I recently republished an article that I post here 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 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?
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. I will suggest you do not need to do exactly what I do. Instead, this article will hopefully give you some ideas for creating a plan that works best for you.
First of all, I use a Macintosh as my primary computer.
NOTE: I have several other computing devices, including Windows, Chromebook, Linux, iPad, 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 no information on any of them that I consider to be valuable if it should be lost.
However, 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 24 years of these newsletters, my own genealogy information, family photos, 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 with all Macintosh systems at no extra charge. It stores its backups in an external USB hard drive that is plugged into 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. However, that is another story for another time. In this article, I will focus on Windows and Macintosh systems.
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 minute or so after each file is created or modified.
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 overseas.
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 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.
If 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.
Is this a perfect backup philosophy? Probably not. But it does allow me to sleep at night.