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Friday, April 15, 2011

Using a flash drive for genealogical research -- Part Two

In Part One of this series, I discussed some of the common problems people have with the file structure of computer operating systems. This is the heart of any of the issues in using a flash drive to transport files for research or for backing up files to a flash drive. In this post, I will cover some of the problems people encounter when they try to move files back and forth between a flash drive (or other external device for that matter) and their main computer.

One of the first problems, and the most serious, is losing track of which file is your latest working file. I commonly find people with multiple genealogy files on their hard drive and on their flash drive with no idea which of all of the files are the latest. Frequently, they have added data to all of the files independently and so the files are partial duplicates of each other. In the worst cases, they have lost data by overwriting a newer file with one that is older.

To summarize what I said in the first post, you begin to get control of this duplication problem when you start naming files in a way to tell which one is the last file you worked on. Central to this idea, is the concept of renaming a file with the current date, each time you work on a file or otherwise segregating the working file in way that tells you that you are looking at the file you last worked on.

To partially solve this problem, I suggest two things. Locate and look at each file on your hard drive. Many of the current genealogy programs have a way to search for all of the data files on your hard drive. Once the program has found the files, then note the names of the files. Write them down if you need to do so. Then physically locate every file on your hard drive. Create a folder on your desktop and move all of the files to one folder.  There is one caution, if your computer program requires a file to be in a certain location, then you must leave it there. You will know this when you try to open the program and it says that the file cannot be found. In a good genealogy program, the program will allow you search for the program or will ask you if you already know where the program is located. I do not like programs that will not allow you to put your data files where ever you wish to put them.

If you have a situation where you have multiple files and do not know which is the latest one, you can use some of the current genealogy programs to solve that problem. Both RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree allow you to physically compare two files side by side in the program for differences. The FamilyInsight utility for Personal Ancestral File can do the same thing. If you can't figure this out, then you need to ask someone for help in sorting out your files.

Assuming you can finally sort out the latest files and/or consolidate the files. I strongly suggest you keep all of your files in one file folder. I prefer the desktop for this master file, but you can put it anywhere you want so long as you can easily find it again.

Microsoft Windows uses a default location for its data files in a folder called My Documents. The only problem with this is that the My Documents folder can be buried deep in the file structure. Also, many programs create an identically labeled file called "My Documents." If you do a search on your computer, you are likely to find a number of My Documents files. You can certainly use the My Documents file folder to store your files, as long as you know where it is located.

Moving on, once you know what files you are working with, you have to identify each one in a unique way which preferably includes a date the file was last used.

Next, rotating the files so that you always have a true backup and a current working file.

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