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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Genealogy and Computer Advice

About a month ago I started updating my genealogy research online, saving photos and documents onto a separate hard drive, and scanning anything that I have in paper form.  Am I done?  Not exactly.  While this is quite the task, there is another task that interfered with my progress of organizing, simplifying, and backing up my family tree research.  The interfering culprit was the computer itself.

Around the beginning of August, we decided that the whole system needed to be backed up onto an external hard drive because the computer had been "acting funny".  By the way, the computer that I am talking about is a rather "sup'd up" system with a quad four processor and some other goodies.  I'm not really a computer tech but my hubby is pretty well versed in these things.  He's an architect and his systems at work and home need to be able to run AutoCAD and Revit.  Let's just say those programs require "a lot" of a computer.

We did avoid the computer crashing but not without having it only backup about 98% of the information onto the external hard drive.  Let's just say that the 2% appears to my husband's stuff and not my genealogy.  That backup still exists but I have a much more organized external hard drive that houses all of my photos and genealogy research.   I spent a number of hours moving all of my research off the main "C" drive of the computer.  By the way, it was the "C" drive that was going bad.  As I wiped it clean of my information, I found some good things along the way and hope I found everything.  Only time will tell if I missed something.  I've still got that other backup but dread having to filter through it to find any missing information. 

In the hopes of retaining all of my research, and am not sure that I have, I am happy to say that I do have some redundancies of stored information and some advice to offer.  Here's my list below:

1.  Don't store information in Outlook.  This is a lesson learned by many time and time again.  Starting back in 2004 or so, my previous employer limited the space and time frame of available emails in Outlook to discourage people from storing information in that program.  I should have known to carry over that practice to my home computer.  My husband has indicated that Outlook will crash and lose data if it hits 2GBs.  Watch out for this because you can lose your address book too.  My husband exports and saves our address book every couple of months so that we don't have to "recreate the wheel" and find people's emails all over again.

2.  Back-up, Back-up, Back-up.  It is always prudent to back-up your computer.  You should do it weekly for personal information and businesses should do it every night at the end of the work day.  Does everyone do this?  No and I forget to also.  Having a redundant location for information is a good idea including storing it online like on a blog, a photo sharing site, or even on a website designed for storage.   There is also the option of storage disks including CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray, and hard drives.  I suppose you could also print or publish the information but that kind of defeats the purpose of saving paper, the environment, and shelf space.  I am all for books but all of the "nitty-gritty" that was gathered to get to the final family tree does not really need to be published in paper form too!

3.  Family Tree and the Computer.    While maintaining your family tree on your computer with the appropriate software is the preference of many,  I prefer to maintain it online.  I think that is a bit of a personal preference.   At some point, I will download my tree off and save it on a disk but I need to be in a good "finished" place for a specific line to do that.  I enjoy having my tree on because it is a living document.  There is no pun intended by saying "living" while most of the people have passed on and are my ancestors.  By "living document", I mean that it can be changed, updated, and added to at any time.

On point three, I'd love to hear what people's opinion is.   Also, I'd really like to know what people do to save their blog.  My blog exists only online and I need a solution to back that up.  I don't want to lose the information and all that I've written in my online genealogy diary.


  1. I think your tip about not storing things in Outlook (or any other email program for that matter) is great. Not only can it take up space and crash, but it is also hard to locate information easily. I correspond with countless entities regarding my genealogy via email, but often do not save these conversations outside of my email program. If I were to lose my email program, I would lose all of that data. Better off to transcribe or save the information elsewhere as a better reference!

  2. Yes, convert your emails to PDFs and save them on an external drive. Having the full version of Adobe is worth it if you don't already have it! You can also convert your emails to Word Documents but I find that those are harder to retrieve and search later on. Lesson learned and yet the luck of the Irish was with me since I didn't lose anything.