Always Keep Backups of Your Online Genealogy Information

A newsletter reader wrote and asked a question:

“I have an account with Ancestry.com and I was using the Family Tree Maker for my back up just in case there comes a time when I can no longer pay for Ancestry and since they stopped using Family Tree Maker. I was wondering if there was anything else I can use as a back up, I would hate to lose all the information I have if I couldn’t pay for it for some reason.”

I replied to the question in email but thought I would also post my answer here in the newsletter in case others have the same question:

First, Family Tree Maker did not go away. The program was acquired by Software MacKiev and has been improved significantly in the past year or so. The Software MacKiev version of Family Tree Maker still exchanges data with Ancestry.com and still can function as a viable method of keeping a copy of your genealogy data in your own Macintosh or Windows computer, the same as it did before the acquisition by Software MacKiev.

HOWEVER, if it was me, I would do even more.

To be blunt, I don’t trust any online service to remain in business without changes forever and ever. I don’t care if we are talking about Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, Findmypast, GEDmatch, or even non-genealogy sites that accept information from users, such as Wikipedia. All sorts of things can happen, even to web sites that you control, such as The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding.

Sometimes companies abruptly declare bankruptcy and go offline with little or no warning. At other times, a web site may be purchased by new owners, perhaps owners that want to change the business model and no longer have an interest in keeping your data online.

A third problem can be a technical problem when a hardware or software malfunction or even a human error accidentally destroys data with no backups available. (We’re looking at you, RootsWeb.)

In all cases, you want to be prepared in advance. The solution is easy to say and not very difficult to execute: Keep your own backup copies of everything that is important to you! Never trust any company or non-profit to keep your information online forever.

Keeping a local backup in your computer or in the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) is very easy to do. In fact, I keep at least two backup copies of everything important to me saved in two different locations. Having three backup copies stored in three different locations is even better and having four backup copies… Well, you get the idea.

You can always export your genealogy data from Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding, and probably some others, in GEDCOM format. I would suggest you do that every few weeks, perhaps on the first day of every month, or after any time you make changes to your data. You should save the GEDCOM file on your own hard drive(s) and in other locations as well (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.).

If something happens to Ancestry or MyHeritage or the other online services you use, you can always import that GEDCOM file that you saved previously into any modern genealogy program in your Macintosh or Windows system as well as upload it into other online genealogy services, such as MyHeritage, The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding, and others.

If you keep backup copies, you will always have options.

For more information about GEDCOM files, see my earlier article, GEDCOM Explained, at https://blog.eogn.com/2014/05/24/gedcom-explained.

7 Comments

Gedcom files make a poor backup since much data is lost, garbled or misplaced on import to any program but it’s parent.

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Family Tree Maker has been greatly improved by MacKiev. It now searches both Ancestry and Family Search. The support is much improved over Ancestry.
As for backups, make sure you keep the program as well as the data.

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Just an FYI, Like you I had different information offline. Only my personal research, interview notes, and accurate info was kept on my FTM file. When Ancestry grew big a few years back, I decided I d got all I needed from them, and the searches were getting too top heavy so I cancelled my subscription. Unfortunately somehow in the process and not deliberately on my part, ancestry online merged with my FTM files and suddenly all my detailed info disappeared and all I can get is what was online. A huge irreplaceable loss.

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Over time digital media changes, companies go out of business, fires and floods happen and precious information is lost. I keep paper copies of my genealogy information in my bank box along with negatives of my pre 1900 family photos. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that everything will survive, but I try to share genealogical information with other family members as well.

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I agree with your article. I back up every time I use the program, even when I stop for dinner. Yes I use FTM 2017.1. I have used Family Tree Maker for ages dating back to DOS 3. I haven attempted backing up to the cloud however I am thinking about it. Currently going to add a eSATA 4 TB hard drive and also save to two different hard drives as well. Thank you for the emails on backing up. Oh yes I have lost my data at least two time and still have my backups to save the day. Just hate adding the programs back.

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Very, very important reminder!! In fact, currently working on our society’s quarterly newsletter and I think this article will appear on page 6 of our publication! Thank you Mr. Eastman for the continuing reminder of the importance of back-ups!

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I have seven backup hard drives and rotate backups every second day or more if I’ve done a lot of work. Two I keep in a large safety deposit box and rotate those very week or so with fresh backups.
It’s not difficult with a drive holder that connects to the computer with USB. Bare drives are kept in cases and can just be inserted into the drive holder and backed up with my back up program. I tried the cloud once, but it was so slow. Am thinking about trying it again. One can’t be too careful with those irreplaceable files!

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