is within anyone’s reach. This is what you need to know:

1. what files to back up and where they are

2. backup devices

3. software to automate the backup process

What Files to Back Up and Where They Are

Where your files are is straightforward.

In Windows XP you’ll have My Documents with sub-folders of My Music, My Pictures, My Videos.

In Windows 7 you’ll have My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos as 4 separate main folders.

Everything else is a sub-folder so if you back up the main folder(s) you’ll catch everything else where your personal documents are concerned – unless you’re being an oddball and creating folders at random in obscure corners of your operating system.

Besides that, there’s your genealogy database. I do keep backups of the family file because that’s how the Legacy backup button works. But, instead of worrying about all the particulars, I also back up the entire installation which is at C:\Legacy.

And then there’s your bookmarks. In Firefox, go to Bookmarks/Organize Bookmarks:

Bookmarks, Firefox

which takes you to the Bookmarks Library. Click on ‘All Bookmarks’ and then Ctrl+A for Select All. Right above the highlighted list you’ll see ‘Import and Backup’. Click the Export button and save the bookmarks.html file somewhere in My Documents.

Bookmarks Backup, Firefox

Do this on a regular basis. Like every time you add more bookmarks. I back up my bookmarks every day because it only takes 5 seconds.

I also regularly export my calendar and address book from Thunderbird. The other folders I back up regularly are my Firefox and Thunderbird profiles. And I do this because I’m lazy. The profiles contain my browser and email plugins and settings. During a re-installation or after a major screw up, I can use the backups to fix the situation immediately. The profile folders can be found under App Data in Windows 7 (or Application Data in Windows XP). A file-path similar to this:

C:\Users\JL\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\l1gn8voy.default\

Take a gander down Windows Explorer and see if I missed anything.

Backup Devices

I favor external hard-drives because I have about 200GB of files to back up and they’re relatively inexpensive. I got two 600GB drives from Amazon for about $75 each.

My experience with discs and flash-drives is that they’re not as reliable, but they could be. You never know. That’s why it’s imperative to have more than one backup.

I back up everyday to one drive and I alternate the drives monthly. There’s a recurring reminder on my calendar for the 1st of every month. I also back up to two older drives mid-month but I don’t depend on them. The drive presently in use is taken out of the house with me whenever I leave so it’s not sitting next to the computer which has the exact same files on it. It’s not a perfect plan but it’s a simple one. If my house and I were to get in trouble on the same day while in different locations that would be stretching probabilities but it could happen.

To make my plan closer to perfect I also back up my files online to Carbonite. This is a simple installation and then it just runs. The only downside is that it doesn’t automatically back up every type of file so you have to take a few minutes to tell it to. And then it just carries on; you won’t even know it’s there.

If you have less for backup and/or you’re short on cash, you can use a combination of free online backup services. Just set up an account (username and password) on each and follow the instructions.

Copy – 15GB
Dropbox – 2GB
IDrive – 5GB
Mozy – 2GB
SugarSync -5GB
Windows Live SkyDrive – 25GB

Syncback To Automate The Process (Backup to Discs & Drives)

Syncback is a no-brainer and the free version works just fine. The language used is ‘Source’ and ‘Destination’. In most cases, Source would mean your computer. And Destination could mean an external hard-drive, a flash-drive, a re-writable disc or even a home server. The general idea is to set up what’s called ‘profiles’ that tell Syncback to copy My Documents from the Source to My Documents on the Destination and My Music to My Music, My Pictures to My Pictures, and so on. You can break any of these into smaller profiles if you want to. I use Syncback several times a day.

I had to take some columns out of this to make the screenshot but this is the basic idea. From-to, from-to, from-to. This is very simple to do and you can save the profiles so you only have to create them once.

Syncback Profiles

The month I have my ‘X’ drive plugged in, I run the (X) profiles. When I have the ‘Z’ drive plugged in, I run the (Z) profiles.

I’ve written in more detail about how to use this software at Syncback: File Backup Software and How To Back Up Your Computer Files.

Use what you’ve got. Anything is better than nothing. If you’re willing to invest your time in using a computer, invest in protecting your investment by setting up and using a simple backup plan.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol 3-24-2011 at 9:01 AM

With Syncback, do you over write files?? or does this create a separate set of files. My current preference is to write a brand new set of files each time, so if I find a corrupt file, I have more than one copy to fall back on.

Due to limitations of air cards (useage limited to say 5 Gigs a month) I have not gone to Carbonite or similar cloud back up sites. Is there a way to do backups just once a day with Carbonite?

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JL 3-24-2011 at 9:16 AM

With Syncback you can do it in any of a variety of ways. There are multiple tabs for setup with more options than you could use in a lifetime.

I believe the choices will cover anything you want to do. There’s a free version. I suggest taking it for a test-drive. There’s also a comparison chart of features. I’ve run the paid version for years which also includes ‘Versioning’ which may be what you’re looking for. It has a 30-day free trial and the cost is $34.95.

Carbonite is unlimited backup for a set annual price. And, yes, you can schedule your backups for once a day.

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Tessa 3-25-2011 at 7:12 AM

I attended Thomas’ webinar and agree that it provided a great deal of information, perhaps too much for the audience (the four polls gave some idea of the audience and I find these polls interesting BUT too late to gauge where the audience is skill set-wise). It would be helpful to ask these questions when someone signs up and/or have varying levels – i.e., for those who have never backed up; for those who want to back up to flash or an external drive; for those who want to back up to the cloud (as well as pros and cons to each). Someone could progress through the set as needed or jump in where they need to learn.

That said, the webinar was useful to make me aware of the availability of various resources and decide whether I need or want to take my backup plan to the next level. Additionally I am quite thankful for the variety and quality of webinars being offered through Legacy Family Tree. I like the fact that they offer webinars which relate to the genealogy community in general and not just their genealogy software program, and that they bring together a variety of speakers. In light of your posting and several others (I read all your tech posts when I started and find your tips very helpful) why not contact Legacy and offer your services. Thanks for your continuing “sharing” to help make the rest of us better genealogists and a bit more techie!

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JL 3-25-2011 at 10:21 AM

You make good points. When a webinar is a general overview you can’t please all the people all the time. Most people are going to get something out of it but across a wide range. Depending on the content of a webinar, either I’m hanging on every word or jotting down two things I’ve never heard before.

If I’m hanging on every word that means I know nothing about the topic and at the end of the webinar it’s likely my head will be swimming and I still won’t know where to go next.

I’ve been working with my cousin, Sam, quite a bit lately using screen-sharing which is a webinar for an audience of one. Sam has had a computer around for years but, for some reason, has never had the opportunity for someone to take her through anything step-by-step. Consequently, she’s stayed frozen in ignorance and fear. And, for her, it’s down to the level of every single click. Nothing’s familiar, nothing’s obvious. Just to say, I wouldn’t be surprised to find there are other people in a similar place.

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GrannyPam 3-28-2011 at 3:34 AM

I use Compare and Backup and Everyday Auto Backup in a very similar way. I can run it from on computer and backup all the computers on our home network every night. It takes the worry out of keeping so much important information on our computers.

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