Backing Up Your Genealogy Data to Dropbox or to Google Drive

I am always suggesting that everyone should back critical files in multiple locations. For safety reasons, at least one backup copy should be stored “off site” where it will not be damaged by a disaster in your home. In fact, most of today’s genealogy programs can quickly, easily, and securely back up files to the cloud with such services as Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Drive (formerly known as SkyDrive), Box.com, Copy.com, or any of the many other available file copy services. Doing so is quick and easy and protects your data.

Another advantage to making backups to a cloud-based service is that you can easily copy databases between computers, such as from your desktop computer to your laptop or vice versa.

Keep in mind that you need to first create a Dropbox account or Google Drive account or an account on another service in order to use this option. Most of these online services offer free accounts that will save up to a few gigabytes of data. In most cases, the available space on a free account will be more than enough to store copies of most genealogy databases.

I would also strongly suggest you never back up a genealogy database while it is open and in use by your favorite genealogy program. Backing up open files that are in use can sometimes lead to database corruption, the exact opposite of what you are attempting to accomplish! Instead, when most of today’s genealogy programs are closed, an option appears asking if you want to back up the database. The exact wording will vary from one genealogy program to another but all of today’s worthwhile genealogy programs do have built-in capabilities to save backup copies. Most of programs will also add a “date/time stamp” in the file name such as: backup-2014-05-17.zip or something similar. Use of date/time stamps makes it easy to keep EVERY version of your database.

In most genealogy programs, selecting the option to create a backup will first close the database, making sure the backup is complete and will not be corrupted. Then you specify a backup location that is in a folder within the online file copy service of your choice (Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Drive, Box.com, Copy.com, etc.).

In this case, I will use the example of RootsMagic making a backup to a Dropbox folder. However, the process is similar with most of today’s genealogy programs and with almost all other cloud-based services that copy your files to safe and secure cloud-based services.

For RootsMagic, instructions were in the RootsMagic Newsletter of May 2014. It is specific to RootsMagic but similar options exist in The Master Genealogist, Legacy Family Tree, Reunion, and most other genealogy programs.

From the RootsMagic Newsletter:

We are always telling users “backup, backup, backup”. And while folks are getting better about backing up, they often just back up their file on their hard drive, meaning if something happened to their computer, both their database and their backups would be at risk.

One of the great new features we just added in the update mentioned above is the ability to back up directly to Dropbox or Google Drive. This actually copies your backup directly to “the cloud”, so even if your computer melted into a puddle, your backup is still safe.

When you now do File > Backup, or choose to do a backup when exiting from the program, the backup screen will have 2 new options as seen below. Just check whether you want to backup to Dropbox or Google Drive, and when you click “Begin backup”, RootsMagic will have you login to the one you select and will upload your backup directly to your account on that service.

For most all genealogy programs, instructions may be found online. Make sure you specify the backup location to be a folder within the online service you are using, with any name of your choosing, such as:

C:\Dropbox\backups\MasterGenealogist\

For Reunion for Macintosh, read the instructions and view the video at http://genealogytools.com/how-to-backup-a-reunion-family-file/.

For Legacy Family Tree, look at http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/helpLegacy8Backup.asp.

In MacFamilyTree: To save a copy of the current database in a custom location, just go to the top menu bar and select:

“File” -> “Export MacFamilyTree Database”

More information is available in the User Guide.

When exiting The Master Genealogist, the program always asks the user if he or she wishes to make a backup copy. Select YES and then specify a folder location such as C:\Dropbox\backups\MasterGenealogist\.

Family Tree Maker has the capabilities to make a backup to any folder on your hard drive, on a flash drive, or to a cloud-based file copy service. However, the exact instructions and exact wording varies a bit from one version of Family Tree Maker to another. One sample is shown at http://help.ancestry.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/4378/~/backing-up-a-file-in-family-tree-maker. Other versions of Family Tree Maker will be similar.

Almost all other genealogy programs have similar capabilities.

Why do you need to make a backup? Think about how many hours of work will be required to recreate all your data if your hard drive crashes five minutes from now!

7 Comments

The RootsMagic backup is different in that it uploads the backup directly to Dropbox or Google Drive (not a folder on the local computer).

This means that Dropbox does not even have to be installed on the computer. It allows RootsMagic to backup to Dropbox or Google Drive even when running RootsMagic from a flash drive on a different computer.

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While it may not be the most recent wiz-bang program, I’m still using PAF. It does what I need it to do and it will work under both Windows (7) and Linux/Wine. I store the database, the “.paf” file, in Dropbox. It then gets synched across all my computers so all of them are, in essence, working on the same database file. I can use one of my netbooks at the library and when I get home the new data is on my desktop or if I’m out of town it will be on my laptop in the hotel and on my desktop when I get home. No transferring data or retyping necessary.

Not all genealogy programs are capable of using the database in this manner ( another reason I still use PAF ), Gramps is one that immediately comes to mind, so your mileage may vary.

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    This is what I wanted to do with FTM but I have not figured out how yet. If someone knows, please share that information.

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I have been using Dropbox for years as my default Save folder for my genealogy work. In this way I don’t need to worry about making a specific backup to Dropbox, although routine backups can also be saved to your default Save location. I also am able to collaborate with my sister across the country by sharing the Dropbox folder. (You just need to coordinate so you don’t both have the file(s) open at the same time.) And consistent with the Eastman protocol of mulitiple back locations, I use BackUpMyTree.com. Keeping my working files (not just the backups) in Dropbox also allows me to use the same database when using my laptop (traveling) or desktop (at home).

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I am missing any and all references to Ancestral Quest in above article. Contrary to what is stated above about closing a program before backing up your database, AQ is designed to back up your database from the open program.

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I use Ancestral Quest and save both types of files to Dropbox, one with the program open, and one with it closed. At one time I had a file there that I could open and use on a trip to SLC. Is there only a certain type that will open and be useful? Thanks.

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    Dropbox will handle ANY sort of file. However, some applications do not work well with files that were saved while to program was in operation. I am not sure about AncestralQuest. You would have to ask AncestralQuest Customer Service about that. All programs should work well with files that were saved in Dropbox AFTER the program was closed.

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