A computer hard drive failure could wipe out all your family tree files, photos and documents in an instant, so it’s essential to back up your files regularly.
A flash drive is handy for saving a few important files, but it’s not practical for a large-scale backup. Burning CDs or DVDs is a good way to back up photos, videos and other files that don’t change. Copying your files to an external hard drive is fast, easy and relatively inexpensive. But if you keep your backup at the same location as your computer, the backups could be lost along with the originals in a fire, natural disaster or theft.
Enter online backup services: Storing copies of your files on a remote server is becoming a popular way to ensure your data’s safety.
To back up your files online, first install the service’s software on your computer. The initial backup could take hours or days, depending on the speed of your internet connection and the size of your files, but the backup works in the background so you can continue using your PC. After the initial upload, the program will catch only new and changed files, so subsequent backups should take just minutes.
Some online backup services can save multiple versions of a file, so you can revert to a previous one if needed. What if you need to restore all your files? Downloading them could take a long time, so some services give you the option of getting your files on a DVD or drive.
Most online backup services offer additional features. They may synchronize (“sync”) files between different computers and portable devices, and let you access your files from any computer connected to the internet. You also may be able to share photo albums and other files with friends and collaborate on projects.
Here’s the lowdown on the two main types of backup services; check the chart for details on individual services.
These services, all free or inexpensive, don’t automatically back up your new and changed files. That makes them best for archiving photos, videos and other files that aren’t likely to change. If you edit a file on your computer, you’ll need to manually copy it again to the online service.
- Amazon Cloud Drive
Price: 5GB free, 20GB for $20/year; other annual plans, $1/GB
Pros: access to your music and video files from any device
Cons: focuses on media files
Buy digital music or videos from the Amazon MP3 Store, save them to your Cloud Drive, and you can access them from your computer and portable devices. Amazon MP3 purchases don’t count against your free 5GB of Cloud Drive storage space, which you can use for any kind of file–including genealogy.
- Google Docs
Price: 1GB free, additional storage for 25 cents/GB
Pros: file sharing and collaboration
Cons: Documents you don’t convert to the Google Docs format are view-only.
You can upload all kinds of files to Google Docs and create word processing documents and spreadsheets online. If you convert your documents to the Google Docs format, you can collaborate on them with other people in real time, and the files don’t count toward your maximum storage limit.
- Windows Live SkyDrive
Price: 25GB free
Pros: lots of free space
Cons: You can’t upload whole folders; 50MB is the maximum file size.
Skydrive gives both Windows and Mac users lots of space to back up and share documents, photos and videos. You can control who has access to your individual files, folders and photo albums. Use Windows Live Photo Gallery to edit, organize and share photos and Windows Live Mesh to sync files between computers.
These services automatically back up new and changed files on your computer at intervals you specify.
Price: up to 500 family tree files free
Cons: requires Windows; backs up only family tree files
A specialized backup service for genealogists, BackupMyTree backs up files created by any popular genealogy software program, as well as GEDCOM files. It keeps up to 25 previous versions of your family tree files, so you can revert to an older version if needed. At press time, it didn’t yet have the capability to back up photos included in your family tree.
Price: $59/year unlimited use for one computer
Pros: unlimited backup storage space
Cons: no DVD restore
This service gives you unlimited backup storage space for a reasonable fee. If you use Windows, it keeps old versions of your files for up to three months. You can access your files from any computer or a smartphone.
Price: 2GB free, 50GB for $9.99/month; 100GB for $19.95/month
Pros: easy to use
Cons: backs up only files in the My Dropbox folder
Super easy to use and immensely popular, Dropbox lets you share files and sync them between different devices. Normally, you have to move files to the My Dropbox folder on your computer, but a free Windows program called Dropbox Folder Sync makes it possible to back up files in other folders.
Price: 2GB free, 50GB for $5.99/month
Pros: mobile devices access, DVD restore
Cons: poor system for restoring your data from the Web
Back up your files on Mozy, and you can access them from other computers and from your iPhone or Android. You can restore file versions from up to the past 30 days and, for a fee, order a DVD with your files.
- SOS Online Backup Home Edition
Price: 50GB, $79.95/year
Pros: back up files from as many as five computers
Cons: no DVD restore
PC Magazine‘s Editor’s Choice backs up as many as five computers for one annual fee. It keeps files indefinitely, even if you delete them from your computer, and you can share files and access them with an iPhone or Blackberry.
Price: 5GB free, 30GB for $4.99/month or $49.99/year
Pros: easy to use, lots of free space
Cons: no DVD restore
SugarSync gives you the most free space of any automatic online backup service. It stores the previous five versions of your files and lets you sync and share your data.
Back up all your family tree files, documents, photos, music and video files–often kept in your Desktop, Downloads or My Documents folder. But don’t overlook your e-mail, web favorites and desktop settings, too, which are usually saved in your Users folder.
To cover everything, back up your entire Users folder, which is located at C:UsersUsername in Windows 7 and Vista, and C:Documents and SettingsUsername in Windows XP. Mac owners can find a similar folder under Macintosh HDUsersusername. If you use backup software, you may need to change the default settings to include your entire Users folder.
You probably don’t need to back up program or application files–they typically take up a lot of space and you can use original product discs to reinstall them. Restore some of your files as a test to ensure your backup works properly.
Tip: Follow genealogy bloggers’ practice of making the first of each month a designated “Data Backup Day.” The set schedule will help you get in the habit of copying your files.
From the November 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine
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