My November was rudely interrupted by a hard drive crash. Luckily, I had backed up my laptop on a regular basis, but not quite regularly enough. Please, learn from my mistakes and luck. Whether you’re writing or researching your family tree, have a data backup plan and follow it religiously.
PC Magazine compares backing up data with flossing. And they’re right. Most of us agree that we should do it, but few of us actually have the discipline to do it like we should. Perhaps it’s because the term data backup doesn’t have the emotional overtones it deserves. Think of data backup as the preservation of your hard work, sweat, tears, proofreading, moments of inspiration, and good advice.
External Hard Drives
External hard drives aren’t the only data back-up solutions, but if you have graphics, photos, or other “big” data, it can be an economical way to go. Most come with software that make using them simple. You just plug them in (yes, you have to do that), and they start to work. However, if you don’t like the way they structure your backup or if you want to be able to search for individual files, you can simply re-format the drive and use it like you would a USB drive.
Before you start shopping—or specifiying what you want on your wish list—you need to know your storage needs. PC Magazine has a nice primer on what you want to back up in the The Beginner’s Guide to PC Backup
Google searches will give you a good idea of what types of hard drives and recovery software are available, as will a visit to your friendly neighborhood Best Buy store. If you feel overwhelmed, the Best Buy floor reps are often great at explaining things to you.
With cloud storage, it is not an either or option. Even if you have an external hard drive, you can keep backups of works in progress on Google Drive or Dropbox. Jill Duffy at PC Magazine gives a great run-down of your options and when it’s worth paying for a cloud service in The Best Cloud Storage Solutions.
A special note for Ancestry.com users: Syncing my tree to Ancestry.com was also helpful. I lost several days of “what to research next” notes, but not my data or sources.
Don’t overlook your bookmarks and favorites.
This was a hard lesson for me. I’d backed up my documents, pictures and downloads, but not the book marks on my web browser. I can’t tell you how frustrating this is—I use my bookmarks a lot.
Mental Traps preventing data backups
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need to perform data backups. Here are some of my favorite rationalizations and why they’re wrong.
Macs don’t crash
I hear this a lot. Actually the argument should be whether Mac operating systems are less prone to crashing than Windows. In other words, even if you do believe Mac has superior software, protect yourself against hardware failures and data loss.
If you’re not convinced, here’s a quote from Plontinus Veritas at Apple.com:
“Hard drives aren’t prone to failure…hard drives are guaranteed to fail (the very same is true of SSD). Hard drives don’t die when aged, hard drives die at any age, and peak in death when young and slowly increase in risk as they age.”
If you read the article, you’ll be adding a couple of external drives and a firesafe. ‘Nuf said.
I didn’t add much today.
I’m guilty of this one. The time you’ll take looking for info that you’ve lost and reconstructing what you’ve written (and cussing) will take a lot longer than backing up.
I’ll burn it to discs.
You probably won’t. If your data load is small enough for this to work, switch to cloud storage. Having a second copy of my most critical files in Dropbox saved me. While I dealt with the tech guys and getting the new hard drive, I could pick up someone else’s computer and continue working—at least until someone else demanded his laptop back.
My cord isn’t long enough.
The only reason this merits inclusion is that it was my sorry excuse. I use my laptop in my lap. Plugging in means spending a solid minute or two physically plugging things in. To back up to my external hard drive I have to leave my laptop somewhere slightly inconvenient. If this is your excuse—get a longer cord or suck it up.
What are you waiting for? Go back up your data!