Do You Have Backups or are You Simply Synching?

“I don’t need backups. I’ve got my files synced.”


I have written many times about the need for genealogists and most everyone else to make frequent backups I won’t repeat all that here. You can find my past articles by starting at

However, I have to ask one question: Do you have backups or are you simply syncing your files?

In fact, there is a huge difference.

Many online services provide file synching services, including Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, and several dozen others. A sync service allows you to keep consistent contents between multiple devices, such as between your desktop computer and a laptop or perhaps your home computer and the one at the office. Make one change to the contents of that shared info, and the same thing is copied to all other devices, including file changes and deletions.

That’s a good thing, but it is not a backup.

Depending on how you have syncing and sharing set-up you can delete a file on one device and have it disappear on all the other shared devices.

Here is the big question: Can you restore a version of a file as it existed days or weeks ago?

A true backup product keeps ALL VERSIONS of ALL FILES for a specified period of time. Backups may be saved on an external hard drive, in a flash drive, or in an online service in the cloud. But if you are only saving the latest version of your files, you are not making backups. You are file synching.

What do you do if you need a copy of a file as it existed last week? or last month? Can you retrieve the old version today? More than once I have deleted a file or overwritten a file with updated information then, a few minutes or a few hours later, I have said, “Oops, I need to use the information I deleted earlier.” If I was using a simple file sync service, the earlier version of the file would already be deleted or overwritten on all my other copies. However, if I was using a true backup program, I can go back at any time and retrieve the earlier version(s) of the file.

Perhaps you updated a file with new information and accidentally deleted something important that was within the file. What do you do? A true backup service will save you. Simply launch the backup software, click on RESTORE, then select the file name and the date of the file version that you seek.

There are dozens of good backup products available. If you own a Macintosh, look at Time Machine a free backup program that was already installed on your computer when you purchased it. Time Machine is one of the best backup products I have seen and it is available free of charge to every Mac owner. It will allow you to restore files as they appeared in the past, even years ago. See for more information about using Time Machine.

Users of Microsoft Windows have a bit more of a challenge. Over the years, Microsoft has included mediocre backup software in some of the Pro versions of Windows but generally not in the Home Editions. However, a number of third-party vendors have rushed in to fill the vacuum.

Backblaze‘s online backup service keeps track of multiple versions up to 30 days. That is a rather short timeframe but is better than most of the simple file sync services.

Dropbox is primarily a file sync service but also will create backups of multiple versions of every file. By default, Dropbox Basic and Plus users will find a history of all deleted and earlier versions of files for 30 days for all Dropbox accounts. If you purchase either the Professional or Business versions of Dropbox, all versions of all backed up files will remain available for 180 days. See for the details.

All files stored online by Dropbox are encrypted and are kept in secure storage servers across several data centers.

Other backup services and file sync services may have similar capabilities. The only way to find out is to read the fine print on each company’s web site.



What a useful article.
I had so much problem trying to use the Microsoft backup facility that I abandoned it and about a year ago I started using the free version of EaseUS Backup. It can do a System backup as well as File backup together with the useful Smart Backup. Smart Backup backups every two hours if there has been a change to any file.
I have two external hard-drives which I alternate about every 4 months to save the backups. If one of the external hard-drives suffers a problem I still have backups on the other hard drive albeit maybe 4 months out of date.
Perhaps belt and braces but I also back up my regularly used folders and files to a DVD using copy and past rather than a proprietary backup system. I replace the DVD about every month and and have a library of backup DVDs for the last 10 years.


Dick, thanks to your blog my FTM files were saved in 2017. Due to a lightning strike about 50 yards from my house while I was working with the program, my PC crashed. I discovered much to my distress that Acronis does not mirror programs just data the way my husband had set ours up. Once I’d restored all the data files, a brief chat with FTM help enabled me to reinstall the program and restore my tree. Now I back up then back to 2 external drives. This morning I also read about “Everywhere” for files backup. I’d like to compare the 2 programs. What is your opinion?


Hey, Dick. I use Dropbox and have had many occasions to use the archival feature by which I can restore any prior version of a file. Perhaps it is a function of the way that mine is configured. -bvelke


Although I don’t have as many backups as you do Dick, I do keep two, one through Time Machine and one in Carbon Copy Cloner. I also backup my old network drive which is a storage for files from all the old computers we’ve had, and it just crashed this week but I have the files!


SO IRONIC. I did my compacting, backing up, and went to synch, it crashed two times. Now I cannot open it. I have to go find the instructions on how to open the backup. THANKFULLY it is my habit to backup before synching.


A note about Dropbox: it won’t backup files that have emojis in their filenames. (I use a file folder emoji in filenames to denote that I have the original document that a digitized file is a copy of.)


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