If you pursue genealogy professionally, or as a hobby, the odds are you collect a lot of information in electronic format. The items I have range in size and importance, but they include e-mail (with family information) from near and far, scanned information, photographs from the past and present, digital copies from far and wide, and several Rootsmagic databases. I have copies of minutes and financial reports for my genealogical society. I have personal e-mail, letters and messages from cousins near and far. Can I backup in time and retrieve all that information? Of course not.
How much time, energy and money have you spent accumulating family history and other data on your computer? Do you have a large music collection? Your checking, savings and investment accounts? The photos of your children and grandchildren? Information on your family history which you have collected over 20 or 30 years? Copies of old family photos your cousin sent you? The list goes on and on. Can you backup and recreate it? The answer is undoubtedly no.
My best guess is that if electronic information is gone, most of it is gone forever. Many people think of a hard drive failure, and that is one aspect of data loss. But consider this, I recently received an e-mail from a lady who experienced a fire at her home. Her notebooks of genealogical data were heavily damaged, in addition recovering the data from her computer’s hard drive was in doubt. The communication, from someone who had invested years of her life in exploring, collecting and cataloging her family history was heartbreaking. She could not backup and retrieve her data.
As each year passes, personal genealogical collections increase, and electronic files become a larger portion of what genealogists collect. Many of us genealogists feel pretty safe, as we backup all our data onto an external hard drive regularly. But what about a fire or other disaster? Even with surge suppressers, major lightning strikes can “fry” every appliance and electronic device in your home in an instant. You may not be able to backup and save your information.
The computers in our home are automatically backed up each night, but that is half the task. I own three external back-up type drives. One of those resides in location outside our home. Every month, I backup our most recent backups onto that drive, and return it to the remote location. Another example of this strategy is using an on-line backup service. Depending on the size of your data files, that can be an economical solution.