Reviewing my data backup strategy

2 Aug

Yesterday’s data backup reminder over at GeneaBloggers got me thinking about my backup strategy. I would like to consider myself pretty well covered, but it never hurts to have a look and make sure everything is working as it should be.

I have two backups of my genealogy (and other important files including this blog). Every evening all my genealogy is copied over to an external hard drive, then every couple of weeks I do another complete backup to a memory stick. This memory stick lives on my key ring with the house keys, so it goes with me everywhere and would be one of the few things I would try and grab as I left the building in an emergency. I use the freeware version of SyncBack because I find it is just advanced enough to meet my needs, but not too complicated that it takes forever to learn how to set it up.

Thinking about my backup strategy I identified four issues which could cause a problem if the worst did happen:

  1. No permanent off-site backup
  2. No checking of the actual backup contents
  3. No strategy for the backup of my paper files
  4. No consideration of how I would restore the backup

1. No permanent off-site backup – although my memory stick and keys are hopefully going to be with me in an emergency there is a chance I might not have them. I could use an online backup service, but from past experience they take too long to backup and use too many system resources in the process. The obvious solution would be another memory stick permanently kept off-site (either at work or with my parents). In fact I would probably need two, so I could swap it without having to bring it back on-site.

2. No checking of the actual backup contents – the problem here is that I need to be certain that everything is being backed up that I need to be. I need to check every so often (weekly?) that all the folders containing my family history files are being backed up, even the new ones I have only just added.

3. No strategy for the backup of my paper files – this is a problem in many ways, and I have been thinking about this recently, and the fact that I have too many papers and folders. Most of what I have could be easily replicated, the only real issue would be birth, marriage and death certificates which I have paid for, my postcards and any other original material. Ideally I would like have digital copies of everything, so I think that the next step is to start scanning documents and whilst I am at it, throw out anything that I don’t consider to be an original document, such as reports from Family Historian and prints of census images. One of my goals for the next few months is to make my family history virtually paperless.

4. No consideration of how I would restore the backup – fortunately this is not likely to be a problem, the backups I carry out are just straight copies of the files and folder structure, not compressed or zipped in any way. So all I would need to do is just cut and paste them back onto a new hard drive.

I feel much happier now, I will get a couple more memory sticks and start a weekly (probably) off-site backup routine and before I carry out that weekly backup I will make sure all my family history folders are being backed up. The biggest challenge however will be the paper, hopefully over the next few weeks I can weed out the original documents from the “rubbish” and start scanning and re-organising my files.

If there is anything I have missed let me know? or if you think I am being overly paranoid let me know? Either way it will help put my mind at rest!

2 Responses to “Reviewing my data backup strategy”

  1. Thomas MacEntee August 2, 2009 at 11:02 pm #

    Wow – I love it when people start to put together a data backup plan!

    One concern with the USB flash drive on your key ring: is the data encrypted? If it is lost, would anyone people to use data of living people for identity theft purposes?

    I think that having some password or other form of data security such as encryption is vital.

    Also for off-site data backup, consider one of the free services. I currently use Syncplicity which backs-up data automatically when I boot up each morning.

  2. wanderinggenealogist August 3, 2009 at 8:00 pm #

    Good point about the flash drive. I don’t think there is any sensitive data on there, as I have kept my family tree fairly vague when it comes to recent generations. It is something I will revisit though. Looking online I see there are several options for encrypting a flash drive, do you have any suggestions or recommendations?

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