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My Genealogy Toolbox: No. 1 – The pencil

27 May

I suspect pencil and paper has not been entirely replaced by more recent technology in archives and record offices around the world, certainly not for me anyway. I usually have my netbook at my side, but it is used for reference rather than note-taking.

For note-taking I still use pencil and paper, I am not one of those people who have to have a copy of every record I find at an archive, I only bother with a copy if it is something that would take longer to transcribe than it would to get a copy of the original.

I favour the propelling pencil, purely for ease of use in not having to find a pencil sharpener, although I still need to make sure I have some spare leads. I normally use a blue Parker Jotter mechanical pencil that I have had since I was at school about twenty years ago. It has served me well all these years at a variety of record offices around the south-east of England.

In contrast the pencils below are rarely used, for no reason other than the fact that I usually have a propelling pencil closer to hand. Before you start worrying I haven’t been deliberately collecting genealogy pencils (although I might start now!), these have been gathered at past family history events.

A backup wake-up call

30 Jan

Last night I received a nasty reminder from my computer on the importance of having a good backup.

It was around 10 o’clock and I had just finished working on my family history for the night and started my nightly backup routine. I synchronised my family history files to my USB flash drive, my grab and run emergency backup (and netbook synchroniser).

I started the synchronisation to my external hard drive and was met with a couple of error messages, to the effect that the external hard drive didn’t exist. Surely there must be some mistake, I thought, it had probably been assigned the wrong drive letter.

I opened Windows Explorer and there it was, with the correct drive letter and it looked like all the folders were there. As I drilled down I found each folder was in fact empty. All my files had gone.

I stopped and thought about it, this was my backup, I still had the original files on my PC and my USB flash drive. There were a few non-genealogy files lost that didn’t really matter, but the external hard drive stores all my digital photos. Fortunately they are all backed up on DVD and stored off-site, so I hadn’t lost anything important, it would just be annoying to have to replace the external hard drive and start again.

But something still didn’t seem right, surely the files couldn’t just disappear and leave the folders where they are, that didn’t sound like hard drive failure? The more I thought about it the more it didn’t seem right. Something told my they were still there but I couldn’t see them.

So I did the most obvious thing and rebooted my PC. Of course when the system came back up all the files were there present and correct. I ran my backups successfully and shut the system down.

Does this mean my external hard drive is on the way out or is my PC getting it’s USB connections confused? I don’t know, but it sure made me stop and think. I would consider my backup regime pretty good, but those few minutes of lost data really made me wonder if it would all work if I had to restore my files.

Not only am I going to give my external hard drive a thorough going over, I am going to review what is actual stored on it. I shall probably burn a couple more copies of my digital photos and hide them away somewhere else. Truth is I can probably delete a load of those photos, just because I have the space to store them isn’t an excuse for not going through and deleting the rubbish.

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